I worry too much about my electrical system.

I come by it honestly – for the first winter the Lair had a ridiculously inadequate free sample of a solar power system that couldn’t even run CFLs in the morning without triggering the low voltage alarm. I was proud and pleased that it worked at all, but it only improved incrementally over several years and I’m left with a serious fetish about reducing my electricity usage to the absolute minimum. For most of the past going-on-ten years, the biggest single draw in the whole cabin was the coffee grinder* – and I have a hand-crank grinder for Plan B, which shows you how seriously I take coffee.

Anyway: For most of that time the kitchen stove was a vintage – possibly antique, I don’t know – gas range that never ran well but always ran, and didn’t require the slightest hint of electricity to operate. At the beginning of this winter the oven crapped out. I couldn’t figure out the cause and anyway replacement Gaffers & Sattler parts were not to be found. Big Brother bailed me out with a Brand New Stove – and I’m so behind the times that I didn’t even think to research whether it had a gas pilot in the oven.

It didn’t. Instead, apparently like all modern ovens, it had a huge heating element that pulled serious amperage getting so hot that propane gas burst into flame when exposed to it. And the first time I saw that happen, I about plotzed. I immediately began plotting an emergency Plan B in which I swapped my beautiful brand-new stove with the old one (with gas pilot in the oven) currently residing in Ian’s Cave.

Since then I’ve planned my bread baking for sunny days whenever possible. Baking day is almost the only time I actually use the oven, so even though the new stove’s been here two months I still haven’t acclimated to the change. This morning I finally remembered to go get my Kill-A-Watt out of the powershed and look at how much juice the heating element actually pulls.

And seriously…

…less than four amps isn’t going to make the wires sizzle.

I did worry at first that the heating element might overamp the inverter, which is only rated at 600 watts, but…

…even that isn’t a worry. This draw does pull down the charge in my small battery bank quite a lot, given that it has to go on for almost 20 minutes until the oven is hot. I can’t think of any purpose so important it would convince me to run the oven at night. But once the oven is hot, the heating element only comes on periodically and briefly. On a nice sunny mid-day it quite overcomes the charging voltage but only pulls the batteries down to like 12.4 volts.

I’ve baked bread on a cloudy winter day without any danger of damage, and that’s as bad as things could get. Anything more extreme than that, like nighttime, and I just don’t use the oven. So I need to relax and learn to love it.

* Since the old days the grinder has been joined by a clothes iron and a vacuum cleaner, either of which will drain the batteries to the point where the inverter shuts down if you let them run too long. But they’re not everyday appliances.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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11 Responses to I worry too much about my electrical system.

  1. Mike says:

    So it begs the question, would it be possible to “preheat” the electric hearing element with your propane torch and so save on electrons?

  2. Mike says:

    that was meant to read electric HEATING element… dam spell checker!

  3. Robert says:

    Wow. A 460 watt kitchen match. That’s…moronic. What’ll the engineers think of next- a hand crank automobile engine starter? Honestly, Joel, such a design should result in flogging and firing of whoever thunk it up and approved it.

  4. Bmq215 says:

    Glad to hear that it’s working out okay!

    Mike, I suspect that would work but wouldn’t that replace an energy source that Joel gets free refills on (barring catastrophe) with one that he has to buy? I mean sure, it’s not much propane, but it’s still something.

  5. Mike says:

    Bmq215, I am thinking about 10 seconds with the Burnzomatic torch should get that heating element/fuel shut off safety device hot enough to allow the propane to flow. Its a tiny little thing, and should not take much at all. Question is, can the element be accessed easily enough for this to be feasible?

  6. Mike says:

    Nice Joel. It’s good to see that you’re keeping the power consumption in perspective. Having read the blog for a long time, for me, it’s cool to see how much things have improved at the Secret Lair over the years. 👍

  7. Beans says:

    So… I know this is kind of an obvious idea, but is there anyway to use a long kitchen match or one of those long butane lighters to fire up the gas burner? Or does the gas not start until the element is hot?

  8. Joel says:

    In the sort of gas oven I’m used to, the gas valve won’t open until the thermocouple heats up enough to produce the small electrical charge that opens it. It’s a safety thing; an obvious good. A small pilot flame keeps the thermocouple hot: If the pilot flame goes out, the main gas valve can’t open.

    In this oven I don’t know if there’s a thermocouple (which by the way can’t be warmed by a match, though a butane lighter could do it) or some other gadget connected to the heating element. Either way you wouldn’t want your hand in there when the gas valve opens and the gas ignites.

  9. Bmq215 says:

    In this kind of oven the igniter essentially IS the thermocouple. It doesn’t generate a charge, but it works like a heat-activated switch between the electric valve and the wall power.

    FYI in my experience the igniters have about a 10yr lifespan. Part costs $20-30 and is quite easy to replace yourself. Might be worth grabbing a spare just in case.

  10. Terrapod says:

    Would something like this one serve your purpose? it is not currently in stock but seems to answer your issue as it requires zero A/C input. Maybe we can do a bit of crowd funding to get you one and the one you now have can go to Ian.


To the stake with the heretic!