Avoid holiday disasters by maintaining appliances
They are the stuff of epic holiday horror stories. Heaters that conk out during the coldest week of the year. Ovens that die with a frozen turkey inside. Refrigerators that go on the fritz right after you’ve filled them with Christmas goodies. Washing machines laden with towels and sheets that go on strike right before your house guests arrive.
In December we put our appliances on overtime, and yet it’s a time of year when we can least afford the time and money to fix them if they fail us.
Experts however, say an ounce of prevention could head off an apocalypse of broken machines that could quickly suck the fun out of your festivities. Set aside a few hours or an afternoon before the holiday rush to tune up your appliances.
“Life gets in the way and we don’t get a chance to do what we need to do,” said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, an editor who specializes in home and appliances for the independent, non-profit Consumer Reports. “And a lot of information is buried in the owner’s manual and that is not something most people actually read. Or they just dig them out when they have problems.”
Many people don’t even know that their appliances need routine maintenance, says Ron Allen, owner of Ron’s Appliance Repair in Healdsburg. Or they are not operating them properly, shortening their life or just leading them to operate inefficiently. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, most are not available through the manufacturer online.
So how do you know whether you should repair or replace an appliance?
Lehrman said a good rule of thumb is that if a repair will cost more than 50 percent of the value of the appliance, it’s probably time to replace it.
Consumer Reports recently did a survey of nearly 30,000 subscribers and found out that people are more willing now to try repairs for themselves.
Lehrman attributed the uptick to the amount of information now available. People are willing to at least look at videos on YouTube or the DIY site Repairclinic.com, to see if a repair is something they could manage themselves.
So if you’re game, grab your tool kit, a hardware store shopping list and give your appliances a little TLC to keep them humming through the holidays.
Clean your condenser. Dust and lint collect there, preventing the refrigerator from releasing heat properly, causing it to run hotter and use more energy and eventually burn out. Allen says most condensers are just below the kick plate on the bottom. Remove the plate - most will just pop off although some are held on with screws. The condenser looks like a small radiator. Use either a vacuum with a soft tip or a condenser brush sold at hardware stores (about $5) to lightly remove dusty build up.
If you have a water dispenser, it’s also a good idea to change your water filter. Allen says that after two to three years, bacteria can built up and make the water bad from your dispenser or ice maker. “The water filter is sometimes down at the lower toe-kick plate. You would turn it counter clockwise and unscrew it and put in a new one and tighten it.” After you replace the filter, run a gallon of water through the dispenser to get the air out of the line.
For a bit of advanced work, Lehrman, of Consumer Reports, also suggests that if the door stops self closing, replace the hinge’s cam riser and check to make sure the gaskets are not loose. “You should also wipe them with mild detergent and water just to make sure they’re clean. They get a lot of residue or buildup.”
First, remove any gunk lying on the bottom inside, or objects like broken glass or a piece of a spoon. Then buy dishwasher cleaner, available at most supermarkets, and run it through a complete cleaning cycle at the hottest setting. “This helps break up the soap buildup and the calcium buildup that might be blocking the flow of water,” Allen says.
Lehrman says that most newer dishwashers also have filters that can get clogged and that you need to clean yourself. Older models had self-cleaning filters with grinders, but they were noisy. People demanded quieter machines, but that meant filters that need to be maintained. “I was in a meeting this week and we brought it up and someone in the meeting had a panicked look on her face and said she didn’t do that,” Lehrman says. One hint that it needs to be cleaned is a smell that will start emanating from the dishwasher.
For more advanced DIY, you might try cleaning the air gap. This is the shiny cap to the side of your faucet into which your dishwasher drains back into itself and into the garbage disposal. Unscrew the lid or pop it out and inspect the tube from the dishwasher into the garbage disposal. Look for bits of food like corn or pieces that might have collected there, creating a clog. To prevent clogs, make sure to rinse off all hard particles of food before putting anything into the dishwasher.