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Burner Burn Out
May 20, 2011 5:51 AM   Subscribe

Do electric burners ever wear out?

I have a 1960's-ish General Electric oven and it uses a double coil burner. I absolutely love this stove and I want to keep it as long as possible. Here's a picture of the said stove.

I just had a burner go out on the stove, but it seemed that the coil had somehow got a small hole on the top and when my wife turned it on and but a fry pan on it, it shorted out. I got a replacement, but it was hard to find and kind of expensive. I don't think modern ranges use this type of burner and I'm wondering if I should just bite the bullet and replace them all, just in case they stop being manufactured. Can they wear out, or was what happened to the smaller burner just a fluke?
posted by Toekneesan to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
 
No it's not a fluke. Burners do wear out.

You don't need to replace all the burners at once, but if you really want to keep the stove, it wouldn't hurt to buy a few spare burners (both large and small) and have them on-hand for the next time it happens.

As you said, these parts are getting rarer and harder to find. Don't count on being able to find a replacement burner the next time it happens. You may be lucky or you may be unlucky. It's much simpler and easier just to be prepared ahead of time.
posted by sardonyx at 5:56 AM on May 20, 2011


The actual heating element itself rarely goes--it's just a big hunk of metal--but the connectors and more delicate parts can certainly wear out with time.

This might be the kind of thing that you can fix though. We aren't talking about a complicated electronic component here, we're talking about what amounts to a massive, glorified resistor. You might have some luck bringing the thing into a appliance repair place, assuming you can even find one.

I would recommend getting this done professionally though, as even though the repair isn't likely to be all that complicated, you are talking about running a pretty serious amount of current through the thing, enough to heat it up to several hundred degrees. Screwing that up = kitchen fire.
posted by valkyryn at 6:30 AM on May 20, 2011


They don't wear out in the sense that they can get used up, like a motor. But they can break. I would buy a spare or two. I can't imagine that there will be more availability of these things in the future.

valkyryn makes a good point- it might be possible to find a good appliance store and have replacements fabbed up out of stock parts?
posted by gjc at 6:33 AM on May 20, 2011


Thinking even more outside the box: who says the burners have to match? All you need is a burner that will accept current from the stove, heat to a desired temperature within a desired time, and not burn the house down. Finding one that will fit on the range that you've got doesn't sound all that hard, even if it has to be salvaged from a different range entirely.
posted by valkyryn at 6:38 AM on May 20, 2011


I've never known a stovetop/range element to break (although I've seen old stoves with mismatched elements on top, so I guess it happens), but once I had a spectacular failure of the upper (broiler) element inside the oven -- one end ignited and slowly, like the fuse on a firework, the whole thing burned, from one end to the other. I should have just let it go but I panicked, grabbed the chemical fire extinguisher in the hallway and sprayed it inside the oven, creating a real mess -- but nothing was stopping that fire until whatever was combusting inside the element was all burned up.
posted by Rash at 7:50 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a fluke - the same thing happened to on old burner as I was using it (with a copper frying pan, for extra-loud sparking bonus). I'd buy a few spares since you found a supplier, but don't replace the others until you have to. In my case, I used that stove two more years and none of the other burners broke in that time.
posted by mikepop at 7:52 AM on May 20, 2011


I have a Thermador Range from circa 1950. It's still kicking.

Try here: http://www.antiqueappliances.com/parts.htm
posted by MasonDixon at 8:23 AM on May 20, 2011


When I was a kid in the late '70s, we had a large electric range (2 side-by-side ovens and six burners.) I was in the kitchen with my mom, who had a tea kettle heating on the front right burner. We heard a really loud BANG! and water went everywhere.

The heating element blew a hole the size of a quarter in the bottom of our Revere Ware kettle. To this day I don't know what failed, but I remember the sound being about as loud as a pistol shot.
posted by workerant at 8:28 AM on May 20, 2011


Yes, I had the same experience. It arced loudly and brightly, so I called the Fire Dept to see if I needed to worry about my wiring. They, of course, sent a truck. My son was 5 and was delighted with the entire event. The stove lived on for another 10+ years with no other excitement.

When I had a rental unit, it was cheaper to pick up a stove on craigslist than to repair the old one.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on May 20, 2011


"I don't think modern ranges use this type of burner"

While they are still making the coil element style of ranges today. What is unusual about your range is it doesn't have infinite heat; variable power is supplied by two different levels of voltage being supplied to two different wattage of coil (either in tandem or singly). Stoves haven't had that style of element since the 50s. It sure wouldn't hurt to have a set of spares if you can afford it. No sense replacing the units are that are working though (unless you keep them as spares). A new element is just as likely to blow as an older one.

However constructing those style of elements isn't all that hard. Several sources will construct new coils for your frames and this service will likely continue in the future as the base technology (calrod heating element) is unlikely to disappear. FYI The clock can also be rebuilt and the oven controls are replaceable with universals. The hard thing to get is the push button controls.

valkyryn writes "The actual heating element itself rarely goes--it's just a big hunk of metal--but the connectors and more delicate parts can certainly wear out with time."

The actual heating element fails fairly frequently when an internal break down in the mineral insulation separating the internal conductor from the shell causes a short. This is often accompanied by an impressive light show and will occasionally burn a hole right through a metal pot. (on preview as described above)
posted by Mitheral at 9:22 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yup, burner coils absolutely fail. I've not had one go catastrophically, but I've had them stop working.

Now, as for the element in the stove...I've had two die on me quite violently. Lots of arcing and intense white light and flame erupting from the metal. Quite impressive and scary.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2011


That second link is a great resource, Mitheral, and very much appreciated.

I have some really old appliances with burners that consist of bare wire coils set down into porcelain labyrinths, such as the Cory Buffet Queen I make vacuum pot coffee on every morning.

Those burners appear to fail because of a combination of oxidation and evaporation of the wire coil, which gets noticeably thinner-- and therefore hotter (as can be seen from a brighter, more yellowish orange glow)-- over time. At the moment of failure, there is an audible spark as the hot wire parts and current continues to flow for a few instants across the arc between the two ends of the wire, but nothing comparable to the pistol shot-like report described above, nor have any pots been damaged beyond getting a dark mark which scrubs off easily with Bon Ami.

I've been assuming that the failures of the calrod type burners start the same way, with the parting of the internal hot wire accompanied by a spark, and that the spark is what causes the mineral insulation the wire is packed in to break down, allowing a plasma arc to form between the internal wire and the metal burner casing, and that this plasma arc burns a hole in the casing and then the pot.

The calrod burners seem to last at least ten times as long as the bare wire style, by the way, and seem to transfer their heat to the pots much more efficiently.

That's a beautiful old stove, Toekneesan, and completely worth the effort it's taking to keep it going .
posted by jamjam at 1:12 PM on May 20, 2011


Mitheral,

Thanks for posting that second link.

The reason I have any knowledge about old stove burners is that my parents still have the first (and only) stove they ever bought. It's a mid 60s GM Frigidaire and my mother really hates the thought of getting rid of it. It really is a part of our lives and our family.

That said they've run through their last replacement burner and the one shop that used to stock them (with was in South Carolina) went out of business a few years back.

The oven elements also went and they couldn't get a proper replacements for them. They found one electrician (the only one in a wide geographical area) who was willing to try to find a solution to the oven problem. He ended up doing some rewiring and adding an a modern element, but it really isn't the same, and it's certainly not as reliable as it used to be.

They've been looking for some place to buy original (or more original) parts and get the unit back in proper working order. Maybe this website will be of some use. (Now if only they could find a place to buy patio furniture webbing, they'd be absolutely thrilled.)
posted by sardonyx at 7:26 PM on May 20, 2011


jamjam writes "I have some really old appliances with burners that consist of bare wire coils set down into porcelain labyrinths, such as the Cory Buffet Queen I make vacuum pot coffee on every morning."

You can buy that in bulk too; anyone who can cut a piece of string and operate a screwdriver can replace that style of element. I've got a lovely 100+ year old waffle iron that I rewired using bulk element coil a few years ago and I've fixed many a hot plate with it.

jamjam writes "I've been assuming that the failures of the calrod type burners start the same way, with the parting of the internal hot wire accompanied by a spark, and that the spark is what causes the mineral insulation the wire is packed in to break down, allowing a plasma arc to form between the internal wire and the metal burner casing, and that this plasma arc burns a hole in the casing and then the pot."

Could be. Though one of the interesting failure modes for round cross section elements (mostly those in ovens) is for the burned through spot to spiral it's way up the outer casing. I've seen spiral burn throughs 8-9 inches long that only stopped when they got to the mounting bracket.

The calrods transfer heat better because it's by conduction and not radiant/convection. The open conductors though do give off an evener heat because of the convection.

sardonyx writes "It's a mid 60s GM Frigidaire [...] "The oven elements also went and they couldn't get a proper replacements for them."

Is it the one with two elements in the bottom both long narrow loops? Or is it the one with not only an element on the top and the bottom but also built into one shelf? Either of those were a pain even 20 years ago.

sardonyx writes "(Now if only they could find a place to buy patio furniture webbing, they'd be absolutely thrilled.)"

Nylon webbing is available at pretty well any decent camping and hiking supply store in a variety of colours. The vinyl strapping is available many places on line at also at some big fabric stores.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 PM on May 20, 2011


Mitheral,

It has one heating element on the bottom (mainly for baking) and one on the top (mainly for broiling). At the front they're both shaped like a squared-off W (if that makes any sense).


|________|---|_________|


(I haven't done that type of diagramming/ASCII art since typing class in Grade 9, and I can't figure out how to make it look the way I want it to look. It's all one continuous unit.)

Actually the stove had been remarkable reliable. Outside of the odd burner going out it's just been chugging right along every day for over 40 years. And my mother actually cooks. A lot.

It has only been the last two or three years that the oven has become problematic and I think most of those problems were caused by the repair guy who "fixed" it.

As for the webbing they don't want vinyl. They're more interested in the nylon-esque material. Something like this.

Of course in an ideal world they could buy it from a bricks-and-mortar (they don't shop online) Canadian source to avoid getting jerked around by Canada Customs and whatever delivery service is used to ship the product from the States. Ordering from the U.S.A. can end up costing more in fees and duties than the product is worth. Not to mention the paperwork.
posted by sardonyx at 9:48 PM on May 20, 2011


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