Reason #8251 you should thank God every day that you are a renter

Considering buying a house? Here’s a tale from the Department of How to Turn a Small Problem into a Fatal Problem: the erratic temperature control in our IKEA-brand oven finally got on my nerves enough to arrange service. The range is made by Whirlpool in Italy so it was Whirlpool who showed up. The technician got excited about a loose trim piece as the source of the temperature fluctuation and took the range away from the wall to facilitate reattachment. Then he put it all back and tested the oven and discovered that the temp was still not regulated properly. So he ordered some parts and left. A few hours later we began to think “this gas smell is a little too strong to be accounted for by a two-year-old playing with the knobs.” So it was time to call the emergency number for National Grid. They had to show up after dark, pull the range away from the wall again, and tighten the connections so that they were no longer leaking.


11 thoughts on “Reason #8251 you should thank God every day that you are a renter

  1. Rental apartments are almost always equipped with ovens.

    Oh, I get it. Landlords won’t fix trivial issues, so small problems can’t be made into big ones by incompetent technicians.

    Wait, you bought an oven from IKEA?

  2. Diana: A professionally managed apartment building may have 500 ranges, all of them installed in the same way and maintained by a full-time staff that is 100% familiar with the range and the installation. The apartment buildings that I have seen are all-electric so there is no gas line to deal with.

    Your assumption that I bought an oven from IKEA is correct… as long as you are willing to accept that it came in a $900,000 box.

  3. I think this is a better argument for doing it yourself, rather than renting vs. buying.

    Ubiquitous incompetent technicians are the reason that I rarely, if ever, let anyone else do any kind of repair work on anything I own. Admittedly, the majority of incompetence that I’ve encountered has been with auto mechanics, but I’ve seen enough incompetence among other “fixers” that I have little-to-no confidence in any of them. Some examples, in no particular order:

    – An auto mechanic from one of the local “good” shops showed up at my house, hours after I’d picked up the car, to pick up tools that he’d left on the engine.

    – After getting a car back from a shop, I discovered that the air cleaner assembly was completely unattached, just sitting at a random place on top of the engine.

    – In another car the windshield wipers would turn on if you barely touched the wiper control arm adjacent to the steering wheel, so that I was constantly accidentally turning them on when I reached for the radio volume knob. After a couple days in the dealer’s shop, I was informed that they couldn’t duplicate the failure. When I arrived at the dealer — after a series of bus rides — with the service manager watching, I merely lightly touched the wiper control arm and the windshield wipers started. It took another day for them to get a replacement control arm.

    – The official building inspection I had done when I bought my current house stated that there was no drain in the basement floor. After I moved in, I discovered the floor drain underneath a small rug the previous owners had put over it in front of the clothes washer.

    – I installed an evaporative cooler on the roof of a house I lived in. A couple years later, we had a new asphalt shingle roof installed. After the installation was done I went up on the roof to inspect the work. The roofers had covered the entire roof *except* for the area of the roof directly underneath the cooler. They had actually cut the shingles to fit around the angle-iron support for the cooler, thus leaving a gaping hole about three feet square in the roof. A call to the owner of the roofing company, who happened to be a nearby neighbor, produced another roofer who did it right. But, really? This was one of the largest, longest-established roofing companies in the large metro area where I live.

    Fortunately, I’m one of those geeky people who know enough about a lot of things that I can make or fix most things. Now with the internet, the area of my “expertise” has expanded dramatically. If I don’t know how to do something, usually a little bit of time duckduckgo-ing (googling for those who want google to know everything about them) will provide scads of links to online forum descriptions or youtube videos of exactly how to do it. It also doesn’t hurt that I get some satisfaction out of fixing things myself, especially when doing it myself can save literally thousands of dollars. A case in point: in August I took my AMG Mercedes to the local Mercedes body shop to get an estimate for fixing a bit of rust along the bottom of all four doors. The quote was “up to $12,000 because we won’t know how bad it is until we start work on it, and we might find that we need to replace all four doors, and we won’t start work on it unless you commit up-front to potentially paying that full amount.” While the car is almost literally in mint condition, it’s still only worth about that much on the open market. So, instead, I spent maybe 25 hours over the next week grinding, neutralizing rust, bondo-ing, priming and painting the bottom inch or so of the doors with a black matte finish (the car is dark blue). It looks fine and I completely sealed the bottom of the door so it should never rust again. Total out-of-pocket cost? Less than $100. I’d never done anything like that before but that internet thingy gave me all the information I needed to do a pretty decent job myself.

    Your mileage may vary, of course.

  4. Phil I am usually your biggest fan however I must disagree with you. I think you are very smart and could have possibly fixed this problem all on your own. As a home owner I must assume you have basic tools. I think its safe to say with your engineering background you could have easily diagnosed and fixed this problem yourself. There are many benefits to home ownership, appreciation, tax advantages etc. etc. It’s a good thing MA did away with rent control. If you were to live in a rent controlled apartment it is likely that the “professionally managed apartment building” would be falling down because rent control encourages landlords to let their buildings fall into disrepair. One idea for you may be to move into a hotel. This may be the best of both worlds for you!

  5. At my current place, the furnace occasionally overheats and shuts off. They have to send someone out to reset it every few week. This happens in many of the units. They have no intention of permanently fixing it, but at least the staff are 100% familiar with the problem. 😉

  6. Scary story, but I agree, there’s literally nothing about it that is more likely to happen to an owner than a renter. Bad repair people happen to everyone.

    If new apartment buildings are more likely to have electric than gas ranges, that’s really just a factor of cost. It’s much more expensive to plumb gas than to pull wire. I don’t know anyone who cooks who prefers an electric range.

    If I remember correctly, it’s against MA code for non-plumbers to disconnect or connect flexible gas lines. This includes installation and removal of appliances. While there are obvious safety issues, I think this makes MA unusual in the extent to which the commonwealth will protect the common health.

  7. You have the ikea range that looks like a “pro-style” range but isn’t really. Most pro-STYLE ranges are just that – style over substance – they perform no better, often worse than cheapo gas ranges. The biggest burner on the ikea is 11,000 BTU which is wimpy.

    If you have little kids, you should get rid of the gas range entirely. Look into getting an induction cooktop and an electric convection oven (you’ll need to have some cabinetry work done and of course electric lines run). Cooking on a gas range is little different than what cave men did but an induction stove is something suitable for 21st century life. No open flames. No explosive gas. “Wolf” is an appropriate name for a gas range – it’s like having a wild animal in your kitchen. I prefer something more domesticated, especially around little kids.

    The only downside is that your cookware must be ferrous on the bottom – if a magnet sticks to it, it will work. If your current cookware isn’t, they budget for some replacement pots. Tramontina makes convincing (induction capable) All-Clad clones at a fraction of All-Clad pricing.

    If you don’t believe me, buy an induction hotplate and give it a try – you won’t believe how fast and safe it is (and induction hotplates are limited to 1800W on a 120V line – a real induction stove will be much faster). For $50, it’s a great toy. (The other question is why one Chinese induction hotplate costs $50 but four of them stuck together in an American made cooktop cost $1,000+? Another miracle of Chinese manufacturing or else the cost accounting dept of American appliance manufacturers is not good at math.)

  8. Izzie: Induction does seem like the way to go, but as hinted above, the range came with the house and is a non-standard size (36″ wide but only the same depth as the counter). I think that it retailed for about $2000 during most of its life at IKEA. There is no basement in this house (brilliant 1960s architects: put everything on a slab) so rewiring is non-trivial. We’ll see if the ordered replacement parts actually show up and help in any way.

  9. They make 36″ induction tops but no 36″ induction ranges for some reason. However you won’t get a 36″ inch induction top in a 36″ space because of the need for side clearances. However you could get a 30″ induction top plus a 30″ single wall oven mounted in a 36″ custom cabinet/countertop. The 24″ depth is standard and no prob. You would need a 50 amp line for the induction and probably a 30 or a 40 (both @240V) for the oven. All in all it would cost you a pretty penny but safety is worth a lot, esp. with little kids around.

    On an induction stove you can leave a dishtowel or potholder right on the top directly adjacent to the pot and it won’t even get warm let alone burst into flames. You can go from barely warm (melt chocolate without a double boiler) to roaring hot and back again instantly. A small quantity of water boils in seconds. In the summer you heat up the kitchen much less – on a gas stove a large percentage of heat goes up the sides of the pot and into the air.

    BTW, an induction top is a pleasure to clean – because the glass never gets that hot spills don’t bake on and there are no nooks and crannies – just a smooth sheet of glass that you can clean with Windex.

  10. I presume the man will come back with a replacement part, or a colleague of his. Please keep us informed of the developments (will Phil get an apology? excuses? both? neither? a real cliffhanger).

  11. BTW, with a bottle of soap bubble water and two large adjustable wrenches you could have tightened your gas connection in the time it took to dial National Grid. (The leaking gas blows bubbles at the point of the leak. If the bubbles stop the leak is fixed.) The pressure in domestic gas pipes is extremely low by design – about 0.25 PSI – so it’s not that hard to achieve a seal. Probably the National Grid guys added 1/4 turn on the leaky end and that did the trick. If you don’t trust your plumbing skills, have the national grid guys come out afterward anyway but in the meantime your house isn’t filling with gas.

    BTW #2 if you suspect gas, don’t pick up a landline phone or throw any light switches – the spark that you get on contact might be enough to trigger the explosion.

    BTW #3, learn where the gas valves are in your house and how to turn them off. You can shut everything off right at the meter if you don’t know where the smell is coming from – there is a quarter turn valve and when the padlock eyelets line up the gas is off – convenient for the gas company to lock you out of your service if you fail to pay your bill. Any pipe wrench or large adjustable should work. Or else there is a shut off valve right where the gas pipe exits the floor behind the stove – 1/4 turn, no tools needed. When the handle is in line with the pipe the gas is on, when it is perpendicular to the pipe it is off. When seconds count, help is only minutes away.

    However if you have any appliances with a standing pilot (typically the water heater the only one nowadays) it will have to be relit once the main valve is back on.

    Fortunately, it’s not that easy to trigger a gas explosion – you need just the right mixture and a source of ignition. But I suggest being more pro-active than just calling the utility co. – either fix the leak or turn off the gas or open the windows and evacuate but don’t just sit around waiting for them to show up while your house slow fills with gas.

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