By Polly Keary, Editor
Steve Gilbert of Steve’s Appliance and Refrigerator Service in Monroe knows how to ruin a machine; he’s seen it done enough. For 37 years, Gilbert has been fixing appliances in the Sky Valley, and in that time, he’s become something of an expert on the common causes of household appliance failure.
Here are a review of the most common problems Gilbert encounters with appliances, and what you can do to avoid them.
Most dryer problem stem from poor exhaust, Gilbert said.
“There’s no specific code for location of dryer venting,” he said. “And laundry rooms are getting smaller and smaller. The door enters onto the garage, the dryer has to be pushed back against the wall, and you can’t do that.”
At least half and as many as three-quarters of dryer problems are due to the heat caused by poor venting, which puts strain on the dryer.
And when a rigid vent hose becomes bent or squeezed, it doesn’t regain its shape, meaning the dryer can’t expel enough hot air. Also, quite often Gilbert will arrive at a home to find that there is 50 feet of hose between the dryer and the outlet, far too much for adequate venting.
“You can’t expect a four-inch pipe to be reduced to three inches and go 30 feet, either,” said Gilbert. “But I see that every day.”
Another common problem with dryers is lint buildup.
“That’s a fire danger,” he cautioned.
Front-loading washing machines have become quite popular, but if owners don’t know how to protect them, they can easily be damaged, said Gilbert.
“People don’t realize they have to go through their pockets very carefully,” he said. “Debris causes failure in about 100 percent of washers.”
Coins, in particular, slip into the works and jam the machines, whereas in top-loading washers they tend to wind up rattling around harmlessly at the bottom of the tub.
Both front-loading and top-loading washers can be damaged by washing things that shed debris, the most common example being rugs such as bathroom rugs.
“The backing comes off and plugs up the pumps,” he said. “If a rug with a rubber backing is getting old, it’s better to replace it than wash it.”
People often think they can put dishes into the dishwasher without giving them much of a rinse first, Gilbert said. But that’s what causes most dishwasher failure.
“Dishes don’t have to be perfectly clean when you load them,” he said. “It’s the caked on debris that gets on the bottom of the washer and gets in the trap that causes problems. Clean dishes off first; that will save a lot.”
The first thing to fail in a refrigerator is typically the condenser, the device that draws in air and cools it, Gilbert said. And those often fail simply because they get dirty.
“Sometimes, if you can get to it from the front, you can just pull the front panel off and vacuum it out,” he said.
Pet owners may have more trouble than others with their condensers, especially those condensers located at the bottom and front of the appliance. The condensers emit warm air, and pets often like to lie near them. That results in pet hair being drawn into the fan.
“It doesn’t take much to choke it down,” Gilbert said. He recommends cleaning out the condensers once a year; perhaps every other time you change your smoke alarm batteries.
Garbage disposals tend to be pretty reliable, said Gilbert. When there’s a problem, it’s usually because some debris is caught in it, such as a coin or a bottle cap. But one thing that can cause engines to burn out more quickly is operating the disposal without running water through it.
“People need to continually run water through them until you are sure the garbage is ground up,” he said.
Every Christmas season, Gilbert gets a lot of calls about ovens that are stuck shut. That’s because that’s when many people get ready to do a lot of cooking, and they often prepare by running their oven’s self-cleaning cycle.
The problem is that the 900-degree heat generated by that cycle is actually harmful to the oven’s electronics. That can cause a control that prevents the door from opening during the self-cleaning cycle to malfunction, making it impossible to open the oven door.
“I don’t recommend using the self-cleaning cycle,” said Gilbert. “It takes away its life expectancy.”
Rather, he recommends using a gentle, non-toxic oven cleaner.
“You get the same outcome, if not better,” he said.
When problems do arise, Gilbert recommends calling a local repairman rather than a service line, because service lines have a tendency to recommend replacement too soon, he said.
“We’re getting further way from service,” he said.
But a call to a repairman can save hundreds of dollars, sometimes even resulting in a diagnosis over the phone. Gilbert will make a run to your house to look at the problem for between $50-$100, which he applies to the price of a repair, if one is needed.
“If a product is in good shape and just needs a support wheel or a thermal cutout, it’s worth fixing,” he said.