Thursday, January 27, 2011

Solar median idea update

On our way back from Bodega Bay almost 2 weekends ago, we drove through the little town of Sebastopol.  When we stopped for gas, I noticed this solar installation next to the road.
Could there be some way to put these along the median of the freeway?...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wolf Range challenges and solutions

When we moved into our house almost 3 years ago, we were excited about the Wolf range that went with the kitchen.  For the most part, it's been great... but we finally decided to address two issues we had with it... and found a third once we started work.

1.  The oven lately had been taking a long time to start, and when it finally did, it scared the bejeezes out of us - sometimes blowing the door open and getting a lot of gas smell.  After a lot of searching, I found a couple things online that lead me to believe this was because the ignitor had started to wear out.  Apparently these things only last 5 or so years.  Sure enough - a new one, bought from Mr. Appliance Repairman on ebay did the trick.  It wasn't too hard to replace - the only tough part being that the screws are in a very tricky spot.  After firing it back up, we found that our slow pre-heating issue was also solved!  The Christmas prime rib roast pre-heating to 500 degrees took about an hour and a half.  We roasted some brussel sprouts last night at 400 degrees and it took about 5 minutes.  MUCH better.  Issue #1 (and #1a solved).

old ignitor out, new ignitor installed
2.  While reading the owner's manual, I learned that you're not supposed to line the bottom of the oven with foil... oops.  I thought we were being clever, but apparently it's not a good idea.  I believe the manual - don't line the bottom of your Wolf range with foil - it will kill the porcelain, and may have caused the bottom sheet metal to warp.
porcelain flaking off
3.  When the oven was on, it seemed there wasn't enough gas getting to the burners.  After much research, I finally found this one guy that had the exact same problem:  see his video on YouTube here.  I e-mailed him to see if he finally resolved his problem.  Apparently he called Wolf and they went through 3 ranges to get him one that worked fine.  I didn't want to deal with this hassle, and felt there had to be a more sensible solution - it really shouldn't be a faulty range.  After pulling the unit out to clean it and generally check things out, I noticed the flexible tubing connecting it to the gas line seemed way too small.  I also read that it shouldn't be longer than three feet, and this was four feet.  I was also amused to find a tag for the installer - it was very clear they shouldn't use the standard "range" supply line you pick up at Home Depot.  I think it was a 4-foot long 1/2" flexible line.  I found a 3-foot long 5/8" flexible line and swapped them.  The 5/8" flexible line is an outside diameter dimension, and it's about 1/2" inside diameter - which is consistent with the plumbing in the range.  I also added up the BTU/hr listed on the range and came up with 96,000 max BTU/hr - which matched the specs on this 5/8" line (75,000 to 125,000).  We should be in good shape now.  After firing it up, it still didn't seem to be perfect... but it was MUCH better.  I can live with this.
original small line installed, bigger line waiting to be installed
Since it was so hard to find info about all this online, I hope this serves as another data point and possible solutions for others having similar challenges with their Wolf range.  For reference, ours was made in 1997 (I believe that's before Sub Zero bought the company) and it is a R364c model (36" wide, 4 burners and a grill).  I have a feeling there isn't much info out there, because Wolf really encourages people to use their "authorized" service, etc... I say, baloney.  This isn't rocket science.  It's a very simple appliance that anyone can work on... just use the normal caution when working with natural gas and electricity.  If you're unsure, educate yourself or hire someone.  I prefer the "educate yourself" route - clearly hiring someone doesn't always work - I'm assuming some "professional" had incorrectly installed this in the first place.

All-grain brewing - second attempt

After our brew-in-the-bag (BIAB) attempt, we decided to try a more common approach to all-grain brewing.  While the brew-in-a-bag method created a very good beer, it was a bit awkward and cumbersome.  Plus, it seemed like we just didn't have the right material.

On Dec. 5th, we brewed up a Boddington clone.  In contrast to our ultra dark full-bodied dunkel from BIAB, the thought was this could better highlight that it came from all-grain (and not extract).
Latest all-grain setup
Brewers from L-R:  Moose, Chris, Jason, and Lucy (the beagles don't actually help too much)

For the setup, I picked up a folding table, large cooler, and welded up a burner stand for the pot.  The burner stand was made from a cut-up bed frame.  The idea being that I could dress it up and make a table out of it, so it could stay outside on the patio.  There is already too much stuff to lug from the garage up to the back patio... and even more stuff now with the all-grain setup.  My welding job was pretty poor, but I'll clean it up later.  For now, it works great.

For the cooler, we still need to work on the plumbing.  I thought I would use a stainless braid from a water supply line, but the morning of the brew day, I realized the one I had laying around was vinyl and not stainless.  Also, the valve I bought was not the right size for the tubing, so we ended up just using the plug that comes on the cooler.  All-in-all, it worked, but it could be better.

One thing we learned - we definitely need to heat the water hotter.  There is a lot of heat lost between tubing, buckets, and heating up the cooler and grain.

We bottled last weekend, and the samples sure tasted great... for a light bitter.  We'll see how it is coming out of the bottle in another week.  The all-grain process does feel more fulfilling.  I like it.  With the burner table on the patio permanently, there isn't too much more stuff to pull out of the garage.  And, once we get our process down, I don't think things will take too much longer.