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:
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 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:
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.
Many appliance owners are frustrated today because they don't realize that the days of buying an appliance and having it work trouble-free for 10 to 15 years are long gone.
The good news is that you can buy an appliance today for about what you would have paid 15-20 years ago.
The bad news is that there's an on-going cost of appliance ownership in doing repairs-- industry average is every 2 to 4 years.
What varies among brands and models is how big will that repair need to be, not whether or not it'll need one-- I guarantee you it will!
Short answer to the question asked in the title of this post: NONE! That brand doesn't exist anymore.
As for brand recommendations, I have a complete report that I update periodically and give away for free when people subscribe to our free newsletter, Appliantology: The Oracle of Appliance Enlightenment.
In this journey into Total Appliance Awareness™, The Appliance Guru reveals the mysterious and elusive cause for excessive rime ice (frost) formation inside the freezer compartment of a GE Profile French Door refrigerator.
This is the time of year, the countdown to Thanksgiving, that we professional Appliantologists lovingly refer to as “Cooking Season.”
I love cooking season. It marks the next season in my local appliance service bidness from the warm refrigerator fire drills all summer long, through the inevitable slowdown after Labor Day, to cooking season when families get together to break bread and turkey legs, crack a few cold ones, catch up on each other’s lives and generally get on each other’s nerves. Through it all, The Appliance Guru is right there with you, helping, listening, seeing things we shouldn’t see… oh, wait, that’s the NSA.
Many of my local service customers, aware that they’re coming up on Thanksgiving, figure they better go ahead and run a self-clean cycle on their range or oven in case that nosey mother-in-law decides to inspect the inside of the oven.
Problem is that this is about the only time during the whole year they run the self-clean cycle. More often than not, what ends up happening is that all the grease accumulated on the door latch motor gets hardened into a crusty, burnt cement that prevents the door latch from unlocking at the end of the cycle.
Result: door stuck closed at the end of the clean cycle and no access to the oven. I get dozens of these calls in the run up to Thanksgiving. It’s nice, profitable work for me so it’s definitely not in my self-interest to give away these closely-guarded trade secrets. But you’ve just reaped the bountiful benefit of reading my blog here at Appliantology!
I’ll let you in an another secret: Our range at home has the self-clean feature, like most medium to upper-end ranges do. We have never used it, not even once. I don’t generally get away with telling Mrs. Guru what to do— she doesn’t take kindly to that and can get downright ornery. But when I explain to her that using the self-clean feature can break her oven and it might take me months to get it fixed (because no one pays me to fix my own broken stuff), she sees the light. And now you do, too.
One of the most common complaints I hear people make about front-load washers is about odor: stinky basket, stinky door gasket, stinky towels, stinky underwear... okay, I'll stop there.
In almost every case, when I see (smell) this problem on service calls, they all invariably have the same cause: incorrect detergent usage, either too much or the wrong kind.
For front-load washers (and HE top-loaders), you should only be using HE detergent.
And, no, using less of the regular stuff is not the same thing because washing clothes in a low water environment requires a special chemistry, which is what the HE detergents are engineered to do. I don't understand why someone would spend over $1,000 for a front-load washer and then try to shave shekels buying cheap detergent. That's what we call penny-wise and dollar-dumb.
I'll hear some techs say that you should only use powdered detergent, sometimes they'll even recommend a specific brand, like Tide. This is well-meaning but misguided misinformation. Using powdered or liquid HE detergent is not the issue because the chemistry is the same. What does matter is using the correct amount of HE detergent for your water hardness quality. The general guidelines are:
HE detergent: 2 tablespoons
HEx2 (double concentrated): 1 tablespoon
HEx3: 1 teaspoon
Unless you know for a fact that you have very hard water where you live (defined as > 10.5 gpg, more details here), then the most HE detergent you should ever use, powder or liquid, is 2 tablespoons.
The number one problem that people don't seem to get is that they are using too much detergent, whether powdered or liquid. Even if it is HE, too much will cause odor problems.
FWIW, we've been using liquid HE detergent in our front loaders for the past 15 years and never had even a whiff of an odor or mildew issue. But we have always implemented the 9 odor-beating techniques AND always remove the clothes from the washer as soon as they're done.
It's also important that your detergent is fresh, and if you use powdered, it must be kept completely dry. If the powder gets damp while in storage, it loses most of its punch.
Q. What's the biggest single difference between HE and non-HE detergents? Give up?
A. HE detergent has additives specifically designed to suppress sudsing because sudsing interferes with the mechanical action of removing soils from fabrics.
Okay, here's another one:
Q. What do most people like to see when they do laundry?
A. SUDS! Lots and lots of suds. They open the lid or look through the glass and don't see suds, what do they do? Yep: add more detergent until they see suds. Then they wonder why their clothes stink.
Fun Fact to Know and Tell (FFTKAT): Detergent contains most of the necessary ingredients to support microbial life. In other words, it's bug food. What do bacteria do as they grow? Like all life forms, they produce waste products. Sometimes, this is a good thing, like in the case of making beer. But other times, it's a bad thing, like in the case of making stinky laundry.
The detergent manufacturers are partly to blame here, too. They put idiot directions on the label instructing the customer to use too much. Supposedly, the usage instructions are based on a North American average of water hardness. I'm not sure I believe that. The amount they say to use would be appropriate for areas with extreme hard water. For most areas, the amount on the label is three to four times too much and causes all kinds of problems, including odors and the infamous F35/sud error code in Whirlpool steam washers…
Troubleshooting a Whirlpool Duet washer with an F11 error code and repairing it without using any parts
Many appliance servicers have been befuddled by the elusive and mysterious F11 error code in these Whirlpool Duet front loading washers (also sold under the Kenmore brand). In their confusion and frustration, many will go into Parts Changing Monkey mode and start blindly replacing expensive control boards without really fixing the problem (but still charging the customer, of course).
The Appliance Guru never does business that way. You hire me to solve a problem. Period. I give a quote up-front for the complete repair cost and I stick to it. If my diagnosis is wrong, that's my problem, not yours and it won't cost you a penny more than what I quoted.
How can I offer professional appliance repair services this way and stay in business? Well, it means I better know what I'm doing and be able to do real troubleshooting, not just throw parts at the problem and hope to get lucky.
The infamous and all-too-common F11 error code in these Whirlpool Duet front load washers is a case-in-point. The tech sheet inside the washer says this is a communications error between two control boards: the CCU (central control unit) and MCU (motor control unit). Even Whirlpool's own technical guidance for this error is abysmal; they say to replace the CCU and if that doesn't fix it, then replace the MCU. This is why there is so much confusion among appliance repair techs in the field. Each of these control boards costs well north of $200 and the CCU in particular goes on frequent backorder, adding lots more cost and inconvenient downtime to the customer.
As I show in the video, the F11 error code problem in these Whirlpool Duet washers can almost always be repaired without replacing any expensive control boards. While I'm sure the Whirlpool engineers know about this repair, I'm also sure that Whirlpool management has prevented them from issuing a technical bulletin on this. After all, selling expensive replacement parts is a big profit center for Whirlpool Corporation (they are not alone or unique in this regard-- most of the manufacturers play this game).
The Appliance Guru is always looking for ways to add value to his service by saving his customers money!
If you have the supreme good fortune of living in the Kearsarge-Lake Sunapee Region of New Hampshire, call The Appliance Guru for expert appliance repair service. All repairs are guaranteed 110%. (603) 290-5515
We've been having a spectacular autumn leaf-peeping season in the Kearsarge-Lake Sunapee region this year. I hope you've been able to get out and enjoy it. I sure have! Here's a small sampling of some of the leaf-peeping I've done. To see a larger view of any photo, just click on the picture you'd like to see and a larger image will open in a new browser window. Enjoy!
Purple Haze at the Clarke Lookout
Autumn Fire from Lincoln Woods Trail
Looking Down on the Famous Cliffs of Mt. Dickey
The Oz Man Chilleth on Mt. Welch
Deadly Mistake Numero Uno: Using a gel detergent or powered detergent that is old or has already gotten wet.
The main tasks of a detergent are to remove soil from surfaces and prevent the re-deposits of soils on the surfaces. The best detergent formulations will be powdered. Do not use gels or liquid detergents.
Why powdered detergent? Because in today's phosphate-free world, you need two types of cleaners in a detergent formulation to get dishes clean:
1. Enzymes to remove protein-based stains
2. Bleach to remove other stains
These two cleaners are incompatible with each other-- if they're released at the same time, the bleach will destroy the enzyme and, after this epic battle, there will be little or nothing left of the bleach to do even its little bit of cleaning. The result: dirty dishes. They can coexist in a powdered form because they are not activated until 1) they get wet and 2) the water temperature reaches 125 deg. F. In a liquid or gel form, everything is already wet so you're only getting one kind of cleaning action.
Detergent has a shelf life. Old detergent will not work well because the enzymes denature over time. Also, the detergent must stay dry until it's time to use it. Once it gets wet or even damp, it activates and will no longer be active when put to work inside the dishwasher.
In my experience as a professional Appliantologist, my customers have enjoyed much better dishwashing results after I switched them over to Finish Powerball tablets. I leave two free samples behind and invariably, they report vastly improved washing results. BTW, I do not make a kickback for giving out the Finish Powerball samples-- I do it because the manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser, puts on an excellent training seminar at the appliance training sessions I attend and it really does work well.
Deadly Mistake Numero Duo: Pre-rinsing dishes.
It is not only okay to put dirty dishes into a dishwasher, it is mandatory to properly activate the detergent! Detergents are designed to work with food soils, not clean water. Without the food soils, the detergent will create a caustic slurry inside the dishwasher which will etch the glassware by removing the silica from the glass.
Not only that, but pre-rinsing the dishes wastes water. DOE estimates that pre-rinsing dishes uses 20 gallons of water per load. Scrape the chunks off with a fork and leave the rest on the dishes. It's a dishwasher, for crying out loud! Let it do what it was designed to do!
Deadly Mistake Numero Trio: Not scraping the chunks of food or solid debris off the plates before loading them into the dishwasher.
Taken together, these last two Deadly Mistakes are a great illustration of the saying, "The opposite of dysfunction is dysfunction." People tend to fall into one camp or the other: they're either OCD pre-rinsers or they use the dishwasher as a garbage disposal.
You wouldn't believe some of the junk I've pulled out of dishwashers! Here's a short list of some of the things I've dredged up from deep within the bowels of broken dishwashers:
- plastic wrappers- tooth picks- bits of bone- broken glass- mayonnaise jar label- an adult human tooth!- crab leg shells- candle wick holders- ear rings- a tongue stud-- yes, a tongue stud!
Today's dainty little dishwashers can't handle hard solids and these things end up damaging the innards of the dishwasher such as breaking the macerator or binding the wash motor impeller.
So there you have it, the Big Three. Almost every dishwasher service call I go out on, the customer is doing at least one of the Three Deadlies. But not you because The Appliance Guru hath revealed esoteric dishwasher wisdom unto thee!
Since you slogged (or scrolled) through to the end of this post, here are a couple of bonus tips for getting the best performance from your dishwasher:
Tip #1: Use Rinse Aid!
It’s not an option with today’s dinky dishwashers. Rinse aid allows the dishwasher to use less water with the same amount of cleaning and drying effectiveness. It does this by creating what we professional appliantologists call “sheeting action” of the water. By making the water sheet along dishes, rather than cluster into beads, it evaporates faster and with less energy.
Tip #2: Do Routine Dishwasher Tune-Ups
No tools needed! Regularly using a dishwasher cleaner (Affresh) and performance booster (Glass Magic) to clear out the gookus and reduce the build-up will keep your dishwasher clean and fresh smelling and operating at peak performance.
Most people are familiar with the “time and materials” method (TMM) of calculating the fees for in-home appliance repair, but a method called the “flat-rate system” (FRS) is gaining in popularity around the country. Many folks wonder how exactly the FRS works, and if one of these systems is better than the other. I’m gonna break it down for you, and go over the pros and cons of these systems.
Disclosure: Our service company, The Appliance Guru, uses the FRS. However, we don’t sell a flat-rate book or anything like that, so we don’t stand to gain one way or another with any particular recommendation. But since we researched this ourselves to arrive at our decision, I can share what we found out about both systems.
A summary of the Time and Materials method
The usual TMM fee for an in-home appliance service call is calculated by adding 3 basic pieces of information together: the service fee, the part(s) cost, and the labor charge.
The service fee is a set amount that is charged to cover the trip to the house and the effort and expertise it takes to diagnose the problem. (Some people refer to this as the fee to “come and look at it”, but that’s an absurdly simplistic way to describe the troubleshooting process!) Service fees for coming to diagnose most standard residential appliances may range from about $55 to $95, depending on the area.
The labor charge will be based on the actual time spent doing the repair multiplied by the hourly rate. This rate will also vary according to area, and should be disclosed up front. Also, there may be a minimum time that will be charged, such as a half hour. The part(s) cost will be a retail price, not the actual wholesale price that the servicer paid for the part.
Some experienced servicers are able to give a “not to exceed” quote on a repair beforehand, so the customer has an understanding of the upper limit of the cost of the repair and has some protection against unexpected time delays. Others do not do this and will just charge based on how long the repair actually takes.
What is the Flat-rate system?
Although the FRS is fairly new to the appliance repair scene, many other trades have used a similar system for a long time. Auto mechanics usually have standard “book rates” for certain tasks, rather than charging each customer the actual time (labor) it takes to do a repair.
The FRS is pretty straightforward. When the appliance servicer diagnoses the machine and determines what repair is needed, he will look up the fee for the particular repair in a book and then quote the customer that price for the repair. For example, if a widget on an ACME washer needs to be replaced, the servicer would look in the section for ACME washers, find the task “replace widget”, and the total cost for the completed repair will be listed beside it. There occasionally can be some add-ons if, for example, the washer is located in such a tight little closet that either it will take a lot more effort or a second man is required to help maneuver it so that it can be serviced, in which case a “difficult access” or “second man” charge will be added. There are also discounts that will be made if more than one task is performed during the same service call.
The main point of the FRS is that the exact cost of the repair is quoted up front to the customer, so that they can make a fully-informed decision about going forward with the repair. If a customer decides not to do the repair, then typically the servicer will charge a diagnostic or service fee of some amount that was disclosed up-front, similar to the service fee I mentioned in the TMM description.
How are the Flat Rates calculated?
The most common appliance repair flat-rate book on the market is called The Original Blue Book Major Appliance Job Rate Guide. According to the publisher’s website, the primary elements that comprise the rates in the guide are: “parts, time & labor, equipment, predictable and unpredictable circumstances surrounding specific jobs, inventory management, education/training, office staff, advertising, insurances, travel time to and from the customers home, and all service vehicle expenses.” (appliancebluebook.com)
Essentially, the FRS is similar to TMM in that the labor, time, and parts are all factored into the price for the repair. Similarly, an accurately determined labor rate for a TMM servicer will factor in all of the additional costs of doing business listed above. Obviously, in order to stay in business, any company needs to adequately price their services in order to cover all of the expenses involved, and since this can be a complicated calculation to make, the FRS is an attractive and easy pricing solution for repair companies.
What’s important in choosing a servicer
First of all, the pricing system that a service company uses is NOT the most important consideration the customer should make. Neither system will compensate for a technician who is incompetent, inconvenient, or dishonest. Either system can work well for a technician who runs a good business. The first things you should learn about a prospective appliance repair business is not the pricing, but rather their experience, convenience, guarantees, and the like. If they are a good company with well-trained technicians, then you will likely be charged a fair rate. It may not be the cheapest rate, but as we all know you usually get what you pay for.
Appliance repair - what you need to know about this trade
One other important point before we go into the pros and cons is that you should understand how the appliance repair trade is evolving, and how it is different from other skilled trades such as plumbing and electric.
For one thing, there are hundreds of different models of appliances out there. Having a reasonable inventory of parts along with all the technical bulletins, manuals, and other up-to-date information on all of these requires both time and financial resources to manage. A servicer who does not keep up with inventory and information will be less likely to be able to complete your repair in a timely or competent manner.
Also, the fact that modern appliances are getting increasingly complicated, particularly with all of the electronic control boards and advanced features, makes training and after-hours research a regular part of any technician’s schedule. Gone are the days when a general handyman or tradesman in another specialty can do a lot of appliance repair tasks quickly and effectively.
One other consideration is that the average day for an appliance repair tech involves many more trips between job sites as compared to a plumber or electrician. This extra time driving between jobs decreases the “billable hours” available during a typical weekday.
Because of these unique characteristics of the appliance repair trade, the rates for appliance repair (whether calculated via TMM or the FRS) often run higher than the hourly rates charged by different types of tradesmen such as plumbers or electricians.
Enough already! Which pricing system is better?
If all other qualities of an appliance repair company are equal, is one pricing system better than the other?
First of all, you should understand that in a sense both methods result in some degree of “averaging out” of the cost of jobs. Let me explain what I mean.
For example, the cost of a particular task charged by a company using the FSM will be the same no matter how slow or fast, experienced or inexperienced the technician. So every customer will pay essentially an averaged-out price for that repair. A widget replacement will cost $X regardless of whether it took the tech 10 minutes or an hour to complete it.
Alternatively, a TMM servicer will charge the exact same hourly rate for a repair regardless of the amount of training or expertise that particular repair requires. Hourly rates are calculated to adequately cover all costs of doing business, which includes ongoing training and equipment for increasingly complicated electronics and machines. Yet even the simplest of repair jobs will be charged the same hourly rate as the most complicated, even though plenty of repairs on older machines do not require particularly advanced skills, ongoing training, or expensive test equipment. The FRS is able to take these details into account for each particular job, whereas the TMM is not, because the FRS pricing takes into account the level of skill (training) required for a particular job, not just how long it takes to actually perform the task itself.
Here’s a summary of what customers like about flat-rate pricing:
- The exact repair cost is quoted up front, which makes the “repair or replace” decision easier to make and gives the customer more of a feeling of being in control of the situation.
- The standardization of prices prevents a price “penalty” for a slower technician or one who doesn’t have the part on the truck and will need to make a second trip.
- The knowledge that the price is an accurate reflection of the actual skills, effort, and equipment needed for that particular job is reassuring.
I would also point out something people might not think of - since the flat-rate prices are calculated very carefully to cover all of an appliance repair company’s expenses (including training to stay up-to-date on new appliances) and provide a living wage for the servicers, the businesses that use this system are more likely to stay in business for the long term. That’s important if you have found a company that you like! If your favorite tech throws in the towel because he just can’t make ends meet, then where are you?
Here’s what people like about time and materials pricing:
- Seeing the cost of the part and the labor itemized gives a feeling of transparency.
- Knowing how much a technician is charging hourly allows them to judge if they think it is reasonable, often by comparing to other servicers (as I mentioned earlier, this is generally not a valid comparison if you are comparing an appliance tech to someone in a different field, such as a plumber or electrician).
Is one method cheaper than the other?
There is no good reason that - on average - the prices for either method should be cheaper than the other if they are all based on covering all the costs of doing business. We happen to have had the opportunity to compare our “book prices” with those of other appliance repair companies who work in our area and found that the differences were generally not significant and there was no consistent pattern to who was more or less expensive.
The only reason that some people will find lower prices with a company using the TMM is that they are undercharging for their services (and thus at risk for going out of business) or are skimping in various ways, such as not being insured, not keeping a well-stocked inventory of parts, not staying current on training, not guaranteeing their work, not having a live human answer the phone, not doing same-day scheduling, etc.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately you should choose your appliance tech based on the level of service he provides, not how he charges. If price is your most important consideration, then you will likely have to sacrifice some amount of convenience and quality to get a lower price.
If you have a choice between two equally good repair companies with different pricing structures, then you can use the above comparisons to decide which one would suit your temperament best.
In this rockem-sockem episode of Appliantology TV, The Appliance Guru is batting clean-up behind another appliance tech and an electrician, both of whom failed to fix the problem. Watch with amazement as The Appliance Guru leads you by the hand and nose through a tricky and rare problem that prevented a dryer heating element from getting hot and the timer from advancing yet the motor still ran. I know, I know-- I make this stuff look easy!
If you have a broken appliance and you want it fixed right the first time, don't waste your time with anyone else-- call The Appliance Guru for fast, expert service today!
The Appliance Guru: fixed right, fixed right away!