Mark Klug Amy Church Dishwashwer, Surprise AZ (C) Daniel FriedmanHome Appliance Troubleshooting & Repair Guides
Starting point for fixing a home appliance: air conditioners through washers

  • APPLIANCE DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR - CONTENTS: diagnosis & repair help for home appliances: air conditioners, coffee makers, clothes dryers, clothes washers, freezers, electric motors, dehumidifiers, refrigerators, toasters, ovens, range tops, fans,
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Home appliance inspection, troubleshooting & repair guide:

Tthis article describes simple steps that you can take to get a home appliance working again, or to decide that it's time to buy a new toaster or other device, or that you would be smart to call an appliance repair person.

These quick inspection points and tips are accompanied by links to detailed inspection, diagnosis, and repair for most appliances found in homes, from room air conditioners to washing machines and water heaters.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Appliance Repair Guides, Advice, Tips & Procedures

Window Air Conditioner that fell (C) Daniel  FriedmanFrom room air conditioners to washing machines and water heaters, here we list InspectApedia articles that can assist in the diagnosis and repair of most home appliances.

These articles focus on basic procedures that help spot trouble with an appliance first by simple visual inspection. For each appliance topic we include links to additional in-depth inspection, diagnosis & repair information.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Photo at left: the igniter module for a Jenn-Air countertop gas cooktop. We replaced this item as well as the wiring and individual igniters to cure chronic gas burner ignition problems: endless clicking. Details of that repair are found

Article Contents:

Check These Things First when Troubleshooting an Appliance

Before tossing out your air conditioner or coffee maker and even before calling an appliance repairman for your washing machine, refrigerator, or clothes dryer, here are some things to check:

  1. Electrical power: Is the appliance plugged-in?
    • Is there electrical power where the appliance is connected and is the receptacle itself properly wired?
  2. Appliance instruction manuals often contain a troubleshooting guide: have we found and read the installation and troubleshooting procedures given by the manufacturer for this appliance? Often there are trivial problems that are easy to correct but that are not obvious before reading the instructions.
  3. Controls & switches: Are the appliance controls and switches properly set? Is a control or switch acting funny: loose, makes a sparking noise, used to "click" but no longer does?
    • Hidden reset buttons: Is there a reset switch or button on an electric motor or elsewhere on the appliance
  4. Noises or smells: something is burning? Is the appliance making a funny noise or smell.

    Watch out: Unplug the appliance immediately to avoid a fire.
  5. Appliance inspection for electrical problems: do we see something that looks burned when inspecting an appliance circuit board, wire, or switch?

    Watch out: as we cite
    at DISHWASHER SNAFUS, poking around inside or beneath an appliance may risk electrical shock.
  6. Appliance inspection for leaks: for
    dishwashers - DISHWASHER SNAFUS,

    garbage grinders - GARBAGE DISPOSAL vs SEPTICS,

    water heaters - WATER HEATERS,

    washing machines - WASHING MACHINE OIL LEAKS, do we see or smell oil or do we see water leaking?

Appliance repair parts for sale at the Tuesday Market, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico (C) Daniel Friedman Antique Rainbow gas stove (C) InspectApedia

Above left: gas range and other cookstove repair parts on display at the Tuesday Market, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. At above right: an antique Rainbow Gas Stove (photo courtesy of anonymous reader).

Portions of the text in this article and some illustrations are adapted from Carson Dunlop's The Home Reference Book (also available as the The Home Reference eBook) and and are used here with permission. Information in online articles found at is © copyright protected but is provided free for your reading or printing. Please do not make online or electronic copies of our website content.

Clothes Dryer Inspection & Repair

Dryer vent installation, sloppy (C) D FriedmanClothes Dryer Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

As noted in Carson Dunlop Associates' Home Reference Guide:

Clothes dryers tumble wet clothing in a rotating drum through which heated air is circulated. The hot air removes moisture from the clothing and is vented to the exterior. Heat may be generated by electric elements or by gas burners. Electric dryers require a 240-volt electric outlet on a dedicated circuit. This circuit is typically capable of carrying at least 30 amps.

Gas dryers require gas piping with an accessible shut off valve. Please see the Heating chapter for information on gas piping and gas leaks. Gas dryers also require a grounded 120-volt electrical outlet to power the motor and for the controls and timer.

As the hot air leaves the dryer, it goes through a screen that collects lint. Lint can interfere with the proper venting of exhaust. Lint traps are typically cleaned after each load.

Watch out: The exhaust vent pipe connects the dryer to the exterior of the home. The vent pipe should be as short, straight, and smooth as possible to reduce the risk of lint collecting inside the duct. There should be no screws that extend into the duct. Many recommend avoiding flexible plastic ducting, although in some cases, it may be used for short distances as a transition duct as long as it is exposed. Rigid metal ducting is preferred.

  • If the dryer is inoperative, the dryer may be unplugged, the breaker or fuse may be tripped or blown, a switch or control may be defective, or the motor may be defective.
  • Watch out: If a dryer takes a long time to dry clothing, the lint trap may be clogged, or the vent may be kinked, clogged, or too long. There may also be lint clogging internal areas. The heating elements or burner may also be inoperative. A clogged clothes dryer vent or vent exit screen will make the dryer run "hot", will slow dry time, and most seriously, risks causing a fire.
  • If an electric dryer does not generate heat, a breaker or fuse may be tripped or blown, or a heating element or burner may be defective. If a gas dryer does not heat, the gas valve may be turned off, the pilot light may be out, or the ignition system may be defective.
  • Watch out: Although there are heat re-claimers that can be used in the vent ducting to direct dryer air Inside back into the house, these are not recommended. They also direct excess moisture and lint back into the home. These should never be used with gas dryers, since this would send potentially dangerous products of combustion into the house air. Dryers should be vented to the exterior. 

Coffee Makers

Coffee maker Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:


Dishwasher Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

Starting with the basics, as noted in Carson Dunlop Associate's Home Reference Guide:

Dishwashers may be built-in or portable. Some portable dishwashers may be converted to built-in units. Typical life expectancies are eight to 15 years. Most dishwashers require a 120-volt electrical supply and a supply of hot (140°F) water. Built-in units are connected to the waste plumbing system, typically upstream of the trap below the kitchen sink.

Hot water enters the dishwasher through a solenoid (electrically operated) valve. Some dishwashers use a booster heater to raise the temperature to 140°F. This allows the house hot water to be kept at roughly 120°F. An overflow switch shuts the solenoid valve when enough water has entered the machine.

Water is distributed through the dishwasher by rotating spray arms. A strainer helps prevent food particles from clogging the pump, located at the base of the washer. Dishwasher soap and rinse agent are dispensed from cups, usually located on the door. The discharge is controlled by the same timer that controls the sequence and duration of the cycles.

When a wash or rinse cycle is finished, the pump discharges the dirty water into the waste piping below the kitchen sink or through a food waste disposer. Once the rinse cycle is complete, the dishes are dried by either the heating element in the bottom of the tub or a combination heater and fan. On some units, the dryer element can be turned off to save energy.

Some areas require an air gap in the waste line to avoid a cross-connection or siphoning. This is typically a chrome device projecting above the counter at the rear of the kitchen sink. Other jurisdictions consider the solenoid valve to be adequate protection.

  • Common areas of electrical switches or controls that may prevent the dishwasher from running include these: If the dishwasher does not operate, the fuse or breaker at the main panel may have tripped, the timer may be faulty, there may be a loose electrical connection, one of the switches may be faulty, a high water level switch may have tripped, or the door interlock switch may be defective. A specialist should be engaged to diagnose and correct the problem.
  • Door gaskets must seal tightly to avoid leaks and also to allow the dishwashwer door to close and latch properly. Damaged gaskets can be replaced readily. Door latches that do not close properly may not allow the dishwasher to start. The timer controls the sequence of the wash, rinse and dry cycles. Commonly, there are several settings for different cycles.
  • If the dishwasher will not fill with water, the solenoid valve may be faulty, the timer or overflow switch may be defective, or the supply plumbing may be shut off.
  • If the water does not shut off, the timer or overflow switch may be defective, or the solenoid shut-off valve may be inoperative.
  • If the water does not drain out, the pump motor may be defective or clogged, the drain hose Drai ai n may be blocked, the strainer may be clogged, or the timer may be faulty. Inoperative
  • If the heater does not work, the timer may be defective, or the heating element may be loose or
  • If the dishwasher leaks, there may be a damaged gasket, a broken door hinge, a faulty overflow switch, loose hose clamps, a plugged air gap, or a drain blockage.
  • If the dishwasher is noisy, the sprayer arms may need adjusting, or the solenoid valve may be defective. 

Doorbell Inspection & Repair

Doorbell inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

If a doorbell is not working I start by checking the following:

  • Is the doorbell button broken? Try removing the button and just touch the bell wires together. If the doorbell chimes then replace the button.
  • Is there elecrical power to the bell? See our low voltage test articles above.
  • Is the doorbell wire broken?
    At THERMOSTAT WON'T TURN ON we describe looking for low voltage wires that are either broken or have shorted together.
  • A companion article THERMOSTAT WON'T TURN OFF - has additional procedures.

Exhaust Fan Inspection & Repair

Exhaust fan Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

Starting at VENTILATION in BUILDINGS we organize a large collection of articles describing best practices in building ventilation and air quality management, including all types of ventilation and fans: exhaust only fans, heat exchanger or balanced ventilation, etc.

As discussed in Carson Dunlop Associates Home Reference Book:

  • Exhaust fans that don’t work may have an electrical supply or motor problem, or the fan itself may be seized.
  • Filters may be dirty or missing. Ductwork to the outdoors may be incomplete, disconnected, Issues un-insulated in the attic or have a poor discharge arrangement. The discharge should have a flap that prevents cool air and pests from coming in when the fan is idle.
  • Common electrical problems on vent fans include defective switches or lights and noisy blowers. Blowers may be /Noisy noisy due to balance or bearing problems.

Garbage Grinders / Waste Disposers

Garbage waste disposer inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

As discussed in Carson Dunlop Associates Home Reference Book,

If the disposer is inoperative, the fuse or breaker at the main panel may have tripped, the overload protector may have tripped, the stopper or wall switch may be faulty, or the motor may be faulty. If the disposer does not grind, the motor may be faulty or the flywheel may be jammed. If the disposer grinds slowly, there may be insufficient water flow, the shredder ring may be dull, a flyweight may be broken, or the drain line may be clogged.

If the garbage grinder or waste disposer leaks, there may be a loose plumbing connection or defective gasket.

Watch out: : loose electrical connections, switches, or controls around plumbing and water are especially dangerous as they increase the risk of shock and electrocution.

If the waste disposer is noisy, the motor may be faulty, a flyweight may be broken, a metal object may be in the unit, or the unit may be loose. Splash Guard If the splash guard is worn, damaged or missing, it should be replaced. If the unit is loose, it should be re-secured.

Kitchen Range & Cooktop Inspection & Repair

Kitchen range or cooktop Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

The following has been adapted (with permission) and expanded from Carson Dunlop Associates Home Reference Guide:

  • Watch out: Curtains and other combustibles should be kept well away from the top of ranges, as they can easily ignite. Generally speaking, combustibles should be at least 30 inches above the range. Range hoods may be 24 inches above the cooking surface. Manufacturers’ installation requirements should be observed. Clearances from ranges to combustibles on either side are also typically determined by the manufacturer.

Electric Range Problems

  • When one or more elements will not work, this may be caused by an interrupted power supply, a burned out element, a reset button that can be pushed, or a defective control.
  • Other problems include uneven heating conditions, defective outlets and timers, etc. For the most part, these are nuisance issues that can be readily corrected.
    See GAS COOKTOP IGNITER REPAIR for an example of an igniter and control module repair

Gas Range & Gas Oven Problems

Oven Hazards

  • Watch out: Defective doors can open violently, or fail to close properly, and obstructed oven vents can cause the oven to overheat. Gasket problems may prevent doors from closing tightly, causing inefficient operation and overheating of the kitchen.
  • Where an anti-tip bracket has not been provided, the oven can tip over and cause injury. This can happen if children stand on an open oven door to reach for something, for example.

Microwave Oven Inspection & Repair

Microwave oven inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

As adapted (with permission) and expanded from Carson Dunlop Associates Home Reference Guide:

  • Watch out: Microwave safety components must remain in place and be un-damaged. All microwave ovens have a double interlock system to prevent operation when the door latch is released. In addition, a computerized monitoring system stops the oven if one or both of the interlocking systems fail.
  • The door seal is designed to prevent leakage of microwave energy, and the glass window on the oven door is shielded with a metal screen. Because of the strict safety standards, owner service and disassembly are discouraged. Most manufacturers will void their warranties if the oven has been tampered with. Service technicians can check microwave ovens for leakage.
  • Microwave ovens should never be turned on when empty, since this may damage the magnetron.
  • An inoperative microwave may be the result of no electrical power, a faulty control system, or a faulty magnetron.
    A service technician should be contacted if any problems with the door are suspected. The door gasket should seal tightly, and the microwave should shut off when the door latch is opened.
  • Microwave ovens should not be installed above cooktops unless they are rated for this location. The manufacturer’s installation guide will usually indicate this.

Refrigerator Inspection & Repair

Refrigerator nspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

Where to start when the refigerator is giving problems: as adapted from Carson Dunlop Associates Home Reference Guide:

  • If the refrigerator is not running, the power cord may be damaged, the fuse or breaker at the main panel may have tripped, the compressor may be inoperative, or the refrigerator may be turned off or unplugged. There may also be a problem with the thermostat.
  • If the refrigerator is running, but is not very cold, the temperature setting may be too high, the refrigerant level may be low, the airflow over the cooling surface may be blocked or restricted, the condenser coils may be dirty, the defrost mechanism may be inoperative, or the compressor may be failing.
  • If the refrigerator is too cold check the temperature settings in two locations: both the freezer compartment and the refrigeration compartment. Often setting one of these two areas to a higher or lower temperature will cure the problem.
  • A noisy refrigerator may have worn motor bearings for the evaporator or condenser, or the refrigerator may not be level.
  • Too much condensation inside may indicate the unit is on “economy” setting or that the heater is inoperative. A leaky door gasket may cause condensation around the door.
  • Leaks are often the result of a clogged or disconnected defrost drain line. Leaks may also be from the icemaker or water dispenser.
  • Watch out: at refrigeration school I [DF] learned that very often people toss out a perfectly good refrigerator that appears to be "dead", suspecting a costly refrigerator repair like a compressor replacement. If your appliance repair person traces a refrigerator problem to a dead compressor motor, it can be replaced but that measure is often not economical.
    But first check to be sure that the problem is not simply a bad timer, relay, sensor or control. Those parts are usually much less costly to replace.

Trash Compactor Inspection & Repair

Trash compactor inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

  • [7] HUD Dictionary of Deficiency Definitions, (PASS) retrieved 4/4/2013 excerpt from description: HUD and its partners have completed a comprehensive review of the REAC Physical Inspection definitions. For purposes of illustration, the document presents the original definition at the top of each page with the modified definition at the bottom, where applicable. This document includes HUD comments on trash compactors in HUD financed buildings.

As noted in Carson Dunlop Associates Home Reference Guide:

Watch out: Trash compactors have numerous fail-safe devices. The compactor will not operate if the door is open, the unit is not level, the bin latch mechanism has not been closed, or if the safety interlock switch is not activated. The switch is a key lock that must be in the “ON” position for the unit to work. The removable key allows the unit to be deactivated. If bottles and glass must be compacted, they should be at the bottom and additional waste placed on top. Aerosol cans or other explosive objects should never be placed in the unit.

To avoid odors around the trash compactor, preferably, only dry trash should be used in the compactor, since this will reduce odors. Most units are equipped with an automatic aerosol deodorant dispenser. This is activated once the ram has completed its cycle.

If the compactor does not operate at all, the fuse or breaker at the main panel may have tripped, the safety interlock switch may be “off “ or faulty, the motor may be faulty, the overload protection switch may have tripped, or there may be a loose electrical connection or damaged cord. If the ram does not compact trash, the drive chain or belt may be loose or broken, the gears or pulleys may be loose, or the ram may be seized.

If the trash compactor is too noisy or vibrates excessively  the drive chain or belt may be loose, the compactor may need lubricating, or there may be loose mechanical connections. If the unit is loose, it should be re-secured.

If the drawer will not open, the ram may be jammed, or the unit stopped working part way through a cycle.

If the trash compactor continues to run, one of the switches may be faulty.

Central Vacuum System Inspection & Repair

Central vacuum system Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

- As noted in Carson Dunlop's Home Reference Guide:

A central or whole house vacuum system consists of a canister located in the garage or the basement. A series of lightweight plastic pipes run from the canister to outlets located around the house. The outlet flap is lifted and the vacuum hose is inserted into the outlet. A metal band or similar device on the end of the hose completes a circuit between two contacts in the outlet. This switches the system on. A number of accessories. 

The main canister usually has an on/off switch and may have a suction outlet as well. The exhaust may discharge directly from the canister or it may be piped through an exterior wall. Generally, units that do not have a filter must discharge to the exterior. Units equipped with a filter may discharge to the exterior or interior. The canister can be opened or removed to empty the unit. Some filters are self-cleaning while others require cleaning by the homeowner.

Watch out: Central vacuum units without filters may allow dust to build up on the motor causing it to overheat and burn out sooner than a unit with a filter. Units with an external motor and no filter may allow dust to build up on the fan blades, causing uneven bearing wear. The motor is the most common repair item and may require repair or replacement every five to ten years, depending on how often the unit is used and cleaned.

  • If the unit does not operate, the fuse or breaker at the main panel may have blown or tripped, a built-in breaker or thermal overload may have tripped, the wiring or switches may be defective, or the motor may be faulty.
    If only one or two outlets do not operate, there may be a problem with the control wiring or switch for the area affected.
  • If the suction is weak, the canister may be full, the filter may be dirty, the exhaust may be obstructed, or the pipes may be partially obstructed. Disconnected pipes are a less common problem.

Washing Machine Inspection & Repair

a home photo lab - lots of photo chemicals into the septic system might be a problem at this propertyClothes washing machine Inspect, Diagnose, Repair Guides:

Washing Machine installation & troubleshooting tips adapted from Carson Dunlop Associates' Home Reference Book:

Braided steel hoses are preferable to rubber hoses for connecting washing machines to supply piping in the home. A ruptured hose can result in serious water damage in a short time, especially if the laundry area is in or above a finished area of the home. For even more protection, there are automatic shut-off valves available that turn off the water in the event of a burst hose.

When a leaking washing machine (or hoses) may cause damage to finishes, a washing machine drain pan may be installed to collect water in the event of a failure. Fittings on these pans should be connected to a drain so that the water can be safely discharged.

The waste hose can discharge into a laundry sink or into a waste standpipe connected to the waste plumbing through a trap. The waste standpipe (standing waste pipe) should extend 18 to 30 inches above the trap. The drain hose should fit loosely into the standpipe so that there is an air space to prevent back-siphoning.

  • If the washing machine does not work, the power cord may be damaged or disconnected, the fuse or breaker at the main panel may have tripped, the motor may be inoperative, a control switch may be defective, or the water may be shut off or disconnected.
  • If the washing machine won’t fill, one of the solenoid valves or control switches may be inoperative, or the water valves may be closed. [You checked to assure that the water valves are "on" at the washer hose hookup - right?]
  • If the washing machine won’t drain, the pump or one of the control switches may be inoperative. A drip pan and drain should be provided for machines above finishes spaces.
  • Water leakage at the washing machine may come from the water supply hoses, pump, tub seals, or the drain hose. There may also be a problem with the water level switch, or the tub itself may be damaged. On front loading machines, there may be a problem with the door or door seal.
  • Oil leaks or grease stains at the washing machine or found on clothes after the wash may be traced to a failing transmission seal.
  • Unbalanced loads or a machine that is not level often cause excessive vibration. There may also be problems with the motor bearings, the transmission or drive belt.
  • Front-loading washers can be prone to odor problems. These musty odors are often the result of water that does not completely drain out of the washer. The stagnant water may collect beneath the door gasket, in the fabric softener dispenser, or another location. In many cases, cleaning these areas will correct the problem, and leaving the door open will allow the water to evaporate without becoming stagnant.


Where to Obtain a Printed Copy of the Carson Dunlop Associates' Home Reference Book & Related Inspection Guides or education courses

To purchase a more extensive printed collection of information about home inspection and maintenance see

  • Carson, Dunlop &
Associates Ltd., TorontoCarson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides:

    • The Home Reference Book, a reference & inspection report product for building owners & inspectors.
      Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.

    • The Home Reference eBook, an electronic version for PCs, the iPad, iPhone, & Android smart phones.
      Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter inspectaehrb in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.

    • The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors.
      Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.


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