Phil Whiteford, the owner of Omega Force Appliance Repairs, attends the show to talk about the proper use of appliances and their company’s warranty program.
diagnostic calls and an appliance protection plan that covers eight appliances for $30 a month.
They go over the common issues with refrigerators, front-load washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, clothes dryers, and dryer exhausts. They also discuss how to test and inspect appliances. Reuben talks about the confusion he experienced from reading manufacturer recommendations, installation instructions, and manuals when it comes to flexible dryer transition ducts..
Phil discusses their products, offerings, and service guidelines. Omega offers free video
To know more about their product offerings, visit omegaforceappliancerepair.com or call them at 763-390-6267.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman; as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections, and anything else that’s rattling around in our heads.
BO: On today’s episode, we had a really fun conversation with Phil Whiteford. He’s the owner of Omega Force Appliance Repair, based out of Rogers, Minnesota. You can find them on the web at omegaforceappliancerepair.com. You can check out Phil on LinkedIn; he’s got all his contact information there, so if you have any questions… But we broke down every major appliance in your house, and what the most likely repair you would see, as it relates to each of these appliances. We also talked a little bit about dryer vents. Phil shared some information about dryer vents that I wasn’t aware of, and I know that Reuben and Tessa were kinda both raising their eyebrows too. Also, we talked a lot about a warranty program that his company is offering, and this is really a powerful tool for a real estate agent or a new home buyer. So many times in the past, we as home inspectors would get complaint calls about an appliance not working. And there’s testing that we do, but it’s not the same type of testing that you’re gonna do when you use an appliance over and over and over again, where you go from a small load of laundry to a big load of laundry. And you really find out how well your appliances are working once you’re using them on a regular basis. So, they’ve got a great warranty product. I encourage you to really pay close attention to that. This was a fun conversation, and I hope you enjoy it.
Reuben Saltzman: Bill, meet Phil. Phil, Bill!
BO: You own the company, Omega?
Phil Whiteford: I do, yes, sir.
BO: How long have you had it?
PW: I started July 2013, so coming up on nine years.
BO: Nice. What was your background before you got into… Into Omega?
PW: I’ve pretty much always done appliances in my professional career. I started… I went through training back in 2003. That’s really when I got into it pretty fresh. I went to Dunwoody for heating ang cooling, and, long story short, ended up doing appliances.
BO: What led you to that?
PW: I was working at Best Buy while I was going to Dunwoody, and I was able to transfer… Stay at Best Buy, and then switch over to doing the appliance trade.
BO: It sounds like your education plan was just like mine; I’m nowhere near where I started. Well, you are, ’cause you’re actually in a related field, but I started one thing and then made a left turn and I’m way off in a different lane, but… Anyway, it’s good to meet you Phil. I appreciate your time today, and we appreciate you. Alright, well, let’s get into it.
RS: Well, you know, Bill, I wanna just set this up, because we’ve had a few people come back and ask me where that podcast was; we had done a podcast with someone on Phil’s team, Nate, about a year ago; it was a little over a year ago. And he waxed on appliances; we talked about a lot of different stuff. And Phil got a hold of that podcast, and he was like, “You know, it’s mostly all good information, but there’s a few things… Here’s my top list of 98 items that I didn’t quite agree with.” No, I’m exaggerating. [chuckle] But there was a handful of things where Phil was like, “Well, this isn’t quite right, and I don’t know if I want that information out there coming from us,” and I was like, “You know what, let’s just scrap that podcast. We’ll throw it in the dumpster, we’ll put it on ice or something, and we’ll do another one. We’ll record another one with you, Phil, and we’ll get it exactly the way you wanted to represent Omega.” I don’t know, time gets away from us.
RS: And I had completely spaced it until somebody used your company for an appliance repair, and she’s like, “Nate was out at my house. He was awesome. This is the only company I’m ever using for appliance repairs; I got their name from your podcast. And I wanted to share your podcast with some other friends, ’cause I just want ’em to know who these guys are, and I can’t find it!” And that just kinda jogged my memory: “Oh shoot, we need to get these guys back on and do another one, and we got a lot more questions now.” So, that’s the prep for why we’re having you back on.
PW: Well, I appreciate the opportunity, thank you.
BO: Well, and also, as home inspectors, we don’t get a lot of complaints. But when people do call, oftentimes, it’s about appliances. And as appliances have become more technical and smart and all of the other things, it just seems like they might outsmart us, and I have lots of questions about how do you properly test an appliance, and, as a home inspector passing through a house to quickly… To see if something’s functional, how do we actually give it a blessing, and can we? And… ‘Cause my sense is, that would take its own amount of time, which we don’t have in the inspection period, so to speak. I’m kind of excited to ask a lot of questions, Phil. What is the single most common appliance repair you guys deal with?
PW: We see tons of ice maker and ice maker dispenser issues, especially now that ice makers, in a lot of a cases, are in the fresh food section. It just adds a whole… Another amount of complexity to get that space where the ice maker is chilled properly. There’s been class action lawsuits on ’em and all kinds of stuff; it’s just… It’s been a challenge, for sure.
BO: Is this brand specific, or is this across the board?
PW: There is… I think every manufacturer, at some point, has probably had an issue that’s been pretty well-known with an ice maker in the fresh food department. The most well-known one right now is Samsung has a class action lawsuit out on theirs… For a lot of theirs… It’s one-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. But in some cases, they’re taking care of the fridge repair or the ice maker repair up to six years. But it’s an expensive repair at $600; they have a kit that includes a new circuit board, a new ice maker, some new plastic parts, some new metal clips; you have to reseal the whole ice maker cavity, so it’s pretty extensive. So if you call them and sweet talk them, in some cases, they’re covering it, the whole thing. Frigidaire had an issue with their ice makers. That cavity wasn’t insulated properly, and some stuff was freezing up there, and they’d have a repair for it, if it was before five years. If it was newer than five years, they’d replace the fridge. If it’s older than five years, they tell you, “Too bad, so sad.” Whirlpool has a kit out for theirs; comes with the whole gob of wires and sensors… They essentially just redo everything in that whole ice maker compartment. It’s an issue that’s spread across the industry quite a bit.
RS: So let me ask you, is there anything that homeowners can do to help prevent these issues from cropping up, or is this just a manufacturing defect or a design flaw, and you’re just stuck with it?
PW: They’re design flaws. There’s nothing you can really do about it. The stuff’s just not designed right to start with.
BO: How do you design them right? Do you need more space? Do you need more insulation? Do you need… How could you do it, that they haven’t seemed to figure out?
PW: I think what happens is they test these things in their manufacturing facility, and they test them in not real-world circumstances, and they don’t test them for long enough. And… Like in the case of Frigidaire, their insulation in the cavity gets some moisture in it, and then eventually, it breaks down and it’s useless. They don’t know that’s gonna happen when they’re testing it for a few months or whatever they test it for, right? It takes a few years for that to manifest itself, and then that’s when it becomes a problem. You know, some parts just prematurely fail. Again, the part will work great for a year while they test it or whatever they do, and then they just see a high failure rate after that, so then they’ll come up with a redesign to… You know, come up with a new, better fan, or whatever is necessary to try and remedy the situation.
RS: Man, that’s a good tip for any home inspectors listening to this podcast. It used to be that we wouldn’t inspect appliances; 20 years ago, we’d never do it, but it became more and more common for home inspectors to do it. Eventually, the ASHI standard of practice changed in 2014, and they incorporated this, and they said if it’s an installed appliance, and There’s a bunch of types of appliances; we won’t get into that. But they said if it’s installed appliance, it needs to be part of your standard of practice, so we pretty much inspect all of them now. And ice makers are definitely one of those things we look at, but I never knew how expensive it was to fix it. I mean, I kinda figured you got a bad ice maker, it’s gonna be a couple hundred bucks to fix it, not close to a thousand.
Tessa Murry: $600… Yeah, that’s crazy.
PW: Well, in a lot of cases, it’s not that much, but in the Samsung-specific case, they have a kit out that includes a new circuit board, and a new ice maker, and some sealant, and a bunch of other parts, so you essentially are redoing that whole upper ice maker cavity. And so, for that kit and all the labor involved, those are running like 600 bucks. So… A Whirlpool, if you just need an ice maker and that’s it, nothing else… I mean, those can, for sure, be less than a couple hundred dollars.
TM: You know, Phil, just… What’s the average life expectancy for just a… Like, a fridge that you would buy today, and I know it’s gonna be different across the brands, but just in general, what are you seeing?
PW: I don’t feel like I can accurately answer that question. All we see is broken stuff. So… I mean, everything we see is broken. You know, LG has a class action lawsuit right now for their major compressor issue, so LG fridges are not lasting, but again, it’s only one specific compressor that they manufacture, and that’s the only compressor we see is the broken ones.
RS: Yeah, coming from you, it’s gotta be like, uh, I’d say three years on average.
PW: Realistically, it’s probably 15 or 20 years, but again, I’m not sure.
BO: It’s funny, I… Full disclosure, we have a European fridge; it’s like a counter-depth fridge, and it’s all we could get for the design of the kitchen that we had to deal with. Anyway, this thing is going on eight, nine years old. Ice maker gives out, and before I knew that Omega existed, I just went to the store where I bought it, and I had their people come out, and they looked at it, and they’re like, “Yeah.” The Europeans think we’re crazy with wanting to make ice, and they just don’t have any parts to fix this thing. Apparently, it’s a wiring harness that gets brittle and breaks, and there’s just nothing they can do about it, so… But maybe, Phil, maybe you guys can come out and do some handiwork on it and get this thing going again.
PW: You know, we’re doing free video diagnostic calls right now, so this is a great case where you can call in. We’ll get you linked up with a video chat to a technician. Jared does it; he’s been doing it 29 years. He would look at… Hear what you have to say and see if he can come up with a solution to fix it, and maybe we can, maybe we can’t. I mean, it just depends on, you know, what we find.
TM: That’s awesome.
RS: I had no idea. That’s super cool.
BO: Is anybody else in town doing that?
PW: Not that I’m aware of.
TM: Is that a… Was that a response to the pandemic, Phil, or is that just…
PW: It was a response to a couple one-star reviews we got, where they complained about how they told us what the issue was over the phone, and we should have been able to diagnose it over the phone for them, and we didn’t, and so we go out to the house, and we’re like, “Oh yeah, this is a known issue.” And so now, we try to catch those upfront and not ever send a tech out to the house.
TM: Wow, interesting.
PW: So, we probably do about five free calls a day, where people call us in, and we’re like, “This thing’s not worth fixing,” or “These parts are no longer available,” or “This is gonna be expensive. You wanna think about it?” So, the customers love it. It’s been great.
TM: That makes a lotta sense.
RS: That is an amazing service.
TM: Save people the trip charge.
PW: Exactly, yeah.
RS: Yep, and then they’re gonna call you on the next one.
PW: Well, hopefully.
BO: Is there anything else with fridges, as long as we’ve touched on fridges, that… Have… Are a known pain in the butt, or is it just the compressor goes out and the ice maker goes out?
PW: They’re generally the most complicated and complex appliance in the house these days, and they just continue to get more and more complicated. A fridge used to have one compressor, and now, some newer ones have two compressors. They used to have one sensor, and now, some of ’em have 10 sensors. So it’s just really going crazy. Some of ’em have four fans in ’em; they used to have one. So, it’s just changed substantially in the last… The last five, 10 years.
RS: Alright, I’m gonna open myself up to criticism from you. I got my… I’ve got a refrigerator in the garage. And I’ve always read that you shouldn’t keep your refrigerator in the garage, ’cause when it’s zero outside and it’s cold in your garage, your refrigerator is not gonna be happy. What’s your take on putting a fridge in the garage?
PW: So most manufacturers, if you read the owner’s manual, it will tell you in there that the unit needs to be in an ambient air temperature above 55 degrees. Some of them say 40 degrees, but as you know, Minnesota garages get way colder than 55, or even 40, but what happens is… Now, it depends on the type of fridge you have, but some older fridges with top mount… You know, freezer up top and fresh food on the bottom. If you have that thing set for 37 degrees, which is your normal fridge temp, and your garage is at 20 degrees, the thing will never turn on and cool. And so therefore, the fans don’t run to circulate air, and… Then on top of that, it still goes into defrost mode every eight hours, so it turns on a heater in the freezer to melt the frost in there, and then, as long as the fresh food section is cold, it will never turn the thing on and cool it again, so you really get… What it turns out to be is like a fresh food section on top and a fresh food section on the bottom. It just doesn’t freeze properly. So, a chest freezer works in a garage just fine, an upright freezer will work in a garage just fine, and even some standalone fridges will work in a garage okay. It’s when you get the combination of a fridge and freezer… That’s when you run into issues.
RS: Okay. Alright. Very interesting.
BO: I had no idea about that. [laughter] Does it hurt refrigerators to go and just be unplugged in the garage and sit out there in 45-degree-below-zero temperature on a regular basis, or do you just plug ’em back in and they work fine?
PW: As long as there isn’t any… The only concern about a fridge getting cold is if you have any water in it. So, water valves will crack, and tubing can crack, and that kinda stuff, but as long as there’s no water in it, then there really is not a concern.
BO: Now, one of the things that I’ve run into at my house is this front-loading washing machine, and I know… And some people on our inspection team have tried to test them, and they’ve been out smarted by these machines; sometimes, they have load sensors, and it looks like they ran, but they didn’t run. And so, we’ve had some complaints at a point in time. What’s the deal with front-load washers? Why did anybody think these were a good idea? And what kinds of problems do you typically see with the front-loads?
PW: I don’t know why anybody thought they’re a good idea, to be honest. They’re way more problematic than top-load washers. They… Just the whole engineering piece of ’em… You know, on a top-load washer, if the lid doesn’t close right, no big deal. On a front-load, you can flood a house, and we’ve seen it many times, because someone just doesn’t get the… You know, door closed right. So, I’m not a fan of them. I think most people in the industry are not a fan of them. They just cause so many problems. But I think, really, the only way to test it, at least from an inspection standpoint, is to put five bath towels in there and let the thing run, and see if it goes all the way through and spins ’em out at the end. There’s really no other way to do it. If it’s empty, it can work just fine, it can sound okay and go all the way through, and it looks good. But once you get a load in there, the thing can shake too much to the point where it just won’t allow it to complete the cycle, and there’s really… There’s not any way to know that that’s gonna happen, other than putting a load in there.
PW: And it also puts in more water. The bigger the load is, the more water they put in. So if you have a machine that’s draining slowly, and you don’t have anything in there, it’s gonna have a low volume of water, and it may be able to drain that out just fine. But then, if you have a larger load in there with a larger volume of water, it will not be able to drain that out. So most front-load washers, when it goes to drain, it will drain for about 10 minutes, and if it still sees water in the machine after 10 minutes, it’ll give you an error code. And so, depending on the size of the load, it can vary the volume and then determine if an error code’s gonna come up or not.
TM: So you… You just poked holes in the way that we currently test things, Phil, because we’ve adapted our testing process and procedures quite a bit over the last few years, and currently, what we do is we throw, like, a bath towel in the washer and put it through a cycle, but what you’re saying is, it needs to be a heavier load to really test it. You need, like, five towels or something.
PW: Yeah, if you read the owner’s manual, for one, it tells you that you can’t have a light load in there in some cases, and if the load is too light, to add bath towels to help counterbalance the load. There… In most of these machines, there isn’t anything to counterbalance it, so if you have two towels in there, you need one on each side of the drum to counterbalance each other so it can spin out. So if you have one towel in there that’s light enough, it might be able to do it, but it’s for sure not ideal. But two towels, again, I don’t think it’s heavy enough to really test the suspension in it and make sure the thing is up to snuff to handle a decent-size load.
BO: Wait a second. Suspension? That sounds like my truck. I mean, what are we looking at inside of a front-load washer?
PW: So it’s a suspension; much like a truck, there’s… Underneath, all of them have three or four shock absorbers, just like a vehicle has, and then they have two springs up in the top that suspend it, or make it hang from the top. Some of them will have some counterbalance weights in there to help reduce some vibration, but it’s really… I mean, it’s pretty simple; there’s not much to it.
BO: Does anybody… Or any manufacturers that you’re really impressed with how they build their suspension, and you think, “Yeah, this one is more solid than others.”?
PW: We really don’t see any problems with the suspensions these days. The antivibration from all the manufacturers have gotten substantially better. When I first started doing this, we’d get so many complaints from people having a machine upstairs, and it would just sound like it was shaking the house to pieces.
PW: And… That has been eliminated a lot, but it’s still not as good as… And it still shakes more than a top-load washer does, but it’s come a long way, that’s for sure.
RS: Now, what about the stink that you get with some of those washers? Like, I mean, you get people who say, “I always leave the door ajar, I always clean the filter, I drain the water out, I use the tablets, and I’ll put Affresh,” or whatever… You’ll run the cleaning cycle every 30 days; you do everything that the manufacturer tells you, yet it still smells to high heaven. What is going on there, and what can people do about that?
PW: Yeah, there’s been class-action lawsuits just for this issue, and… May take a loss when they had to pay out some money for it. But it’s a problem with every front-load washer. I think it comes down to the amount of chemicals you’re putting in the machine. So, if you… Now I’ve never done this, but maybe you guys have. If you don’t wash your shower for a while, around the knobs, it’ll turn like pink and orange, and that’s your shampoo or whatever else in there getting slimy and getting kinda mildewy. You don’t clean it long enough, it’ll get this nasty, stinky stuff. The same thing happens in front-load washing machines. It gets this thick goo in there. If you’re good about running Affresh on a monthly basis, like they say, it will… It should take care of that goo, but most people don’t. They probably do it once every three years. It’s a problem. But if you really watch soap, it will probably not be an issue, but consumers like to see suds in there; it makes ’em feel better, and so, people like to put in lots of soap.
BO: Can you clarify what you mean by watch soap? Are you just saying use less than the bottle says to use? And how much?
PW: Always use less than what the bottle says. I mean, they’re in the business of selling soap. It really depends on how dirty your clothes are and how hard or soft your water is. The harder your water is, the dirtier your clothes are, the more detergent you can use. But if you have a water softener… And, you know, most people wear their clothes once or twice and throw ’em in there. A good rule of thumb is two tablespoons of two-times concentrated detergent.
TM: Wow, that’s hardly anything.
PW: Yeah, it’s not much.
RS: I’m getting my black magic marker, and I’m drawing a new line on my fill dispenser. [chuckle] As soon as we are done with this podcast.
TM: You would do that. [laughter]
PW: We have… I’m pretty sure the cups that come in a… In a coffee can, or… You know, Folgers or whatever, I think those are two tablespoons. So, you can use one of those.
RS: Okay, good. While we’re on that, Bill, is it okay if we go away from washing machines, ’cause it… This reminds me of dishwashers now.
BO: It’s your podcast, you can do whatever you want, man.
RS: You’re the host, Bill. This is not my podcast, this is your baby. I’m wondering about dishwashers. I’ve heard that it’s a problem adding too much soap to those too, like, most people use way too much. What’s your thought on that?
PW: It’s definitely a problem, and we get calls for it. I mean, I’ve seen ’em before, where it’s like a cartoon, and the soap is oozing out on the floor, ’cause people put in way too much. But again, you have to use detergent based on how hard or soft your water is and how dirty or not your dishes are. Two teaspoons of detergent… Of powder detergent is good for most applications. If you have really hard water or you’re washing some really nasty stuff, you can put in more, but two teaspoons of detergent is really about all you need.
BO: How much detergent’s in a packet? Yeah, I use the… I use those pre…
PW: Yeah, the pods?
PW: Now, those are not all detergent. Some of the stuff in there is… You know, like OxiClean and… Some of it is rinse aid, so that’s not all detergent. I don’t have that number for you. Just by looking at one, I would guess it’s probably like three tablespoons… Something like that would be my guess.
PW: They can be too much. The Cascade Platinum pods have been an issue. Generally, when we get calls for leaking or sudsing, and we see they’re using that stuff, a lotta times, that’s the cause. So… And there’s nothing you can do; you can’t cut those in half, so… I mean, you just have to switch detergent.
TM: Is there things that homeowners can do for, just in general… Like, in terms of maintenance, to extend the life of their dishwashers?
PW: A lot of the newer dishwashers have a filter on them that needs to be cleaned out regularly. If you just look under the bottom rack, there’s a big thing in there that… You know, you grab it and turn and pull it out, and there’ll be food chunks and that kinda stuff in there. Other than that, not really. I mean, I went to a house where a guy washes the rocks from his aquarium, and they just went everywhere inside the thing, so…
TM: Oh no.
PW: People just… People just abuse them. So as long as you don’t abuse them and clean the filter, if yours has a filter, it’ll be alright.
BO: Was this the first time that he washed his aquarium rocks, or did he get lucky the first time when…
PW: I don’t know, but I picked so many aquarium rocks out of that thing, it was unreal.
BO: I think you answered my other questions, though, ’cause I was gonna say, what goes wrong with dishwashers? They seem pretty bulletproof.
PW: Dishwashers are probably the second most common repair we see behind refrigerators these days. The government has done so much to try and make them more energy-efficient, and in the process of that, they have really changed how the things work. They used to have these big, huge AC motors in ’em that weighed eight pounds. Now, they have these little plastic things that are so cheap, and… But they use no energy. But you know, an old dishwasher… The cycle will be complete in an hour. A new one… Every single new dishwasher’s more than two hours for a normal cycle, and it’s because the motors are so small, they use just a little bit of water, so the dishes are essentially soaking in there for an additional hour so that the things can actually get your dishes clean. So they’re more energy-efficient; there’s no doubt about that, and they use less water and all that kinda stuff, but the quality of them has definitely dwindled.
BO: I had an issue with mine where the detergent door went open. And I went on YouTube, and I found some component, and I took my… I’m not a mechanical guy, but I took a stab at it. It seems to be holding together here, two years later. Is that a common thing? Like, are there a lot of little plastic parts in there that are moving in dishwashers, or was mine just kind of a weird one?
PW: It’s tons of plastic parts. When I first started, I could not carry a dishwasher outside of a house by myself; they were so heavy. And now, I can pick up a dishwasher and move it by myself, no problem. They’ve gone from lots of metal to lots of plastic. That’s just how they are.
BO: Do the repairs actually begin to make sense on units like this? Because dishwashers don’t feel that expensive as an appliance. So, is it pretty easy to go beyond 50% of the cost to repair it?
PW: Well, nowadays, it’s hard to get some appliances, so, that number has changed, just because of the current era we’re in. It depends on your situation. We go to some houses where they’ve put a tile floor in front of the dishwasher, and you can’t get the dishwasher out, so those people are willing to pay more for a repair, so they don’t have to tear up their floor and replace it. If someone’s handy, they might be willing to replace a dishwasher themself, so then, they’re gonna be less likely to repair it, so it depends. Some people will have a complete matching kitchen suite, and they like that everything matches and looks the same, so they’d be willing to invest more on a repair. And some Bosch dishwashers are $1200. So, people, obviously, invest more on repairing one of those. So it just depends on what it is…
BO: My pragmatic approach to cost is not always… Not always accurate.
PW: Yeah. We can almost always repair something faster than somebody can replace it. So, if you want that thing up and running quick, almost always fix it faster.
BO: Interesting. Now, there… Again, I would have never expected you to say that, and that’s not because of the current climate, that was a general statement that applied before COVID hit and supply chains went completely nuts, right?
PW: Yes. We carry the top 300 parts on all of our vehicles, so we fix a lotta stuff first time we’re out, and then we source more than 90% of our parts locally, so we can get parts and get back very quickly and repair stuff.
TM: Does that same sentiment apply to microwaves too? Just curious. When a microwave stops heating up or stops working, do you just recommend replacing that?
PW: We service a lot of microwaves, and we cover them on our warranty. Some of them are really cheap to fix; it’s just a couple-dollar part. But again, with a microwave, you have to get the thing installed. If it’s a countertop, for sure, throw it away. But if it’s an over-the-range one or built-in one, some of the big box stores are charging like $175 to get it installed. So, it can make a microwave get expensive quickly. But some of them… I mean, we just serviced a GE microwave the other day that was a $2500 unit, so, it just depends on what you’re talking about.
BO: That was more than a microwave, right? That was a fan and exhaust fan probably built in, or was it just a microwave?
PW: No, it was a built-in, meaning it’s screwed into the cabinets. It didn’t sit above a cooktop, it’s just a standalone microwave. It has a drop-down door on it; nice unit.
RS: So we… Before the show, we had traded some emails about clothes dryers and clothes dryer exhaust, and some of the biggest problems you have there. Let’s just dig into clothes dryers. What type of stuff do you see going wrong with those? Besides the really obvious one, if people don’t clean their lint traps; I’m sure you see that, right?
PW: We’ve gone out before, and I kid you not, pulled an inch of lint off of traps. And once you get to an inch thick, it can’t even collect anymore lint; the fan’s not moving any air, so it’s… It’s useless at that point. But when they say to clean your lint filter every time, they mean every time, so you should definitely be doing that.
RS: Yeah, I can’t believe somebody actually calls you out to service their clothes dryer, and they haven’t cleaned the lint trap.
PW: The other thing with lint traps are… Is, if you use dryer sheets, they have a wax residue in there, and that wax residue will build up on the filter, and it will start to plug it up. It’ll reduce the size of the holes. I’ve seen some that are so plugged up with wax residue that you can put water on top of it and the water won’t run through. It just sits on top of it.
RS: So how do you clean that?
PW: So, in the owner’s manual, you get a brush and soap and just run it under water and scrub it. You don’t have to do anything special, but… Every dryer manual tells you to clean that filter with soap and a brush periodically. Nobody does, but that’s what the manual says.
TM: I had no idea.
RS: I’m gonna clean mine today!
BO: Of course you will.
PW: If you don’t use dryer sheets, you probably don’t need to clean it. The wax from the dryer sheets is what really coats some things so good.
RS: Okay, alright, so you… Would you advise against using the dryer sheets, or would you just say if you do it, clean your filter regularly?
PW: Make sure you clean your filter. I’m not a fan of liquid fabric softener in a washing machine, so if you’re gonna use something, I would go with the dryer sheets.
BO: And why is that? Is that just because of that gooey nature that will build up in your washing machine if you use liquid fabric softener, or…
PW: I think the more chemicals you put in the washer, the more likely you are to get the goo and the stink going in there. It just kinda slimes everything up, and it’s… It’s gooey, it’s really flammable… I’m just not a fan of it at all.
BO: Have you ever seen a washer start on fire?
PW: I’ve never seen a washer start on fire, but 60 Minutes did a thing a while ago, where they washed baby clothes with fabric softener, and then they lit ’em on fire, and it’s like…
PW: They’re gone.
RS: Oh! Wow. I had no idea.
BO: It’s like pouring an accelerant on your child and… Wow.
BO: Is there a warning on the bottle?
PW: I don’t know, but it sure sounds like there should be.
BO: Man, I learn more things by accident, honestly. There’s just… [laughter] Who would have thought that it would be flammable, but… Alright. [chuckle]
TM: So, Phil, do you have a recommendation for dryer exhaust ducts too; a certain type of material?
PW: Oh man, this is a hot topic.
TM: [laughter] Literally. [laughter]
PW: Manufacturers recommend you can use two kinds of ducting. One is the solid steel, which is by far the best option; there’s nothing even close to it. The other one that they say you can use is the semi-rigid. Pretty much every manufacturer that I’ve ever read a manual for says you can use those two, and only those two. There’s some discussion as to whether you can use foil vent; there’s lots of confusion around it. Some people say it’s okay to use it to go from the dryer to the wall. I don’t think there’s ever a good reason to use it. The only reason to use it is to save time and money on installing this stuff. And I say just do it right; just go all steel from the beginning, and in the long run, it’s gonna save you time and money.
RS: Yeah, the… And just to touch on that, the way the code is written is that the dryer duct is gonna be all rigid metal, just like you’re describing. It’s gotta have a smooth interior; you can’t even have screw heads poking into it that could catch lint. It’s gotta all be metal. But then, for a different product called the dryer transition duct, you can use up to eight feet of a UL Listed dryer transition duct; it needs to be UL2158A-listed. And… You know, in some cases, like at my house, I’ve got a dryer tucked way back in there, and I don’t have access from the top or either side. I mean, it is wedged inbetween the wall and my washing machine; I cannot get at it. And then it takes a turn, and it’s like, I don’t have the skill to line this up and have it all metal, so there is a small section of flexible in there. And it’s the shortest possible. It’s probably four feet long, and I say, if you are gonna use a transition duct, make it as short as you can possibly make it, and…
RS: You know, the code allows a UL Listed transition duct, but like you said, Phil, there’s a lot of confusion over what manufacturers allow. And even… I’ve read tons of manufacturers’ installation instructions, and even in the same manual from the same manufacturer, they’ll say, “Don’t use foil ducts, but if you’re going to, make sure it’s UL2158A-listed,” and it’s like, “What are you saying here?” [chuckle] And I’ve done tests on it. I’ll put a link in the show notes to a couple blogs I’ve done on that, and… I mean, I’ve started ’em on fire; I’d fill them with confetti, with shredded paper, and check to see how they work, and… I mean, no question, those foil ones burn through fairly quickly. If you’ve got a fire inside your duct, those foil ones probably will not contain it; it’ll probably get out. Aside from the fact that they’re probably much more likely to get clogged up with lint.
PW: One of the main issues we see with anything that’s not solid steel is, people get ’em installed back there, and then, every time you close the door, it pushes the dryer back a little bit. If someone were to lean on it, it’ll push the dryer back, and the transition duct gets squished. And so, you go from having a four-inch opening to… I’ve seen some that are less than two inches, because they’ve just been so squished. And… And then you have a dryer problem, you have a venting problem, and… I’m telling you, it’s well worth it to invest the money to do a dryer vent right upfront. If your dryer vent gets too restricted, the dryer will run hotter than it’s… Hotter than it’s supposed to. Eventually, it will cause the dryer to fail. They say that 70% of dryer failures are because of poor vents. And… So… So if you have a heating element, for example, that heating element has to have so much airflow moving over it in order for the thing to not burn up. At some point, you choke the airflow enough that that heating element just burns too hot, and eventually, it will just melt and fail. So now, you have to fix the dryer, and you still have to fix your dryer vent issue. So, it makes sense just to do it upfront and save yourself a dryer repair.
PW: It’s a big problem.
TM: Phil, how hot is too hot for a dryer, because one thing that we’ve tried to do for our inspections is to test the functionality of a dryer, and so, we actually use that same towel, put it through the dryer, and turn on the heat, but should we be looking at… Like, what’s an indication that the dryer’s not venting properly, ’cause we do everything we can to visually inspect the duct, but if it’s going through a space that’s not accessible, we can’t always see what’s going on.
PW: Yeah, so there’s a couple things you can do. We put… We have a digital probe that we put inside the dryer, and we’ll watch it turn the heat on and off. So when the dryer gets too cold, it’ll kick the heat on. If it’s gas, you’ll hear the flame turn on. If it’s electric, you’ll hear the relay click, and… You’ll watch the temperature start to go up. And so, it… Most dryers will kick the heat on, and this is if you’re measuring it inside the drum, at about 120 degrees. You’ll watch the heat increase until it gets to about 200 degrees, and then the heat will cut off and go back down to 120, kick the heat back on, and it’ll cycle through that a whole bunch of times while the thing’s running. Obviously, when you put a large mass of wet clothes in there, the heat is gonna stay on longer at the very beginning, and then it will run less as the clothes warm up. But 120 to 200 degrees is a perfect temperature, and that’s with the vent disconnected. As soon as you attach any sort of vent at all and change the airflow at all, it’s gonna run hotter. Every single time you hook up a vent, it’s gonna run hotter. And depending on what kinda vent you have is gonna depend on how much warmer it’s gonna run. Generally, if you see something getting over 230, you’re in the danger zone of it starting to blow a fuse or cause a problem in the dryer.
PW: But we have… We have airflow meters. And so, we’ll put the airflow meter outside, underneath the vent hood, and see how many miles per hour we’re getting of airflow out there. If we get more than 20, then that’s acceptable. Less than 20, you run the potential of having problems. Less than 16, you need to do something right now. But if you put it right on the back of a dryer… I’ve seen it coming out of the back of a dryer as much as 35 miles an hour. So if you go from 35… You know, if you have 35 out the back of the dryer, you hook it up to a vent, and all of a sudden, you’re down to 20, well, something’s wrong, right? So as long as you do it, you can kinda get a feel of, you know, if this one’s 35, and you go through 10 feet of duct, what it should be when it’s coming outside the house. But that’s really… The best way to check it is checking the miles per hour of airflow outside.
BO: Do you clean ducts as a part of your service?
PW: We clean… We do… I’m gonna say minor duct cleanings, or easy duct cleanings. We don’t go up on roofs, and we don’t do anything with second stories, so if your… If your vent is coming… You know, exiting out the second story, then we gotta get an… We’re not doing that. We don’t carry any monstrous ladders on our vehicles. But we’ll do easy ones. You know, go up and go out the side or whatever.
TM: Who does clean those? I mean, ’cause there are so many houses these days that we inspect where the dryer is… You know, washer-dryer located on the second floor, and the dryer vent’s up through the attic and out through the roof, or like townhomes, condos… Like, who should someone call to clean those?
PW: We recommend two companies for second story or roof vents. Donald’s Ducts… Isn’t that a cute name? He’s outta St. Michael.
TM: Huh, okay.
PW: And… Just kinda part of the metro, and the Dryer Vent Wizard is out of Farmington. They do as well. So, Donald’s Duct… He just cleans ’em. Dryer Vent Wizard will do anything, so if you… If yours is too small, and you need to cut a brick in your house to get a four-inch vent in, they’ll do that. If it’s disconnected in the attic or whatever… I mean, they’ll do anything to get your dryer vent working right.
BO: Well, I’ve known that when my friend in Farmington asked me to go on her roof that was 8 x 10, or 10 x 10, whatever it was, and I’m up there shimmying down to this duct that… It’s 30 feet up in the air; why the heck would you put the dryer termination on a roof that high, that steep? I was cussing this contractor out.
PW: There’s no reason for it, ’cause… You have it up on a roof, and it’s nice and warm; birds like the warmth, so they wanna go inside the vent, so then you have to put a screen up there. The screens are not up to code, by the way. So then, people wanna put a screen up there to keep the birds out, but now, you gotta go up there and clean the screen. It’s just… It’s a bad idea all the way around.
RS: Yeah, and not only that, but it’s gonna melt snow on your roof, and that can contribute to ice dams too. There’s a lotta reasons to not do it.
BO: Okay, houses have several thousands of dollars of equipment in them in the form of appliances; everything we’ve already touched on. I’m moving into a new house. Is there anything out there that I can buy that’s going to protect my appliances from failure as I move from the last owner to me and just, fingers crossed, hoping these things work?
PW: Are you setting me up here with a softball question?
BO: Well, I… If you’ve got an answer that’s a softball, I’d love to take it, but… I mean, I feel fortunate. We have been lucky with appliances, and… But I know a lot of people have moved in, and five days later, something major breaks, so…
PW: So we sell an appliance protection plan that… We have a sale going on right now; it’s… Covers eight appliances in your house for $30 a month, and… These things are just huge in the metro area. One of our large Fortune 500 competitors has over 200,000 customers in Minnesota on these contracts. So, we’ve come up with our own; we’re guaranteeing two-day service, we’re covering more parts, covering more appliances, it’s a local company, we answer the phone… I mean, today, I’m looking at our phone board; we’re averaging answering the phone in five seconds for everybody that calls, so it’s really a top-notch service experience, and I guarantee they’re gonna be happy.
BO: Is that an insurance policy that’s provided by X mutual company, and then you service it for them, or how does it actually work?
PW: It’s completely all done in-house. So, we make all the decisions on what’s covered and what’s not covered. We’re not talking to anybody’s insurance company, we’re… It’s all done completely in-house, which is one of the reasons that it’s a much better experience, because we’ve done work for other companies where the customer thinks something should be covered, warranty company says no, we’re stuck in the middle, somehow we always end up being the bad guy, so we decided we just needed to take control of this thing and just do it all ourselves, so… But our goal is to make everybody be super happy in the end, and just to have a real top-notch, good experience, and… So that they wanna stay with us.
BO: You know, I haven’t asked about ranges. Are ranges something you guys are working on on a regular basis, or do… Again, are they a pretty solid piece of equipment?
PW: Ranges are probably the least serviced item. There’s… Some ranges have no moving mechanical parts. You know, some of them might have a convection fan, some might have a cooling fan, but there’s really not much in them in terms of moving parts. The more complicated they get, the more we’re servicing them, of course. A lot of ’em now have complete digital controls for the burners, where you hit numbers up and down, so you can set your burner at number eight or seven or whatever on a digital display. And those things always add more problems than just your standard old-fashioned knob and switch. But they’re still the most reliable appliance out there.
RS: I got a troubleshooting question for you; maybe you can help me fix mine. I’ve got a… Appliance; a 20-year-old range. And every once in a while, the igniter will stop working. It’s like I go to light the burner, and there’s just no clicking. Nothing happens. No matter what I do, I can’t get it to click, so I’ll get my little… My little candle lighter, and I’ll use that to light the flame. And I’ll do that for a couple days, and then, a few days later, I’ll just try it again, and it magically works. What’s going on?
PW: I’m assuming you’re talking about a gas burner on the cooktop?
RS: That’s right.
PW: So when you turn the knob, there’s a little switch in there that energizes the spark module. That thing’s failing. You need to replace it.
RS: Okay. Alright. Cool. So new knob? No, just kidding.
PW: That would be nice. Not that easy, though.
TM: Something tells me, Reuben, you’re gonna go find a YouTube video and try this out, and probably record it. [laughter]
RS: I just might. I’ll let you know how it goes.
BO: Phil, I thought you were gonna tell me that ranges were a big problem, especially the electrical circuit boards that are just above where the exit is for the… Where the exhaust exit is on ovens, like, those circuit boards… I thought you’d tell me those things heat up and melt all the time, but apparently not.
PW: We rarely see that. If it’s a problem, they’ll put a cooling fan by that circuit board to make sure it’s cool, so… But generally, it’s just… Yeah, it’s really not an issue. The biggest problem with ranges are those people using self-clean ranges and ovens. When you use self-clean, depending on the manufacturer, it’ll heat that thing up to 900 degrees. And if you have a fan that’s on the fritz or anything that’s just not right in there, it’ll kill something in there. So we always recommend you never use them around the holidays, even though that’s when everyone uses ’em, ’cause they wanna pretend like they have a real nice appliance before all their family comes and sees it.
RS: Yes. I had a neighbor who was doing that; they used the self-clean feature, and it locks your oven shut. And their… It was electric, and their oven would not shut off. They’re like, “Reuben, I don’t know what to do,” and we ended up just shutting off the circuit breaker, ’cause there was nothing you could do; it was just locked on. And it had been that way for hours, and they ended up having to replace it, I think. They probably could have called you guys and got it fixed, I bet, huh?
PW: You know, we just had one that was a really old double wall oven, and the thing failed, and it got stuck in the locked position, just like you were saying. And the lock’s not available anymore, but we were able to get it unlocked so they can at least use it, but they can’t use self-clean on it ever again. So, sometimes, there’s some creative solutions to keep appliances going.
BO: Can you tell everybody what’s the best way to reach out and talk to you about coverage if they want to, especially for new people moving into a house?
PW: You can reach us on the phone, 763-390-6267, or you can go to the website, omegaforceappliancerepair.com. There’s a link on top that’s says Protection Plans.
BO: Is this a certain home visit where you’re gonna come out and review every… What’s in the house, and then kinda build your plan based on that?
PW: You can pick as little as four appliances, or do as many as you want, but we don’t review anything. There’s a question on there that says, “Are they all in good working order?” We hope people are honest and check the box that they are in good working order if they are. If they’re not, then we would repair it, and… Then come out there, and… Then, they’d be able to sign up for the plan. But we have a discount going, so if you’re gonna sign up for the plan and something’s broken, we’ll give you a discount on the repair.
BO: That’s gonna be a popular… A popular product that you sell.
PW: It’s weird talking to people in the industry; it’s unheard of in other states. But for whatever reason, it’s just huge in Minnesota, so…
RS: Yeah, it is. Now, let me ask you, is there a waiting period? Like, what if somebody’s fridge stops working? They sign up for your appliance repair plan for 30 bucks a month or whatever, and they’re like, “Oh, funny timing! It just quit working today, and I signed up yesterday.” Do you have a waiting period to eliminate that kinda thing?
PW: If you read the terms and conditions, it says that there’s a 30-day waiting period.
PW: However, we… We really want people to have a top-notch experience, so if you call me and you say, “Phil, I signed up for this two weeks ago, and my fridge legitimately broke,” I’m gonna trust you, and we’re gonna fix it. If… Can people scam us? Yes they can. You can sign up for your fridge, you can wait 30 days, and then call in a broken ice maker. You can sign up for your fridge or for your range, wait 30 days, and then call in your broken burner. So, yes, people can take advantage of us. We hope people are honest to not do that, but it… It’s reality.
BO: It feels like every new home buyer should just call you immediately and get on that plan. You’re just gonna take some of that uncertainty out of that new house purchase, or at least until they know they wanna replace their equipment, so…
PW: People like it because they know exactly what the monthly payment is, and then there’s no surprises. So, you’re not having to worry about getting… In the case of a Samsung ice maker, a super expensive repair bill. It’s just… You know, you pay so much a month and… Then hopefully, you don’t have any surprises at that point…
BO: Did we miss anything? I… We talked about a lot, and… Tessa, you got… Go for it.
TM: One thing I was hoping we would get to hear from Phil today was one story from your history, your experience in working with appliances, like the craziest thing you’ve ever seen, so…
PW: So this is many years ago. I was at a customer’s house, and I was just there to fix… It happened to be an LG dishwasher. I don’t even remember what the complaint was on it, but I opened up the door, and I just about dry heaved in their kitchen. It turns out, this thing had been sitting with water in it for nine months. And it wasn’t water in the bottom, it was like this nasty, putrid fungus growing in there. It smelled just horrible. I don’t know how they were living in the house with it. And so, I told him, “I can’t service this. But if you clean it up and make this thing look new, then call us; we’ll come back and fix it.” Sure enough, they cleaned that thing up, it was spick and span, and I went back and put a new dishwasher motor in it.
RS: That’s awesome.
TM: Oh my gosh. [laughter] But they lived with it like that for nine months? Oh man.
RS: I suppose…
BO: I’m imagining the worst front-load dryer smell I’ve ever smelled, and then putting a 10 times multiplier on it.
TM: Front-load washer smell? Yeah.
PW: I’ve gotten used to the stinky front-load washer smell; some of those are pretty pungent, but this was way worse.
TM: Oh man. [chuckle] You’ve got a tough job, Phil. [laughter]
BO: My fingers would be cut up in perpetuity. Like, I can’t come next to… Go buy an appliance and not get cut on some sharp corner for some odd reason, so…
PW: I’ve bled many a time in a customer’s house, that’s for sure.
BO: Well, Phil, I just wanna thank you. This… I learned so much during this podcast. I mean, this is one of the better… Better ones that we’ve had, ’cause… Just little tidbits, I had no idea. First of all, I didn’t know there was a suspension in a front-load dryer. And there were all kinds of good nuggets in here, so thank you. We really appreciate your time, and… Especially for anybody listening, call Omega, and get this warranty. Move in your house, and have confidence, and you don’t have to worry about these things going sideways on you, so…
PW: So I’m wondering if one of us misspoke, Bill. You said a warranty… You said a suspension in a front-load dryer, and I’m hoping I didn’t say that. Okay, alright. Alright.
BO: Oh, no, I misspoke, I misspoke, as I tend to do. In a front-load washer, yes.
PW: Okay, alright. I was gonna say, uh-oh.
BO: So… Well, that’s it; I think we should put a wrap on this. Every… We will link to Phil’s company with the website, with the contact phone number, and you can go over there and talk to them about their warranty. And of course, if something goes sideways and you’re in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area, just give Omega a holler, ’cause it sounds like they can hook you up no matter what. How many parts are in your trucks?
PW: 300. And we just opened up the St. Cloud area too, so… We are at St. Cloud now, yeah.
BO: Oh, awesome! Awesome! Well, thank you. Thank you. And thank you, everybody, for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. We appreciate your time, and we will catch you next time.