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Samurai Appliance Repair Man's Blog



Gas range goes BOOM! after a particular stove burner is lit

Posted by Samurai Appliance Repair Man, in Oven-Range-Stove Repair 18 December 2013 · 1,701 views
gas, range, leak, boom, explosion and 2 more...
In this adventure into appliance dysfunction, the customer called me with a scary problem with her gas range. After she would fire up the left-front (LF) cooktop burner and it was on for less than a minute, a big flash-boom would erupt from underneath the burners. I reproduced the problem when I was there and it was a pretty impressive explosion! I wish I had gotten video of it but thought better of repeating it.

I knew I was dealing with a gas leak and had to get to the burner gas supply tubes to leak check them. I disassembled the range cooktop so I could get a look underneath the burners. Turns out this leak didn't even need gas bubble leak-check solution to find (click the pics for larger view):

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That's the aluminum gas supply tubing for the LF burner. With a break like that, it's amazing that it was sending any gas at all to the burner. It was still supplying the burner with gas albeit at a reduced rate so the flames were more yellow than the other burners. The rest of the gas was flooding the compartment underneath the burners until it reached the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) concentration for propane (which is 2.1% by volume, in case you were curious). Then the propane was in high enough concentration that it ignited from the open flame on the burner.

Range go BOOM!
Pants go brown.

So the next question is: How did this happen? Metal tubing that's not pressurized does not just spontaneously rupture.

Turns out the customer had been releasing the cooktop clips and lifting the top panel of the range without first unscrewing the burners. She would do this periodically to clean out the copious amounts of mouse poopy:

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Every time she did this, however, she was flexing all the gas burner supply tubes which finally induced fatigue failure in the tube for the LF burner.

Why was the LF burner tube the first (and only, so far) to fail? Because it is the shortest tube. The other tubes, being longer, had more flex and were more forgiving.

So where are these mysterious burner screws that have to be removed? In this particular range (older GE), each burner has three mounting screws that need to be removed to release the burner base from the bottom of the cooktop panel. This way the tubing is not flexed when the cooktop is raised for cleaning or service.

What invariably happens with this design is that the mounting screws for the most-used burner (usually the RF burner for right-handed people) get rusted out like this:

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Then either the head breaks off when you try to remove them or the head simply rounds out when you try to unscrew them. It's common to have to drill the screws out when this happens, which you can see in the photo above.

Moral of the story: Don't go messing with your appliances unless you know what you don't know! Just because you can undo some clips and take something apart doesn't mean you should, because there could be consequences that aren't even on your radar screen. Use the forums at The Appliantology Academy to get advice from the experts before you start mucking about with your appliances!

When dealing with gas appliances, don't assume anything: know what you don't know.


Wall Oven Wiring Fail

Posted by Samurai Appliance Repair Man, in Oven-Range-Stove Repair 14 December 2013 · 1,430 views
wall oven, wiring
I went to remove a wall oven today and ran into a little problem. Can you find it?

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I run into this kind of problem all the time up here in the backwoods of New Hampster. It's an endemic problem with electricians and handymen not bothering to read the installation instructions. For the record, this installation fail was done by a licensed electrician. Kind of a wake up call for the whole licensing racket, isn't it? Having a "licensed" electrician is still no guarantee that he knows what in the hell he is doing or is capable of reading simple installation instructions.

In case you're interested, you can read the manufacturer's installation instructions yourself here: http://manuals.frigi...n/318206002.pdf

BTW, those specs are typical for all manufacturers.

Bottom Line with any wall oven installation: You need to have enough slack in the power wire conduit to be able to remove the wall oven from its compartment.


A word of inspiration and hope for aspiring Appliantologists

hope, inspiration, light
Sometimes, undertaking an appliance repair can be daunting. You'll be met with frustration and unpleasant surprises, obstacles over things that seem like they should be easy. In these dark times, remember the words of the Samurai...


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What about Protection Plans or Extended Warranties for New Appliances? Are they worth buying?

protection plan and 2 more...
I get asked about new appliance protection plans and extended warranties a lot both during real-life service calls as The Appliance Guru and via emails from this site. So, FWIW, I thought I'd offer my contemplations and musings on the topic.

First off, you gotta realize that protection plans and extended warranties are only as good as the people offering or doing the actual service work. Protection plans are basically a form of insurance. Lots of companies want to get in on the protection plan biz because, structured correctly, it’s a highly lucrative arrangement: you pay a chunk of money for service that the warranty company is betting you won’t need. Insurance companies have this game figured out in all aspects of our lives, including home and appliance warranties.

But there’s one big difference.

In auto, home, and medical insurance, for example, all the insurance company has to do is write a check for a claim. Insurance companies are all about cash so even writing big checks are no problem for them.

Now consider an appliance repair insurance plan— which is basically what protection plan and extended warranties are. When a claim is made, what’s the payout? Instead of a check, the payout is usually a repair. And herein lies the dirty little secret about appliance protection plans: they are only as good as the repair services available in your area, as in a live, skilled technician coming to your house and fixing your broken stuff.

When you’re being sold on the plan, they’re trying to implant the Fantasy Scenario vision in your head:

The Fantasy Scenario

The technician gets there the same day or next day, knows exactly what the problem is, has the part on his vehicle and gets you all fixed up right then and there. This almost never happens in a real-world warranty situation but that's the fantasy when you buy the plan.

Okay, let’s come back to planet earth and look at how these protection plans work in the real world.

Suppose something breaks and you need service. Depending on who is actually providing the service for the protection plan, the response will likely be one of the following scenarios:

The Typical Sears Scenario

You call and get an appointment for two weeks from now. If you're lucky, you'll get a decent tech who can troubleshoot the problem accurately. But much of the time you'll get an undertrained guy who "thinks" he knows what the problem is but, since corporate policy prohibits him from carrying inventory on his service vehicle (to prevent employee theft and moonlighting), he has to order the parts and come back. That’ll take another two weeks. On the second trip, the servicer installs the new part only to realize that he guessed wrong. Whups! “Golly, ma’am, must be sumpin’ else!” Or, “Dang, another bad board outta the box, that’s the 5th time today!” He scratches his head, takes a guess at another part, and has to come back yet again. Each trip is a four hour window for the servicer’s arrival so that’s two or more half-days you’ll need to take off work to wait for him. Oh, and they may call you on the day of the scheduled appointment to cancel for that day and re-schedule.

The Typical Home Warranty Company Scenario

There are several of these types of companies out there-- NEW, American Home Shield, and others. They all work the same way: you pay them for an appliance warranty plan (repair insurance) and, in return, they’ll cover any repairs that need to be done under warranty. Sounds great on paper and they do a great job selling these plans. But, as you might expect, there are not one, but two big Achilles’ Heels with this arrangement.

1. Their service is only as good as the independent servicers they can find in your area. If you live in a densely populated area, this may be a non-issue. But if you live in a sparsely populated area, this could be a problem. The warranty company won’t have any easier time finding a qualified servicer than you would on your own. In fact, they’ll have a harder time because of the second Achilles’ Heel:

2. Most independent servicers hate working for warranty companies because 1) they are difficult to deal with like any corporate bureaucracy, 2) they are either slow to pay or pay very little compared to COD rates, or 3) they have gotten a reputation in the industry for stiffing servicers and not paying at all after the repair is successfully completed so, as a result, many independent service companies flat out refuse to work with particular warranty companies. The result is a delay in finding a servicer willing to work with the warranty company which means a delay in getting your stuff fixed. This miserable process usually culminates with you spending hours on the phone with the warranty company (most of that time on hold listening to blaring muzak or repetitive announcements telling you how awesome they are).

Protection Plans from Independent Retailers

This requires careful investigation on your part because, again, their warranty is only as good as the service to back it up. Some dealers service what they sell. Okay, fine. But are their technicians any good or are they parts changing monkeys? Hard to know. One way to find out, though, is to use the Internet and see what people are saying about them on places like Google reviews, YP.com, and the Better Business Bureau. Do a Google search of the company’s name and see what you come up with.

Most service companies should have a company website that tells how they do business and a social web presence, at least a Facebook Page. If they don’t, that’s a red flag right there. I don’t say that because I’m a Facebook fanboy, but because it shows something about the company-- that they have a public reputation they are cultivating and want to protect. It also shows that they’re in business for the long-haul.

If you are inclined to go the protection plan route, a good way to go is with a local dealer who services what they sell and one whom you have personally vetted nine ways to Sunday. You don’t want to end up in the situation where you call your local dealer for a protection plan service only to find that their phone has been disconnected. Hey, a lot more common and possible in today’s economy that you may think.

What would I do if I were me? No, wait: what should you do if you were you? No, wait…

IMHO, the best thing to do is to find a good local servicer (using the vetting suggestions discussed above) and establish a relationship with them. Some may offer some kind of protection plan you can purchase. Otherwise, just budget a little money each month into savings to cover eventual repairs.

Here are a few more vetting strategies...

If you don’t get a live human when you first call, don’t leave a message. Call back another time and see if you get a human then. You’re looking to see if getting voicemail is how these people roll or was that a fluke due to bad cell reception or something else going on with them. You want a service company that strives to always answer the phone, even after hours and on weekends. Honestly, in this day and age of cell phones, there’s no excuse for not doing this… unless they just don’t care whether or not they get your work. And that’s what you’re trying to assess.

You also want to find out what their typical response time is. What do they claim their response time is at their website? You’re looking for someone who strives for same day-next day service. The best service companies will offer Saturdays as a regular working day because that’s when people are home and it’s convenient for them (that’s why it’s called appliance repair service).

Once you’ve found this golden service company, cherish them, woo them, nurture that relationship, send them Christmas cards, bake them Kwanza cookies, carve them Hanukah dradles, knit them Ramadan kufis, whatever you think will solidify your connection with them because, when your fridge breaks on a Saturday and you have a houseful of guests, you want them out there that day to get that box cooling again taco-pronto.

If you have the supreme good fortune of living in the Kearsarge-Lake Sunapee Region of New Hampshire, call The Appliance Guru for fast, expert appliance service, including weekend and holiday emergency service at no extra charge. Learn more here: www.ApplianceGuru.com


Soot: A Clear and Present Danger in your Gas Oven

Posted by Samurai Appliance Repair Man, in Oven-Range-Stove Repair 06 December 2013 · 1,687 views
gas, oven, range, soot and 2 more...
I was at a service call on gas range the other day for an oven that wouldn't bake or broil. The cause turned out to be a bad range control board. Nothing unusual about that. The astonishing thing with this range was the inside of the oven cell-- all the surfaces inside were coated with a thick layer of soot (click the images for a larger view):

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This is NOT a normal condition in any gas range. If you see soot accumulated on your oven cell walls, even a little, STOP USING IT AND GET IT CHECKED OUT!

Soot is a product of incomplete combustion. So is Carbon Monoxide (CO), dubbed "the silent killer" because it is odorless and kills by displacing oxygen in your blood, making you sleepy and, in high enough concentrations, can make you take that final dirt nap. We've all heard the stories of people dying in their homes from CO poisoning. Improperly adjusted gas appliances, like the oven shown in the photos above, is one of the more common ways this happens.

A standard practice in the appliance industry is that all gas appliances, ranges, ovens, dryers, etc., come ready to burn natural gas. If you're going to use propane (also abbreviated LP for "liquid propane"), you have to convert the gas system in the appliance to safely burn it without producing soot or unsafe levels of CO.

Since propane burns hotter than natural gas (2,500 Btu/cu ft for propane vs. 1,030 Btu/cu ft for natural gas), it needs more air to make a "complete" (or at least safe and soot-free) combustion. If the air-fuel ratio (AFR) is too low (too much fuel or "too rich" in automobile terms), you'll create soot and unsafe levels of CO. If you're interested in some numbers on the AFR for natural gas and propane, start here.

While no combustion is 100% complete, you can still get close enough to prevent soot formation and keep CO production to safe levels.

The range in this service call is a Kenmore (Frigidaire-built) range that was purchased from a famous, nationwide retail chain (I'll give you one guess; hint: it's a Kenmore). This range, like all gas appliances, came ready to burn natural gas and needed to be converted for use with propane.

The customer paid the retailer for the conversion but it wasn't done properly. They converted the gas burners on the cooktop correctly by replacing the gas metering spuds for each burner with the smaller diameter spuds sized for propane. But they completely neglected to convert either of the gas burners in the oven (bake and broil). Behold (click the images for a larger view):


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To make matters even worse, when the customer called the retailer's customer service department to complain about the soot in the oven, they advised her to run the self clean feature which successfully produced copious amounts of soot and, at the 900F temperatures reached in the oven cell during self clean, baked the soot onto the oven walls. The soot will never come out. This range is only three years old and the oven is effectively ruined.

So how is the strange and mysterious conversion process done in gas ranges? It's really not a mystical experience at all. It's as simple as following the instructions and installing a few pieces that all manufacturers provide for this very purpose. For example, here is an official conversion instruction sheet that Frigidaire includes with the conversion kits for its ranges. GE's conversion instruction sheet has similar information but I think it's a little more comprehensive and easy-to-follow (you'll need to be an Appliantology Apprentice to download it).






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