06 Jan When One Thing Leads to Another

Jill and I made the mistake of visiting the Sears scratch-and-dent store last week. We were looking for a new stove. Our old one was an okay but it couldn’t keep up with all we wanted it to do. Its broiler hadn’t been operational for six of the last eight years. We had our eye on a modest upscale unit by Maytag. It’d give us two ovens that we’d put to plenty of use (e.g., pizza parties). But then, as I said, we walked into the Sears outlet store. And there we saw a crowd of professional-grade ranges. For half price. Since when has Sears carried high-grade stuff like DCS, Bertazonni, and Fisher-Paykel?

We cook a lot. Every night, in fact. We’re ideal candidates for a good stove. But we hadn’t considered something as big and fancy as an Italian sports car. It gave us lots to think about. Too much to think about, really. After seeing those fancy stoves, everything else we looked at just didn’t seem good enough. But things got complicated very quickly. If we bought the monster Fisher-Paykel, we’d have to cut out more space in our kitchen.

We know a great mason, Phil – a distant relative of Babe Ruth – and were sure he could knock a foot out of our hearth. I phoned him and he surprised me 1) by answering the phone and 2) coming over immediately (it was Sunday). He said business was bad everywhere and he was grateful to be working. A cup of coffee in hand, he sized up our hearth and said, sure, he could knock a foot out of it and make it look good. So we bought the big range the next day.

The range has a six-burner gas top and electric ovens. Called “dual fuel,” this is the latest thing in kitchen technology, apparently. The electric ovens, with convection and six settings, give you the most accurate baking. I was skeptical but willing to take the risk. Half price, remember? The plug on for the thing is as big as a fist and needs a 50-amp outlet. I didn’t have a 50-amp fuse in my electrical panel. Our friend Tim, who used to be a contractor, said I’d be wise to let a pro install the 50-amp outlet. “If you do it yourself,” he cautioned, “and later burn down your house, the insurance investigator’s gonna find out you put in the electrical outlet yourself and – poof – there goes your coverage.”

All right. I started calling around for electricians. They’re not easy to find. Not the ones who call back, come on time, and do the job right. But I found one (on Craig’s list). He was prompt and reasonable. When he looked at my electrical panel in the basement, he said, “Man, what a mess.” I told him we’d talk about that later. Tim had advised me to get the panel cleaned up if I found a good electrician. With 40 circuits, our panel looks big enough to power an aircraft carrier. But it was crammed with a spaghetti of wires – you couldn’t tell what went where. Mind you, it looked 100% better than it had when I first saw it. And I had done away with the screwy wiring jobs the fraternity boys had finagled. Still, the electrician was right: it was a mess.

So, I had him re-wire the entire panel and put in a second panel so that I could add more circuits as needed. See how it goes? All I wanted to do was plug in the range. But, since I had a good electrician in the house and wasn’t sure I’d ever get him back, I kept him on for this much-needed work, which I thought I wouldn’t get to for years.

The stove plugged in at last, we fired it up and made pizza. Oh my god. This thing cooks even and hot and fast. And yet, as hot as it gets inside, it stays cool outside. Not one inch of exterior surface gets warm. The thing has a cooling fan. Like a high performance car. God forgive us for this indulgence.

The next day I tried to hook up the gas. The gas line didn’t reach because the stove is very wide. The always-unfriendly clerk at the pro plumbing store shook his head at me: “Don’t make flex-tube gas lines longer than five feet. It’s against code, buddy. See ya!” That means I have to get a plumber to run a new gas line to the other side of the hearth.

Because the hearth is being expanded, thus eliminating the flue space below the hearth, it means I can’t run the water heater exhaust pipe through the chimney any more and have to re-route it out the basement window. Which means I have to fabricate a custom vent for the window. Also, since we now have a 6-burner cook-top that, at full power, generates 76,000 BTUs, we now have an industrial-grade ventilation problem. An online ventilation expert, who sounded like a Brit, informed me that we need a ventilator that clears 760 cubic feet a minute. The fan in your bathroom, if it’s really powerful, clears about 20 cubic feet a minute. Think about that. The ventilation expert said, “You’ll want a muffler with that.” I swallowed hard. “You mean the ventilator makes a little noise?” He chuckled: “Oh yeah, it’s a big fan.”

That’s not all. He said I should line my chimney to keep the moisture from degrading the masonry. Also I’ll need a transformer to regulate the fan speed. And a filter system “otherwise you’ll muck up the fan blades.” “Holy cow,” I exclaimed, “how did I manage with that little fan I had over my old stove?” He chuckled again: “You didn’t, mate. From what you’ve describe, that fan wasn’t doing anything at all. It was no match for the air pressure in your forty-foot chimney.”

It’s all going to be grand. But right now, Phil the mason is tearing at the bricks, a plumber is scheduled to run a new gas line Thursday, I’m re-wiring the hearth and re-routing the water heater and sizing up industrial grade ventilators, and Jill is baking every day.