Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Inspecting a Cooking Range, Oven, or Cooktop

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Can I install a gas range or oven? Are there safety concerns with gas cooktops that I should be aware of? What concerns should I have when it comes to a range, oven, or cooktop?

Those are questions that I hear during my home inspections. I thought that going over a simple examination of your cooking center, and some problems that I have found may help a homeowner. For most of us, turning on the stove or oven and having it work is enough, but you may want to consider some items in this post if you want to be safe and have your appliance work efficiently.
    First, many people who like to cook prefer gas over electric units. I miss my gas cooktop. I have electric in my home now, and when I remodel my kitchen, a gas cooktop will be on the list. Why do people like gas for cooking? It doews heat up faster, but it really has to do with controlling the temperature. Electric appliances take longer to heat up, and longer to cool down. If you need to go from high heat to a simmer, you can adjust a gas flame quickly. With an electric unit, you have to take the pot off of the burner, which most people forget to do. This is why I am asked by cooks if there is a hook-up for gas when they see an electric unit. To check this yourself, you will need to look in the cabinet under the cooktop. A metal box with wires coming out of it to your cooktop is the junction box for the electrical cables powering your appliance. What you are looking for is a brass valve. Do you remeber your high school science lab? When you had to hook-up your Bunsen burners. There will be a valve with a pipe much like that one. See the picture below. If you do not have a valve like this, then you will need a gas line installed. This can be an expense.
    One problem with gas burners that has come up during my home inspections is that they do not heat well. Mainly this has to do with the burner itself. The gas is fed into a ring that sends the flames out through holes around the burner. Over time, this ring can be damaged. If the gas is not coming out of all parts of the ring, the burner cannot heat efficiently. One unusual problem that I faced had to do with a combination of factors that caused the flame not to touch the pot of pan. The flame does not really have to touch the pot or pan to heat, but when high heat is needed it should touch or come close. In this instance, the manufacturer had a grate over the burner that was a bit high. I had seen this before without problems, but the homeowner stated that it was taking to long to heat water for rice. The cooktop was on a kitchen island. To cool and heat the kitchen there was a vent near the island. The vent blew air which hit a wall causing a breeze over the cooking area on the island. The height of the grate allowed the air to blow the flame to the side, hence the longer heating time. The solution was to have a lower grate installed. When electric burners are not heating, I check to see if they are fully in place. The prongs go into a receptacle for the power. If the burner is not pushed into the receptacle, the burner cannot heat up. Sometimes the prongs will be damaged, so a new burner is needed.
    The most common problem that I see with ranges is that they can tip over. An anti-tip device is an angled piece of metal that attaches to the wall, and then slips over the foot of the unit. Placing a heavy item, like a roast turkey, on the oven door when opened, can cause the range to tip over. New ranges come with this device, but I have seen people forgetting to install it, or it was not installed correctly. You never now when the range may tip over. I thought that my range would never tip over, but tip over it did when my sister-in-law set a brisket on the door. This is a simple fix that can prevent an injury.
    With gas units, you have to be concerned with fires spreading from the burners. Grease fires are possible. You will want to know where the gas shut-off  is located. Turning off the gas is the first step in dealing with the fire. The gas shutoff should be within three feet of the unit. I find them in the cabinets closest to the cooktop or oven. Ranges have them behind the unit, so I think it is safer to have them in a cabinet next to the range. I have found gas shutoffs behind panels in cabinets. The most unusual place was behind a removable piece of trim in the pantry near a kitchen island that had a cooktop, so you may want to look around at anything that seems to be a panel. If you have an electric unit, and you need the power off due to a fire, you have to go to your service panel (breaker box). If the breaker is not marked, you may want to flip the main to off.
    One thing that you might not expect is if the unit is attached to the cabinets or counters. A range stands alone, so you need the anti-tip. Cooktops on the other hand should be attached with screws from underneath the counter. If you cannot see the screws, push up on the unit from below to see if you can push it up. This is a heavy unit, so this may not be a problem in many cases, but you will want it stable, so the cooktop should be attached. Ovens will be attached in the cabinet housing. Often you cannot see these attachment points. Check to see if you can wiggle the unit ut at all. If you can, then the oven is not attached. Again, in most cases this heavy unit may not come out, but there may always be a chance for concern, so ovens should be secured. I found that a builder forgot to attach the oven once. You never know.
    Have you thought about safety? Take a moment to look at your appliances. If they are gas, understand where the shutoff is located. This is not only for working on the unit. A fire extinguisher is a good investment. You will want an extinguisher that can handle different types of fires. Also, check the extinguisher for information about recharging. In commercial buildings, extinguishers are examined every so often to ensure that they can be used. This happens anywhere from every six months to a year, but check the extinguisher that you purchase. You do not need the largest fire extinguisher. Buy one that can be fitted in a cabinet near the cooking area.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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