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Brooklyn Co-op Makes the Switch From Gas to Electric Stoves

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on January 25, 2023

Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

Electric stoves, gas stoves, Local law 97, co-op board, carbon emissions, solar panels.

Going green: (clockwise from left) new wiring for the electric stoves, the 1918 buildings and the solar panels on the roofs.

Jan. 25, 2023

The board at the 49-unit Prospect Seeley co-op in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, wasn’t thinking about cutting its three buildings’ carbon emissions enough to comply with Local Law 97 — because each of the buildings is too small to qualify for the law’s carbon caps. The co-op board wanted to get rid of gas stoves and replace them with electric stoves for a simpler reason: because, on every level, it believed it was the smart thing to do.

This story begins with board president Matt Barnett, co-owner of a home inspection company. About six years ago, before fatal gas explosions led to more stringent gas-line inspections and increasing shutdowns under Local Law 152, Barnett started noticing precarious conditions, particularly in older buildings, that he inspected on his job.

“I started warning my clients they would have to be prepared for gas shutdowns because their old pipes had never been tested,” Barnett says. “So I was also getting paranoid about our co-op’s three buildings, which were built in 1918, and I started pushing to board to switch to electric stoves. They’re healthier, safer, cleaner, on and on.”

Barnett had a receptive audience. The co-op board, working with the energy consultant McGowan Southworth, had already installed solar panels on all three roofs. Now the board vice president, Alison Poole, an architect with a master’s degree in energy conservation in architecture, used her professional expertise to run a cost analysis, comparing the cost of sticking with gas stoves (and replacing failing risers) versus the cost of upgrading the buildings’ wiring and switching to electric stoves.

“It was less expensive to do the electric option,” Poole says, “and we wouldn’t risk a gas shutdown. We wanted to avoid that at all costs.”

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Now it was time to sell those findings to the shareholders. A board member named Gideon Maxim wrote up the pro’s and con’s of gas and electric stoves and presented them to shareholders, a way of educating them before they were asked to complete an online survey. A shareholder named Randy Hecht, meanwhile, wrote a primer explaining the difference between induction and radiant electric stoves. (The former creates heat by transferring electricity directly to ferrous-based cookware, while the latter uses electricity to heat stove-top elements.) 

“We have some people who love cooking with gas,” Poole says. “When we explained Local Law 152 — and the cost and inconvenience of a gas shutdown — it wasn’t an issue.”

The vote was no contest. About 90% voted for electric, with about 70% of them favoring induction stoves over the cheaper radiant option. 

A contractor had to run electric wires inside walls, alongside decommissioned gas risers, and each apartment was outfitted with a new outlet and a new 40-amp circuit breaker expressly for the stove. The cost of the wiring upgrade was $170,000, which was paid out of the reserve fund. The 49 stoves cost about $1,000 apiece under a bulk purchasing deal, and that money also came out of the reserve fund.

Having completed two environmentally friendly upgrades on the roofs and in the kitchens, the board is now discussing a third. “We want to go to a separate system to heat domestic hot water and eventually get rid of our dual-fuel boiler, which is currently burning natural gas,” Poole says. “Then we’d like to install electric heat pumps.” The upgraded wiring will be able to power heat pumps.

All in good time. For now, Poole offers advice for her fellow co-op and condo board members. “You’ve got to understand your building and figure out what makes sense,” she says. “Then you have to act quickly if you’re up against a local law. The board has to ramp up the frequency of its meetings.”

And it needs to realize that necessity is not the only motivator when it comes to retrofits. “We’re not doing what we have to do,” Poole says. “We’re doing what we should do.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — ENERGY CONSULTANT: McGowan Southworth. ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: Empire Electric. PROPERTY MANAGER: EBMG. MANUFACTURERS: Frigidaire (induction stoves) and General Electric (radiant stoves).

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