Not blowing up the house, or: The tale of my new oven

The old ovenThis is a photograph of our old oven. I didn’t think to take a shot of it while it was in place, and didn’t want to shove it back in there after getting it out and unhooked, so you get to see it hanging out in the middle of the kitchen floor, which it did for about a day. Why, you may ask, would I replace my oven, out of the blue? I mean, we’re slowly but surely digging ourselves out of several tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and we certainly didn’t have any money set aside to replace the oven this month…

Well, it isn’t as though we didn’t know this was coming, I suppose. Six or nine months ago, we were having intermittent problems with the oven taking a long time to pre-heat. As in, we would check the oven when we thought it ought to be done warming up, and would hear a small explosion upon opening the door, as the gas which ought to have been heating it finally lit for (presumably) the first time. I talked to my father about it at the time (he has more experience, of course, not to mention he bought the oven and probably moved the gas line at some point in the 15+ years since he bought this house, and I’d guess he’s probably done quite a few repairs on gas appliances (ranges, ovens, heaters, et cetera) in his lifetime) and he looked at it, looked up the parts, and was sure 1) it was probably the thermostat, and 2) changing the thermostat on this model oven is more expense and hassle than it would be worth, especially for such an old oven. Then it started behaving normally. For six (or was it nine? I didn’t mark my calendar) months or more. We started looking, noncommittally, at replacements, and finding them to be quite expensive. I decided to continue putting it off, as long as the oven was working, until I had more information.

So over the last few months we’ve had ovens on the mind. We’ve popped into the occasional Sears Outlet store to take a look at what sort of features and prices things were going for, but until this week there was no urgency about our shopping. The oven has been working fine; I’ve actually done a fair amount of very successful baking, lately. Cakes and cookies and pies, of course, the occasional odd thing, plus roast chicken and we’re just finishing the leftovers from our huge Easter ham. I believe we had the first problems before Thanksgiving (perhaps right before Thanksgiving? I recall discussing not wanting to attempt a repair on the oven the week of the holiday), and I know I roasted a turkey in it. Plus: New ovens aren’t cheap.

This weekend, the oven finally went over the line. I’m not sure what caused the problem – maybe using the broiler, last week, to toast a bagel sandwich for a few minutes? Maybe God just gave us an extra six months to get used to the idea of buying a new oven, or to do it on our own, and because we didn’t take the leap, He pushed? I don’t know. I know on Friday it took over an hour (with plenty of small explosions upon peeking inside, along the way) to preheat the oven just to bake some stuffed, bacon-wrapped hot dogs (I have some ideas for improving from my first attempt; maybe I’ll take a bunch of photos & blog it if/when I attempt that again.) for dinner, and the house ended up smelling like a gas leak in the process. It was frustrating, but just seemed like maybe the oven was having a relapse. Saturday my sister couldn’t get the oven to warm up at all, the house had hardly cleared from the previous day’s gas smell and after an hour or more without it even getting to 200, she gave up in frustration, threw out her food, and went out for food. I felt I was to blame, for not replacing or repairing the oven sooner. This stressed me out a little more than a merely-failing oven would have or should have; I’m a bit prone to anxiety.

We didn’t have anything going on Friday night, and it was early enough, and at Angela’s suggestion and Mandy’s seconding, Mandy and I drove over to Stardust to see whether they had anything wonderful. Stardust is a nonprofit which basically carries … used (major) household items – things recovered from houses; a lot of cabinets, doors, and windows, plus usually a reasonable selection of decade-plus-old toilets, sinks, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, and much much more. Being used items, the only way to know what they have from day to day is to go in and see; we probably ought to have been going in every couple of weeks for the last six months, looking out for something nice to come in. Most of the stuff they have is mid-level but, for example, Mandy and I bought an old (but still working well) Sub-Zero refrigerator there for $300, and have been pretty happy with it for the last several years – as long as I remember to vacuum the dust out of the intake over the coils a couple times a year, it’s a very reliable fridge.

Alas, Stardust didn’t have any ovens that looked any better than what we needed to replace. As long as we were out, we stopped by a K-Mart (yes, there are still a few of them around), the Sears at Metrocenter (where we met a very friendly and knowledgeable appliance salesman, and had a good look at a wide selection of gas ranges (apparently, despite the bigger part being an oven, and the stovetop/range part also being a thing people buy independently, they call freestanding ovens “ranges” – not ovens), refreshing and re-confirming what we’d observed in our casual browsing during prior months), then at the Sears employee’s suggestion (since he would gladly price-match – and they were having a “friends and family” sale Sunday night, where he’d probably have the lowest price, anyway) we also stopped by Lowes and Home Depot (plus Fry’s Electronics, since we were there – which may be the only place we saw an LG range), then did our grocery shopping, too, since we were already out. Then at home I did more research and shopping online.

Sunday, I tried researching to repair the oven at home, since our research had determined that 1) we couldn’t get a new range for less than $400-$500, without buying something which looked like it would fail within another six months, and 2) if we were going to spend a big chunk of money (extending our debt payoff horizon), we wanted to get a high quality machine with all the features I’ve been wanting, which seemed to be in the $900-$1200 range and higher. Not to mention 3) the next tier, of $1700-$2100 ranges, seemed only incrementally better than the $900-$1200 ranges, with no features we thought justified the expense – unless you’re a professional chef, going $2k+ seems laughable, to us. If I could figure out how to repair it within my level of skill, it would certainly not cost us $1k (see also: about a month more time in debt). Based on my research, including taking the oven half apart, probably one or both of the ignitor and/or gas safety valve was faulty, and probably just from being old and worn out. I spoke to my father about it (since, again, he knows a lot more about this particular oven than I do), did a little more research, and determined that trying to repair an old oven, from a brand which no longer exists, which was manufactured exclusively for Montgomery Ward (which also no longer exists), rather than buying a new range, was probably a waste of time and money, and potentially dangerous. Plus, while I figure I could have tested and/or replaced the ignitor with little trouble, I was pretty sure testing and replacing the NG valve is currently beyond my ken – and that hiring a pro to do it would cost more than the oven was worth.

Sunday afternoon, upon deciding for certain that we needed to simply replace the thing, and that our target price range was near $1k, I did a little more Internet shopping, review-reading, et cetera, and determined that there were 50-100 makes and models of gas range, by reliable brands, with all the core features I was looking for – with little to differentiate one from another, on a spec sheet. I had some idea of what I wanted, I’d certainly narrowed down the minimum features in my mind, but I wanted to see the ranges in person. We set out on a bit of an adventure, to try to find just the right range, at just the right price, with just a few hours before Sears’ limited-time sale.

This time we were shopping on our own side of town, so we went by the big, local Sears Outlet first. They had a particular LG range I’d seen quite highly-rated online (and with a strikingly-blue interior Mandy was fond of), which had all the features we wanted and for about $100 less than it was going for anywhere else (including Sears) – but then we learned it had been converted to LP, and we’d need to convert it back to NG. I couldn’t quickly/easily determine how much that would cost or how difficult it would be while browsing from my iPhone, so we looked over the other models they had in stock, and moved on.

We went to PV Mall next, to stop by the Sears there, where we discovered they had a much smaller selection of gas ranges and a much less friendly major-appliance sales staff. Disappointed, I pointed the car North, remembering an independent appliance store used to be at Desert Ridge (apparently no longer in business), and thinking the Lowes on Bell and Scottsdale was our next best bet (esp. considering their free delivery & 10% off sale). Then I spotted a small appliance store across Tatum on Thunderbird, did a bit of a loop-de-loo to get turned around the right way from the wrong side of the store & we ended up going in to “Home TV & Appliance” about half an hour before they closed for the day. According to Gary, our friendly (if not intimately familiar with the features of all the gas ranges he sells) salesperson, they’re a small, locally-owned chain. They had nearly as many gas ranges on the showroom floor as we’d seen anywhere, and they were having a sale which brought the prices on the models we preferred down below … everyone I could find. Including Amazon. Including Lowes, who had free shipping, even including their moderate delivery charge (half of the Sears delivery charge).  (According to their web site, they’ll price match any local, advertised deal their prices don’t already beat.) I did about 15 minutes of online research (while Gary helped, pulling out his books with all the details when Frigidaire’s website refused to serve meaningful pages to a mobile browser) and review-checking, then we paid the man and set up for delivery today. We walked out happy, and a significant part of that was in having stumbled upon a local business to support with our purchase, without having to pay a premium to do so. (Oh, and the delivery today was quick, efficient, friendly, and on-time.)

The new ovenHere is the range we bought. It is a Frigidaire FGGF3054MF, which is a model-level up from the best Frigidaire I thought I could get at the price I paid (and I’d probably have either settled for the lower model at Lowes, or paid closer to the MSRP for the one we got, some place else) and is one of the better value-and-features-for-the-money ranges on the market, right now, even at full price. The key features I didn’t want to buy a new range without included sealed burners on the range, self-cleaning oven, at least one 15k BTU burner, and convection cooking. The nice-to-have features I liked the look of were the a “simmer burner” (5k-6k BTUs, for cooking things low and slow), a continuous cooktop (preferably with optional griddle), and a feature I only saw mentioned on the Frigidaires, an integrated probe thermometer.

The new oven - with griddle installed

This oven has all of those features. One of the five burners is 17k BTUs, another is 15k, and a third is 5k. As you can see in the image at right, it’s even got the optional griddle for the center burner (though it seems to interrupt the continuous cooktop by being just a little too tall, so either someone measured wrong, or it wasn’t designed to be left in place – I’ll call their CS people to find out) which I look forward to trying some pancakes out on, soon. It even has features I may have to try some new recipes and techniques to take advantage of. Did I mention it can “quick pre-heat” in 5-6 minutes? Much nicer than the “an hour-plus, and a house full of explosive poison gas” we had before. I’m eager to see how the convection cooking changes things, too, though I don’t have anything urgently needing to be baked or roasted… But give me a couple weeks, and I’m sure I’ll have put it through its paces. Surely we need some ginger/molasses cookies around here, right? And maybe a couple loaves of French bread?

Next up, though, I need to re-start my wok research – the big draw of the high-power burner, for me, was being able to properly cook food in a wok. It’s time to retire the old Teflon-coated wok (since Teflon becomes a toxic gas at proper wok temperatures) and get a (probably) carbon steel wok. Any brand/store recommendations are welcome.

Update: I ended up ordering this wok, from Amazon.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

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