Saturday, April 26, 2014

Another one of THOSE projects...

Before: Ineffective microwave
My kitchen had an old built-in over-the-stove microwave/vent fan unit that turned out to be rather ineffective at both of these things.  It neither cooked things efficiently nor vented heat and smells from the stove very well.  After multiple days of heroic effort, my dad and I managed to get rid of the old microwave and install a new Broan APE 130 range hood vent fan in its place.

Broan has long been a top manufacturer of range hoods.  My parents have had the same one in their house for nearly 30 years.  I researched several of their models and ultimately picked this one because it got good reviews from customers, had manual controls instead of digital, and had an Energy STAR rating.  I was originally considering one of their QS or QP models, but they got pretty bad reviews from customers, who complained about shoddy construction and endless trouble with the digital controls.  Apparently the controls go bad and the clocks don't keep time well (which doesn't surprise me, as my little countertop microwave loses about 3 minutes every month).  Really, though, the last thing I need in my kitchen is another overly-bright digital display, and who needs digital fan controls anyway?  The model I got wasn't one of their quietest ones, but it seemed like the number of sones shown on the product specs was only for the lowest speed setting of the fan, and the lowest setting for this fan is higher than the quieter fans, so it's sort of misleading.  The fan isn't super quiet, but it's not too bad, and it's certainly much quieter than my parents' 30-year-old fan.  I think I might be able to quiet it down further by putting some kind of sound-dampening material on the ducting that connects it to the chimney.  A lot of the noise is actually the air hitting the ducting and not the fan motor itself.

Grease, holes, and mustard yelllow
This project went the way of most other home improvement projects, in that it took about 5 times as long as we expected and produced a multitude of intermediate steps that had to be completed before we could actually install the thing.  Yep, one of THOSE projects...  First, it took us a while to figure out how to remove the microwave.  Apparently there was a release catch we didn't notice that was supposed to unhook it from the wall-mounting bracket.  Instead, after a lot of yanking, it just sort of bent the bracket until it released by brute force.  Then, a bunch of wall plaster rained down on us.  For some reason, the cabinet above the microwave wasn't installed flush with the wall.  When the electricians rewired the house, they cut a hole in the wall, and the plaster fell into the gap and was sitting on top of the microwave.  Next, we removed the microwave mounting bracket.  It had been rather crudely screwed into the wall and took a lot of work to unscrew.
After cleaning, spackling, priming, and two coats of yellow

Then, of course, there were a bunch of holes in the wall, just like there are every time I do anything in my house.  After cleaning years of grease off the wall (the top half was mustard yellow and the bottom half white), I spackled the holes.  I primed the surface (the shellac-based primer is great for preventing grease from soaking into the wall and covering up old grease) and then painted it the same yellow as the rest of the kitchen.  The tile backsplash looks a little funny because it stops partway up the wall (the wall used to be covered my the microwave), but it will look better after I add some edging tiles to finish it off.

After: New Broan fan installed
Then we set about installing the new fan.  The fan hooks up to some ducting which vents it into the chimney, and the ducting runs through the cabinet above the stove.  Unfortunately, the hole in the bottom of the cabinet wasn't quite large enough, so I had to expand the hole with my jigsaw a couple of times until we had it right.  More mess everywhere.  After a bit more jiggering, we bolted the fan in place and got it hooked up.

Finally, we had to attach the ducting to the chimney.  When I first moved in, the ducting connecting the microwave's vent to the chimney was a sorry piece of dryer vent piping that someone had halfheartedly mashed in there.  Most of the air from the vent was venting into the cabinet itself instead of the chimney.  On a previous visit, my dad had spent several hours meticulously cutting some real ducting to size to connect it properly to the chimney.  Unfortunately, the new vent fan was a slightly different size and position, so he had to repeat this exercise.  Home Depot of course didn't have the size he needed, but he was able to get some from Burgeson's Heating and Air Conditioning, a local HVAC company with a very helpful staff.

The fact that my house has a chimney in that position tells me that there must have always been a stove or perhaps a water heater in this corner.  A capped off section goes through the wall to the back into what is now my bedroom.  Maybe there was a gas wall heater there.  The shaft also goes all the way down through the floor, as if it were meant to vent something under the house.  Perhaps this is the vent for the old floor furnace in the living room, which isn't too far away.  I need to go spelunking in the crawl space sometime; maybe that will give me some more clues.  Wikipedia seems to have a dearth of information on chimney and water heater history, but it does say that Europeans didn't start using chimneys until the 12th century.  Before that, peoples' houses were just full of smoke all the time.

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