Q: Does it make efficiency sense to use countertop appliances, such as a toaster oven, instead of the electric range oven/broiler? I was told the range has much more wall insulation to save more energy.
A: From efficiency and energy-saving standpoints, for 90 percent of baking and broiling tasks, it generally makes sense to use a small toaster oven instead of the oven/broiler in the range. In addition to saving energy, it also saves a lot of time because a small toaster oven preheats for baking much faster than a large range oven.
Yes, you're correct that the walls of a range oven are insulated better than those of a toaster oven. This is particularly true with self-cleaning range ovens. They must have thicker wall insulation to keep the outside cool to prevent accidental burns when they are in the superhot self-cleaning cycle.
If you are planning to bake many items over many hours and the range oven will be relatively full, then it probably is more efficient to use it. When baking items successively, the oven has to be preheated only once and it retains the heat from one item to the next. A smaller toaster oven would cool off quickly between items.
The upper and lower heating elements in a toaster oven are only about 750 watts each. For broiling only the top is used. In convection baking, both are on. The elements in an electric oven are typically greater than 3,000 watts to heat the larger oven volume. This is why they require a 240-volt electric line whereas a toaster oven just plugs into any wall outlet.
This high heating wattage from a range oven is particularly troublesome during the summer. Once you are done baking or broiling, your air conditioner has to run longer to remove all this extra heat from the baking. During the winter, this extra heat actually helps warm your house.
If you are going out to buy a toaster oven, select one with a convection heating feature. It does not require much additional electricity to run the small fan, but moving hot air bakes foods much faster. Those with electronic controls are more precise, but manual controls are quicker to set.
For toasting bread in the morning, a simple toaster is most efficient, even more so than a toaster oven. It uses less wattage and toasts both sides at once to save time. Keep in mind, the amount you pay on your monthly electric bill is dependent upon the appliance wattage and how long it is on.
A unique convenient design of toaster, by West Bend, moves bread or a bagel past the heating elements and deposits it out the bottom of the side on a built-in tray. It toasts quickly and precisely. The tray closes when done.
James Dulley is a mechanical engineer and do-it-yourselfer. Send questions to James Dulley, The Sensible Home, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Go to his Web site at www.dulley.com to tour his energy-efficient home, post questions for other readers and find other information.