Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Removing an Over-the-Range Microwave Oven--Homestead DIY

Time Management on the Homestead, 2nd in a series...

I’m coming late to the party, but after our over-the-range microwave gave up the ghost, I’m starting to realize just what a time-sucking black hole home improvements can be. 

In the 14 years since my husband John and I moved to our acreage, we’ve mostly focused on far more urgent, outdoor projects. Instead of keeping up the house, we’ve spent our time and energy growing food, processing firewood, caring for the hens, plus keeping the woods and critters from taking over. All these projects always take far more time than I figure they will. 

But as the old saying goes, the chickens have come home to roost. That is, the house itself is starting show its age (like us), so maintenance is getting more demanding. 

Not long ago, I put some cooked apples in our microwave oven to warm them up. Even on a low setting, the appliance emitted a labored sound—sort of like groaning. I tried not to let the strange noise worry me, but when a faint plastic odor wafted from the oven, I said “uh oh,” and immediately pressed “Stop.”

I have a friend who believes the electromagnetic waves that escape microwave ovens can cook your brains. I’m not on board with that, but I didn’t want to find out I was wrong the hard way.
“Honey,” I said to John, “I’m afraid our microwave is dying.”

John is the last one to be an alarmist, or even worry about a few plastic fumes, but the sound and smell coming from the oven was enough to convince him: the microwave really was kicking the bucket. “Well,” he said, “it is 14 years old. Obviously it’s time to replace it.”

“Should I call someone?” I asked.

“Heck no,” John said confidently. In the last couple of years, he’s gotten very big on DIY YouTube videos. In past years, he’d been reluctant to take on home fix-its, and preferred to just pay someone far more expert to do them. But lately, he has become not only more willing, but more adventuresome about taking on home repairs. “We can do it.”

“Okay," I said doubtfully. "If you're up for it.” I’d heard from my family that over the range microwaves were insanely complicated to replace.

“Totally,” said John. “I’d rather spend the money on something else.”

It wasn’t like we had a pile of money budgeted for home repairs anyway. Since my husband was willing to be the project manager, I was all in.

So first things first. We would have to remove the microwave, so I did a Google search for “Over-the-range microwave removal.” John and I viewed a few YouTube instructional videos, then I chose one to review if we ran into any hangups. “See?” said John, “it’s easy. The job will take like, 5 minutes. Fifteen, tops.”

“Really,” I said. That seemed pretty optimistic, but I’m a glass half full sort of person so I was game. And though it was a lovely spring day, and I was eager to get out into the garden, I figured I could spare 15 minutes. 

After John fetched some hand tools from the shop, we stood in front of the microwave and gazed at it for a moment. I’d never really thought about how large it actually was. “Wait,” I said. “How about if we get the stove out of the way?”

Otherwise, to lean over the stove and lift the microwave, we were cruisin‘ for a bruisin‘—at the very least, we’d be a couple of Boomers whose backs would never be the same. “Good idea,” said John, so we moved our fairly light electric range out from under the microwave. Then looked at the floor.

It had been a couple of years since we’d cleaned under the stove, and its footprint was covered with a film of grime, adorned with dust bunnies. If we stood on that greasy dust to take care of the microwave, we’d track it all over our carpet. “Take a break,” I told John, “while I clean this up.”

After many, many scrubs with vinegar and Dawn detergent, I deemed the floor passable. That had taken at least a half an hour. So onward to the oven removal!

According to the DIY guys we watched, this process is really straightforward. The oven is attached to the cupboard above it by some big bolts, and rests on a narrow metal ledge on the wall behind it. So after unplugging your microwave, you just undo the big bolts, and the detached oven, now supported only by the ledge, leans forward. All you have to do is lift the oven off the ledge.

Up to now, John said he didn’t need any help, so I’d been happy to act as the surgical nurse, handing Dr. John his instruments. But once he removed the bolts, and the oven rather alarmingly listed forward like a tiny sinking ship, I said, “You are going to let me help lift this puppy, aren’t you?”

“The microwave isn’t that heavy,” said John. “But it might be easier if we both do it.”

The now semi-detached microwave had revealed a metal frame attached to the wall behind it, and the 4 small ledges that had been supporting its weight. So John and I got under the microwave and I said, “Okay, on the count of 3—1-2-3 Lift!”

It wouldn’t budge.

Were we not putting enough muscle into it? We tried again. Then, since 3 times is often the charm, one more time. Still, the oven refused to shift off its little ledges.

Back to YouTube. We tried another video or two, hoping to find a new technique, but no YouTuber seemed to be addressing our problem.

Our next move was to pull on the oven from every angle, hoping to loosen it—and seriously, John and I wouldn’t have cared if the darn thing crashed to the floor, as long as we could get out of the way in time. But…nothing.

So far, the job had taken at least an hour, and we were no closer to removing that blasted microwave.
I finally peered more closely at the vent unit above the oven. “It looks like the oven might be still attached to the vent.” That hadn’t been the case in any of the videos we’d watched.

After poking around the vent, John revealed the roadblock. The top of the microwave was indeed attached to the vent, and the bottom portion of the vent was lodged into the guts of the cupboard tighter than an impacted wisdom tooth.

In our manufactured home—a house that we’d discovered had more flaws, quirks and wackadoodle workarounds than anything Rube Goldberg could come up with—here was one more: It seemed very clear that they’d installed the microwave and the venting unit at the factory, then built the kitchen cupboard units around it!

To detach the oven really would take surgery. And the process wasn’t pretty: John had to pry the vent away from the top of the microwave, both on the sides and the back, then cut through several layers of duct tape. Then pull the vent out of the innards of the cupboard. That took at least another hour.

Gap with mystery hole in the wall on the upper right
Finally, now detached at the top, the oven looked ready to lift. With much pulling, yanking, and brute force, John and I were able to wrestle that oven away from the wall and to the floor. What was left really wasn’t pretty: a big, ugly, gaping space in the middle of our kitchen, including a hole in the wall that served no purpose. But John and I were too sick of dealing with the microwave to worry about how awful the gap looked.

After a break, John and I took another look at the space. “I don’t know about you,” I said, “but after what we’ve been through, I don’t want another over-the-range microwave.”

“Me neither,” said John. “How about I build a little cupboard, and we’ll fill the gap with that?”

“Sounds fine to me,” I told him, and he went straight out to the shop and found some suitable wood for the job. He’s putting the finishing touches on it this week. (For me, this project further proved there's no such thing as homestead time management.)

We ended up buying a little countertop microwave that doesn’t have the oomph of our former one, but it works ok. To this day, I don’t know how people DIY an entire kitchen remodel, though I admire them tremendously. Fortunately, I'm much better at gardening, and far happier digging in the dirt.

If you are too, you might like to take a look at my new and free gardening mini-guide! It’s available in ebook at Amazon, Kobo, and all other online retailers, or you can request the ebook at your local library!