Monday, April 22, 2024

Yet More Home Appliance Follies! (Microwave Edition)

This time, it is microwaves!

I noted before that our house was remodeled 18 years ago before we bought it, so all the appliances are about 18 years old.  So far we have replaced:

  • Ice Machine
  • HVAC System
  • Washing Machine
  • Dryer
  • Garage Door Opener

That leaves the kitchen appliances (I repaired the refrigerator with a used control panel, so it might go a few more years), and the hot water heater.

The kitchen microwave died about three months ago at least.  Mark is not a microwave cook and we use it mostly to heat water or reheat beverages.  So it was not missed much when it died.  We thought (briefly) of replacing all the kitchen appliances at once, but the cost was pretty staggering and, oddly enough, the stores seemed less-than-interested in selling them to us (some sort of reverse psychology gag, no doubt).  So we took a pass.

A recently widowed friend of ours lamented that his microwave was broken as well.  So we decided to go to Home Depot and buy two of the cheapest microwaves possible (GE, $198) and install them in both houses.  We got a stainless steel one for his house, a white one for ours.

An older "associate" in the appliance department told us at first that nothing was in stock and we would have to have them delivered (??).  And all the guys working in the appliance department were old - older than I am, and I'm 64!  What's up with that?  Why pushing for home delivery?  He didn't want to take them down from the racks?  They want to sell installation services?  What?

I pointed out that they have them in the racks and they were a "cash and carry" item and he demurred, roping in a second and third senior citizen to work the vertical lift to get them down.  The second fellow was quite knowledgeable about appliances, I'll give him that!  We were talking about the trend toward stainless-steel appliances (and how white is now a "special order" color!).  The irony is, kitchen appliances were once referred to (and still are, in some circles) as "white goods" because of their color, but obviously that ship has sailed.

"Stainless" steel appliances today are made with low-grade stainless steel that would rust like a Tesla if not for the clearcoat paint applied to them.  That is how they get away with using cheap steel, but also how they can claim the appliances are "fingerprint" proof.  The original, high-quality bare stainless appliances would leave fingerprints (much like a DeLorean) which you would constantly have to remove with Windex.  The fellow warned that if you scrub a "stainless" appliance with any kind of abrasive cleaner or scrubbie, it would remove the clearcoat and the thing will look like hell and start to rust.

Maybe Mr. Musk should have spent some time at the Home Depot appliance department before they came out with the childishly named "cybertruck."  Of course, clearcoat does yellow over time, particularly in the sun.

Anyway, he got the two boxes down, and $400 later we are out the door.  Prices on under-cabinet microwaves are all over the place.  In 1992 or thereabouts, we paid the staggering sum of $500 for one (special order!) as they were a "new" thing at the time and expensive. That would be over $1100 in today's money.  The least we paid was $99 when remodeling the condo - it was cheaper than an old-fashioned vent hood (you know, the kind with scalloped edges!) which was a staggering $139.  So we've installed a few over the years.  And given inflation, $198 is pretty reasonable.

At the lake house, the previous owners had a microwave shelf installed in the cabinets, and an inexpensive $79 tabletop microwave sat there.  That really is the cheapest way to go, and if it dies, well, with $79 and ten minutes of your time, you are back in business.  We never saw a need to change it, either.  In fact, an under-cabinet job there would have required we replace the cabinet over the stove, as it would have left less than 10" of cooking height.  Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone and kitchen remodeling returns only 50 cents on the dollar - if that - in terms of immediate resale value (after a few years, this drops to zero).

Anyway, we went to our friend's house and took out the old microwave and put in the new one, which took about two hours.  The new bottom bracket (rail) was almost identical to the old one and it wasn't too hard to find studs to screw it into.  Of course, the upper mounts (through the bottom of the cabinet) were completely different (figures) so we had to drill new holes for the plug and mounting bolts.

Speaking of which, that $500 microwave in 1992 had a totally different mounting system.  Instead of a lower rail, it had a large plate (like a split-system) and did not physically attach to the cabinet above. Instead, insanely long captive bolts extended through the microwave itself and were screwed in from the front, into the mounting plate.   The new technique, using a lower "rail" and bolts extending through the upper cabinet, is much cheaper to make, I think.  But you have to make sure your cabinets are properly attached to the wall, or the whole thing will fall down.

As we are replacing an existing installation, it was a lot easier, of course.  And once we had the lower rail installed and the upper holes drilled, it was a matter of wrestling the machine in place and then securing the two upper screws.  Pro tip: Put an old blanket or towels on your stove, lest you scratch or damage it (as one installer did, repairing our old microwave) if you rest the microwave on the stove.

Yes, over the years, our old microwave has needed service.  Within a year, under warranty, the magnatron was replaced (essentially the guts of the machine).  Later on, they replaced the control panel when it began starting the microwave by itself, which was scary.  Membrane-switch appliances!  You have to treat them gently.  Well, now it is going in the trash and I have an extra control panel (they sent two) still new-in-the-box.  Sadly, it only fits an 18-year-old microwave.  Maybe I can sell it on eBay.

I also had to repair the handle - twice - using superglue and baking soda (The Marty Matchbox Makeover Method).  So after 18 years, this microwave was ready for the trash.

Speaking of which, how do I dispose of the old machine?  We put our friend's old machine in his rolly-bin. It will be interesting to see if they garbage man takes it.  I guess we could do the same as well.  Old appliances are difficult trash to get rid of!  I guess that is why so many people prefer delivery and installation and "remove your old appliance" as well!

Coming up next: Yet another split system!  And readers said I would be bored in retirement.  I wish!