The GE Profile Series 36" electric induction cooktop has five burners and the company's most powerful cooking element.
The GE Profile Series 36" electric induction cooktop has five burners and the company's most powerful cooking element.

Induction technology is a different way to cook.

Unlike gas or electric, the heat source is not the cooktop, but the cooking vessel itself. Induction technology uses electromagnetic energy; electric currents pass through copper coils underneath the cooktop’s surface, creating a magnetic field that heats the pan upon contact.

It may sound futuristic, but induction has been used successfully for decades in Europe and Asia. As options have become more widely available, it’s gaining ground here as well, currently accounting for about 15 percent of cooktop sales, says Brian McWaters, brand general manager for GE Appliances.

Many industry experts are passionate about the technology, touting its performance, usability, and design benefits.

“Induction is definitely the way of the future,” says Nadia Subaran, senior designer and co-founder of Bethesda, Md.–based Aidan Design.

Premium Performance
For decades, the cooktop debate has pitted gas versus electric, each option with its own pros and cons. Now, however, more homeowners are realizing there might be a way to get the best of both—and builders should take note.

“We describe induction as the performance benefits of gas in an electric configuration," McWaters says. "One of the big benefits of gas that people like is the responsiveness and instantaneous reaction; that is what you get with induction as well." 

Larissa Taboryski, culinary director at Brisbane, Calif.–based Purcell Murray Co., agrees. “The performance of induction is one of the most spectacular things about it. It’s the responsiveness that really sets it apart.”

Induction heats up much faster than other approaches, reducing cooking times. Cooling happens quickly as well, which means residual warmth won’t continue to cook food after the unit has been turned off.

Advanced controls also allow for greater precision when adjusting temperatures. “You have almost infinite control," says Lori Wood, director of product management at Kenmore. "You can get down to decimal points of what expectation you have of heat.”  

Also notable is the technology’s energy efficiency—induction cooktops experience only 5 percent to 10 percent heat loss, as opposed to about 45 percent for gas.

“It’s also very energy efficient because you are cooking for half the time,” adds Sara de la Hera, vice president of marketing and sales for New Jersey–based appliance company Fagor America.

Reduced heat loss into the kitchen means a more comfortable cooking experience, especially in small kitchens or hot climates. And induction excels in cleanability and safety—there are no baked-on spills to scrub and no heating element to leave on. Those features have made it particularly popular among those with young children or those who are aging in place.

Modern Appeal

The 36 inch Masterpiece Series Freedom induction cooktop from Thermador uses 48 3-inch coils to provide more usable cooking space.
The 36 inch Masterpiece Series Freedom induction cooktop from Thermador uses 48 3-inch coils to provide more usable cooking space.

While powerful, these units are sleek and low profile, which can be a big selling point, says Zach Elkin, director of brand marketing at appliance manufacturer Thermador. “Some consumers are looking for the appliance to disappear. The frameless induction is very integrated into the countertop.”

Subaran says she sees a desire for an understated aesthetic with many of her clients as well. “We’ve seen a real lean toward more modern detailing in kitchens, and as a whole, people are leaning toward cleaner lines and simpler details.”

In addition, induction can be a space saver in a room where space often is at a premium, says Mick De Giulio, principal of Chicago-based de Giulio Kitchen Design. “It has a flush design. It can be set into countertops, and it can second as a countertop work surface.”

Another benefit is the minimal ventilation requirement, Subaran says. Large gas ranges, which have a high BTU output, require high-CFM range hoods that often necessitate the introduction of make-up air. That’s not an issue with induction, which means induction cooktops can be placed nearly anywhere in the kitchen, allowing for greater design flexibility, says Taboryski. “Ventilation makes it challenging to put a gas cooktop in an island. Induction offers a terrific alternative.”

Overcoming Barriers
One long-standing hurdle to induction’s widespread adoption has been its price point, but as more manufacturers enter the market, that hurdle is becoming a thing of the past.

Now, the main priority is education, says De Giulio. “At first, people need to have a little more explanation about what induction is and what its benefits might be. Once people hear the benefits, they are almost 100 percent on board.”

A challenge still remains in persuading people to embrace an unfamiliar technology and new controls. “People are very apprehensive about changing the way they cook,” says Kenmore's Wood, adding that induction “doesn’t really require you to change the way you cook; it enhances the way you cook.”

Some consumers also may be unsure about what cookware they can use, a problem that is easily solved by testing with a refrigerator magnet: if it sticks to the bottom of the pan, the pan will work for induction.

Though initially slow to take off, the technology is now expanding quickly, putting lingering doubts about its appeal to rest. “Induction is clearly our fastest growing segment,” says Thermador's Elkin. “We’ve had tremendous growth over the past five to six years.”

De la Hera echoes that sentiment, noting that sales of induction keep growing by at least 25 percent each year. As the increasing sales indicate, feedback has overwhelmingly been positive.

“Once you have induction, you will never go back,” Wood says.