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2010-11-22 16:38:58.87377+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

Our venerable old Black & Decker Toast-R-Oven lost a heating element. Repair, of course, is absurd, so I went looking for replacements. Now that I'm into woodworking, my associations with the Black & Decker brand aren't positive, so I started looking for other devices.

We have a small house. We're also not averse to paying for quality. So though these things go for roughly $30, for a toaster oven that was well insulated and gave us the right impressions of quality and design we could easily see paying $150 for such an appliance.

The toasters in that price range are really small convection ovens. I had trouble convincing myself that you could actually make a usable convection oven with 1800 watts to work with, and they're all bigger. So we started reading online reviews, a space which the spammers have completely taken over, and started to sink deeper and deeper into the morass, and eventually I was at Lowe's and said "screw this, I want a toaster", and picked up a...

... sigh, $30 "Euro-Pro" toaster. Figuring that while we were spending hundreds of dollars of our time trying to figure out what a good appliance was, we could have a functioning disposable toaster.

In the sealed wrapper, the handle wasn't installed correctly. Opened up, the door needed me to bend sheet metal to be operable. It's all working now, and it's fine, I guess, but I'd really like a good toaster oven device. I guess maybe the smaller Breville, which is still way larger than we want, is the way to go, but consumer appliances suck.

[ related topics: Consumerism and advertising Work, productivity and environment Graphic Design ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-22 17:24:39.443121+00 by: ebradway

Speaking of consumer appliances, last week it was time to change the furnace filter. This is a process in user-unfriendly design. Replacing the filter is recommended as often as monthly by the appliance manufacturer. The appliance in question is a very common, brand-name device costing somewhere on the order of $3000. It is primary a large metal box with a big electric blower fan and a series of gas burners as well as some cooling elements. It was constructed and installed in 1998. So we are talking about a fairly modern furnace.

This entire appliance is made out of about 1/16th inch sheet metal. The edges are all very sharp. Every step contains a real chance of inflicting a nasty cut with the remote possibility of losing a digit.

To get to the filter, you first remove the upper front panel. This is done by applying around 30ft-lbs of force to the panel in a vertical direction. A small plastic handle is provided in the center of the panel which gives to a grip that only a seasoned rock climber would label "good". Any flexing of the panel increases the required torque significantly.

There is no documentation or labeling on the box to tell you that this is the right way to get to the filter.

Removing the top-front panel triggers a switch that automatically turns off the fan and furnace. Note that even the initial 30 ft-lbs of force is more than adequate to bend the sheet metal construction of the appliance. If the metal is bent to any degree, you will not be able to replace the panel such that the switch is engaged. That is, even the smallest damage to the panel will permanently disable the appliance until you can get the panel repaired.

Once the top-front panel is off, you must intuit that the bottom-front panel also needs to be removed. This panel has no plastic handle. The basic removal motion is similar to the top panel except that you have to grab the sheet-metal edge and apply the 30 ft-lbs or so of force in a vertical direction with your fingers in direct contact with the edge of the sheet metal and your hand inside the upper compartment where the gas burner apparatus is. If your hand slips, you will likely hit the back of it on the upper apparatus. Fortunately, the sharp edge of the metal panel digs into your skin, making slippage unlikely unless there is significant blood spilled (blood is very slippery - this is why butcher shops and pirates put wood shavings on their floors).

The bottom-front panel moves approximately 1/2 inch upward and then stops. Of course, applying 30 ft lbs of force over 1/2 inch means you just created enough momentum to come close to shearing off your finger tips once the panel stops. At this point, the top edge of the panel needs to be pulled outward towards you. This requires applying 10-15 ft lbs of force to the top edge in a horizontal direction. The drain pipe is about 3 inches away from the front of the panel, so again, you have to apply the force but rapidly reverse the direction of the force to overcome any momentum lest you risk damaging either the sheet metal or the drain pipe.

At this point, you can see the filter in the lower right of the fan. The filter is 16"x25"x1" (of course, when we first moved in, the filter was a 20"x25"x1" filter than someone cut down to size, necessitating a second trip to the hardware store to return the first pack of filters). A long metal bar snaps to a piece of plastic in front of the filter and attaches in the back of the furnace to another piece of plastic. Neither the metal bar nor the piece of plastic in the rear of the furnace were designed to hold the two together, so once you disconnect the front of the bar, the back also falls off.

You can then remove the old filter. Be sure to note the airflow direction arrow on the new filter. Even though there is no indication anywhere on the furnace, you should be able to intuit that this is the intake of the furnace. Air flows in from the opening the filter covers, so the arrow needs to point into the furnace. This is so obvious to every person that it needs not be documented anywhere.

Be careful to line up the filter "just right". You understand "just right" in a few minutes. There are several sheet metal screws protruding through the side of the sheet metal box to help you wedge the filter in place. These are "self- tapping" sheet metal screws, commonly used to assemble the sheet metal box. Self-tapping means "extra sharp", they go right through metal without the extra effort of using a drill. They also go through the side of your hand with even greater ease. Mind you, the screws were not placed here for this purpose, so they do not indicate, in any way, the proper position of the filter. You do need to press the filter against the screws because they need to pierce the cardboard of the filter. You now need to reach 25 inches into the back of the furnace (about 6 inches off the floor) to re-attach the metal bar. Now see if you can secure the metal bar around the filter to the piece of plastic in the front of the furnace. At this point, you'll note that while the filter is exactly 25" long, the bar is 24.75" long. The bar will partially crush the cardboard filter. But that's OK, you won't be returning the filter because it has holes in it from the screws (see above). It may take several tries to get this right, especially the first time. It's recommended you not invest in the $20 HEPA filter. Instead, practice on the $3 cheap blue filters. Oh, maybe I should have mentioned that first!

Once you have the filter in place, you have to reinstall the sheet metal front panels. I am now out of time, so I won't go into detail (trust me, there are lots of them!). Just be aware that both panels have to be reinstalled perfectly (tolerances of less than 1/8th inch) with significant application of force or either the panels will be bent resulting in either the safety switch not being reset (and no heat) or constant rattling. Either condition requires either a reasonable level of mechanical aptitude and perspective thinking or a visit from an HVAC professional.

This process needs to be repeated either every 30 days for the cheap blue filter (just enough time for your hands to heal) or every 90 days for the more expensive filters (just enough time to forget how to do this).

Once again, I am describing routine maintenance on a very common, very expensive household appliance. Yes, consumer appliances suck.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-22 17:57:29.538866+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yes! And the worst part is that filter changing has been a sucky task for as long as I've known about it, which means that the suckiness is institutionalized!

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-22 20:53:32.443242+00 by: Larry Burton

Changing HVAC filters can be twice the headache on commercial models and ten times the headache on industrial systems, requiring ladders and hazmat suits and the ability to lift 80lbs above your head while on said ladder.

There was a time when Emmet ran a Fix-It shop and would repair toasters, alarm clocks and other household gadgets and earn a decent income from the work. This was during a time when milk was delivered to the door of a 900 square foot house that was the home of a one-income family of four that owned one car which was fueled at a full service gas station and often serviced and repaired by the car's owner.

Exactly how has this disposable economy improved our lifestyles?

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-22 21:21:13.899836+00 by: spc476

A high price doesn't imply high quality. At work, I'm tasked with writing test code to drive the application we're writing ("application" isn't quite the right word for a back-end telephony service but it's close enough) and I'm fighting more bugs in the expensive (high six to low seven figures---the higher ups aren't quite saying what they paid) third party Protocol Stack From Hell™ than in the $2000 third party embedded web server (which I've yet to find a bug in). In fact, just last Friday I found the Protocol Stack From Hell™ uses a global variable when constructing packets (no, really! A newbie mistake in a "professionally written enterprise software package").

Sigh. Either rework my code to avoid threads, or fix The Protocol Stack From Hell™ for which we paid …

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-22 23:33:40.418505+00 by: ebradway

A high price obviously doesn't imply high quality, but it does leave a lot more room for improvement. The HVAC manufacturers are leaving themselves open to competition by not paying even rudimentary attention to design. The industry that gave us duct tape seems stalled in 1960s industrial design.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-23 08:40:34.328202+00 by: dexev

So, given all of this, why is repair "absurd"?

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-23 11:22:28.378153+00 by: DaveP

My toaster-oven is a Cuisinart Convection Oven Toaster Broiler, and is the previous model to this one. It's pretty nice, and the crumb-tray / bottom comes out relatively easily (though from the back - why doesn't anyone make one you clean from the front?) and using convection mode speeds cooking a pizza or bacon by about 30%. It'll bake a 9" pizza, but not a 12". I also use it for baking a single small loaf of bread, and broiling meats indoors in the winter. I recommend it.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-23 15:24:36.228223+00 by: Dan Lyke

A high price may not imply high quality (ie: Wolf stoves), but I've got more examples of that than low price, high quality.

On repair being absurd: By the time I track down a new heating element that'll fit in that toaster oven, and pay for shipping, let alone the time necessary to take the appliance apart and swap out the pieces, I'd have paid several times just buying a new one.

Dave, thanks, that's the kind of recommendation I'm interested in.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-23 16:23:42.770532+00 by: markd

If you end up having to replace the newer one a couple of times in the next N years, the repair might be a better bargain in the long run.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-11-23 17:14:16.846421+00 by: DaveP

You're welcome, Dan. As to longevity, I've had mine since I bought my house seven years ago. It's considerably dirtier than when it was new, but still works well.

Then again, the only reason I got rid of my previous toaster oven is because it wasn't big enough for a loaf of bread. That one is currently serving as an oven for home-powder-coating at a friend's house.

I use my toaster oven a lot, but they seem to be one of the appliances that last long for me.