14 November 2011

How did no one notice that?!?

This past Saturday, I checked out the inside of the electrical kettle, as I was wondering why it didn't seem to be working so well (e.g., on Friday evening, we'd made tea and it seemed like it had taken ages to boil the water). When I looked inside the thing, I did a double-take. The electric heating element inside the kettle (see the example of these coils in this article on electric kettles) had been eaten through by metals in the water (both the outer coating and the twisted up cord around the wires) so that you could actually have touched the small electric wires in a few places. I didn't know that was even possible. The erosion of the outer coating on the coil would explain why the water took so long to heat - and the exposure of the wires would explain the sparks coming off that someone had seen.

I think I stared at it for a few moments - just out of surprise. And then I had a desperate need to show it to a few others (perhaps simply to confirm if I was really seeing exposed wires in a thing where we're supposed to boil water). The first reaction I received was pretty much the same as mine: amazement, including thankfulness that we'd managed not to burn the house down with that thing. The second reaction was different - a simple suggestion to use some vinegar to clean off the calcium build-up. The person making the suggestion was busy washing the dishes (and the lighting behind the sink isn't so good), so I'm sure that influenced his reaction. Yet, it still seemed a bit like the disaster inside the kettle was so foreign to him that he simply explained away the strange colouring inside the kettle with the only reasonable possibility he knew: it was from a calcium build-up (and not that calcium had already eaten away at it).

And I couldn't help but wonder how it was that the kettle was still sitting there being used when close observation showed that it was a potential fire hazard. I learned later that it had only been a few days that it'd been taking ages to boil (and the sparks were also just recent), so there wasn't that much time for people to notice and wonder. But it'd started setting off the fuse more than a month ago. And calcium eating away the outer coating can't happen in three days, can it? I have to admit that looking inside a kettle isn't exactly normal behaviour (I happen to be fascinated by the amount of calcium build-up created by Amsterdam's hard water), but almost everybody who used it was aware that something wasn't quite working properly. It surprises me that no one had yet seen what was in the kettle - I would have expected someone earlier would have begun to wonder, ask questions, and explore.

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