DIY, part one: GE gas dryer repair

Posted on 1 March 2008


The failed igniter!

Our dryer stopped heating earlier this week; the electric parts (switches, blower, and belt motor) still work. A service call was going to cost at least $125, and probably more. As far as we could tell, the only option was to go to an appliance store and spend close to $400 on the cheapest gas dryer we could find–just ten years ago, this is what everyone would have done. Appliances have become commoditized to the point that repair for basic models that have even a little age is not really cost-effective.

But…now we have Google.

With fifteen minutes of effort, I was able to learn the function of a gas dryer’s burner assembly; it consists essentially of an igniter, a flame sensor, and a solenoid to control the flow of gas. Most gas dryers have no pilot light, as you might find in a home furnace; instead, a resistive heating element ignites the gas only when the dryer is operated. In our dryer, the igniter is a cigarette-sized piece of ceramic, spirally wound about with a metal wire.

  1. Depressing the start button starts the igniter. Depending upon the type, it either sparks or heats and begins to glow. Either of these functions are visible; you don’t even need a multimeter to test this part.
  2. When the igniter reaches a certain temperature, the flame sensor throws a set of switch contacts and thus communicates an electrical signal to the solenoid device.
  3. The solenoid opens a valve and allows the flow of gas into the burner assembly. At this point, a very visible flame will begin heating a space past which a fan blows air. This heated air is what dries our clothes!

This is not to say that the process of repair is effortless; any one of the parts mentioned above could be malfunctioning.

It was easy to tell that the igniter was the faulty part in our case. A quick look through the front access panel, helped by the expensive and specialized instrument known in the repair industry as a flashlight, was all that was needed to identify the igniter’s failure to heat to glowing and to see the chunks of broken ceramic in the bottom of the burner assembly that signaled the fracture of the igniter’s ceramic base.

It should require at least another fifteen minutes to unplug the dryer, to pull the whole dryer out from the wall, to remove an access panel, to remove the two screws holding the igniter in place and remove the wiring harness, and to insert the new igniter and reconnect the wiring harness. The replacement “universal” igniter is about $25. That’s a real commitment.
While some people might not find this waste of 30 minutes to be worth the expense of effort, I have to admit that the calculation of ($375/30 minutes of invested time)=$750 per hour is actually more than the rate at which I am currently compensated as a graduate student. Ok, I know this is a really rough calculation and there are lots of exceptions, and I know there are certainly people for which it doesn’t make sense to bother with this repair; still, it works for me.

It was easy, man, and it saved me over $300!…plus, now I know how the thing works!

One other comment: I guess there are only so many ways you can make a dryer cost $1250, and putting a decent latch on is the easiest one. Cheap dryers have terrible, cheap-feeling door latches that you know are going to break in like a month, and the more expensive dryers have fancy gaskets and double latches that feel more solid. What’s a nice latch cost, like $5?

Still, you can’t get a decent latch on a cheap dryer. You have to buy the whole package: cheesy shiny red plastic exterior, multicolored lcd display panel, and 400 fabric options, just to get into the “nice latch club.”

I hate “design to price points”!

Posted in: DIY