Since I moved into this apartment, I've put up with what I feel to be a sub-standard stove. I'm not 100% sure, though, so I'd like to get the opinions of other renters out there.

This is a gas stove. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, after years of using an electric in Berkeley I'm finding that I quite like the instant heat control that gas affords. What's wrong with it, though, is the heat control.

As I understand it, this is how gas stove heat control works: It starts at Off, meaning no gas is flowing. As you turn it, the vents very rapidly open to allow full-strength gas flow just as the knob hits "Light." While the knob's on "Light," the electronic sparker (This gas stove has an electronic ignition) does its sparky thing. You hold the knob there until the gas ignites, then keep turning the knob. The next setting is High, and from there as you continue the move the knob it gradually constricts the vents, decreasing gas down to the lowest simmer setting, where the knob stops. At simmer, there's enough gas flowing to keep the burner ignited, but just barely so you get a minimal flame.

My stove is just like that, except for all the stuff after the word "High." It goes to High, and that's it. You can't turn it further. Technically, when you use my stove, you have two heat choices: Full Blast, and Off. This seemed quite curious to me, so I looked up my stove's manufacturer on-line. It's out of business. And has been for 15 years. Nonetheless, from looking around I've found a few references to stoves like this. According to the manufacturers, the inability to set the heat to anything but high is a safety feature; when you set it lower, it increases the chance of the flame going out, thereby flooding your house with gas and causing your premature demise. You don't want that, do you?

This, clearly, is bullshit.

For one, my parents have a gas stove at home. It works in the way I described above. They had a gas stove before that. It also worked in the way described above.

The manufacturers recommend you learn to shift your pots and pans back and forth. Since you can't get a low flame, if you need to simmer something you just put it on a high flame for thirty seconds, leave it off for a minute or so, then put it back on, and so on. By learning to rapidly shift pots and pans around, you can work miracles with your piece of shit stove!

Obviously, this is unsatisfactory.

So I called the building manager. She sent her assistant, the fast-talking lady who first gave me my keys and showed me the apartment. I tried to explain the problem.

"There's no problem with this stove. Look, you turn it, it turns on!"

"But I can't keep turning it. It only gives high heat."

"Oh. Well, look, like this, you can turn it backwards, see! Past light!"

"You mean between light and off?"

"Sure! Perfect flame control."

"...But normal stoves, with normal heat control, have slow valve controls so you can get precise heat control."

"So? You don't need that!"

"... And they stop it so you can't accidentally lose the flame, but still have gas running. Setting it between Light and Off seems like a great way to flood the apartment with gas."

"Nah! You just gotta be careful!"

"I still don't think this is right."

"Well, this is how all gas stoves work!"

"No, every other gas stove I've seen has worked the way I described."

"Well, those must have all been, like, fancy expensive restaurant stoves!"

"No. They weren't."

"Look, there's nothing wrong, and you're not getting a new stove. You gonna sign my work order saying the problem's solved?"

"But it isn't!"

"And it's never gonna get solved, but I can't leave 'till you sign the order."

"... Fine."

So anyhow, I think she's wrong. But I could be wrong; maybe most gas stoves do work this way and I'm making a big deal about nothing. But if I'm overcome by cooking gas, or die in a giant oven explosion, I'm going to haunt the living fuck out of that lady.

To give you a clearer idea: Here's a video of me operating the stove. Enjoy!Download Stove.avi


Unfortunately for your case, my stove works more or less in the same way as yours. It looks a bit less suspicious than yours, because the knobs have three positions marked on them (Off, Hi, and Lite), making it clear that the manufacturer had at least given some thought to its operation. Still, the same principle applies. You turn it on by turning the knob as far as it will go, to Lite, and then turn it down by turning the knob back toward Off until you get a sufficiently low flame.

I think I may have once encountered a gas stove which worked in the no-accidental-off way you describe, but if so it was probably either my parents' nice midcentury Wedgewood or my co-op's fancy industrial stove. Neither of those is really a reasonable standard for mediocre residential stoves, and I am certain that none of my rented-apartment stoves have worked thus. Frankly, it's a safer way to operate and probably should be standard, but my experience has been that it isn't.

Are the stoves you've had the pilot light ignition variety, or do they use the electronic sparker? Because I'm lead to understand that the sparker, for some reason, is why the lower-end stoves don't have decent flow control.

On the plus side, the oven works well, as demonstrated by the vegan banana bread I just pulled out of it.

Although the oven does cause a distinct gassy odor to permeate the kitchen when I use it. But I figure it must not be a problem because the kitchen hasn't exploded yet.

Oh, I somehow missed the bit about the electronic sparker. No, every single gas stove I've ever dealt with (knob configuration notwithstanding) has been pilot-light-based. I'd go so far as to say that I don't really understand the electronic sparker concept at all. Does it just flick a couple of flints against each other and call it a day? How does that manage to screw up the gas flow? It sounds like the kind of improbable mechanical misinteraction to which I'd be prone.

You're full of contradictions, by the way. You make your banana bread vegan but your cookies dairy? Even given that you're using the same cookie recipe that I use, from the same cookbook, for which I've posted the vegan version right on my very own blog? Dare I ask?

Oh, and if you've made the vegan banana bread then you must have the egg replacer around, which means that at most you were lacking only a tub of Earth Balance to make the cookies vegan. Sir, I must protest.

In my defense, I've not seen the chocolate chip cookie recipe on your site, and had no idea it was there. In my further defense, a quick search for it now has revealed only the veganized Quaker Oatmeal Cookie recipe. So I didn't know you had veganized the Betty Crocker recipe already.

Further, I had butter, but didn't have Earth Balance. I had turbinado sugar, but only just enough for banana bread, which I had been planning to make once my bananas sufficiently ripened. I find your vegan banana bread recipe tastier than non-vegan banana bread, and hence was saving the turbinado for that. Moreover, the cookies were distinctly of the after-11-o'clock-avoiding-work variety; it's unlikely an Earth Balance-selling grocery store was even open at the time I was making them. The banana bread was planned well in advance.

Well, I mean, I can control the flame on this one, but the controls are very fine; I usually find myself having to hold the knob with both hands and very gently nudge it to get the right flame level.

But still, I think what I'm getting from this post is that, while mine is not a great stove, it isn't notably terrible.

As for the electronic ignition, hum. Have you ever used or seen one of those gas charcoal lighters? The kind with a handle and a long metal barrel, and if you start it it's like a mini-flame thrower? The electronic ignition on my gas stove is not unlike that; when you're starting it it makes a loud clicking noise as some spark plug-like mechanism makes sparks whilst gas flows past. After a few such clicks (hopefully) the gas ignites.

It's nice insofar as you don't have to worry about your pilot light extinguishing and then having to re-light it. What I've heard, though, is that they wear down after a while and this can lead to trouble when you start flooding the kitchen with gas while you wait for the sparks to take.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on February 8, 2006 9:43 PM.

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