Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My wife wants an Aga - help!

Edward asks:

My wife and I have recently bought a one-acre plot near Cambridge and have just started getting quotes for the timber frame. I'm also shopping around for everything else. One of the things on the list is an Aga.

My wife would `loooooove' to have an Aga, but this would mean I will have to build another chimney, and my concern is that as we are building a small 3-bed cottage an Aga will be too hot. Our house will be extremely well insulated and have under floor heating. I wonder if having an Aga will mean we have to leave the windows and doors open!!

What are your views about Agas?

Mark replies:

The Aga stands head and shoulders above all other gender issues in selfbuild land. 95% of women aspire to owning one, 95% of men just don't get it. I have seen many an otherwise well-thought out ecologically-slim footprint completely blown out of the water by a shiny new £5,000 Aga in the kitchen. Indeed I suspect that there are many husbands who have only managed to persuade wives to go through the four years of chaos and upheaval it takes to selfbuild by using the promise of an Aga in the kitchen at the end of it all. It's a powerful, if expensive, seduction tool, the ultimate selfbuild babe magnet. If it's the price it takes to get a selfbuild off the ground, maybe it's a price worth paying.

As a man, I am one of those who just don't get it. I have cooked in houses with Agas and about the best thing you can say for them is that they are quaint. But as a man, "What do I know?" as the current saying goes. Yes, the Aga will definitely be too hot for a three-bed cottage, but what’s logic got to do with it.

However I have to hand a possible cure, sent to the selfbuild list by Roger Browne, in Feb 2001. Show it to your wife: she won’t thank you for it, but it's the only known treatment for Agaphilia and it just might make a difference. However, be warned, there are sometimes some unexpected side effects for which the best treatment is Mercury - the range cooker, that is.

STARTS
One of the prime pieces of self-build techno-lust seems to be an Aga cooker. I bought a house that happened to have one, and my advice is:
• don't bother.

Let's recall the history. Back in the days when a coal stove took hours to light and get going, the Aga would have been a godsend. A slow steady burn, 24 hours per day, produced heat which was stored in the body of the oven for use at cooking time. You "only" had to fill it with coal everyday, and turn the riddling handle twice daily.

If you are stuck with coal, I can see the value of an Aga. But if you are cooking with gas, what's the point?

I've had to live with the damn thing for a year now, and have formed the opinion that an Aga is useless apart from its value as a status symbol. It does impress the visitors - but that's not something I care about.

Consider this:

• An new Aga costs around £5,000, including installation. Even an old used one is, say, £1,500. On the other hand, for under a thousand pounds you can get some really nice gas ranges.

• The Aga needs a flue; most gas ranges don't.

• The Aga burns gas night and day, whether you need it to or not. In winter the "wasted" warmth is useful to heat the house; in summer it's like taking a match and burning a pound note every day (if you live in Scotland that is; in England you have to try to burn pound coins).

• In summer you can either open your kitchen windows wide, or turn off the Aga. Then you need a second stove for summer cooking (and many Aga owners do install a second stove for summer).

• If you go away for a holiday, and switch off your Aga, you can't cook with it for a day or so after you get back and switch it on, and it warms up.

• The Aga is supposed to be serviced every six months. Aga servicing costs a fortune. And you have to have the Aga cold for the service engineer. So that's another day or two without cooking every six months.

• If you buy an Aga more than a few years old, it probably has asbestos rope insulation in the lids (newer models have ceramic insulation).

• When you lift the lid, children can't see any indication that the plate is hot, and horrendous burns can result.

• For effective cooking, you need very thick solid cookware with flat machined bottoms. This is the very same criticism that gas snobs make of electric stovetops, yet the Aga has the same problem.

• The flat-bottomed cookware that comes with many used Agas is machined aluminium. Aluminium cookware is one of the suspected triggers for Alzheimer's disease.

• The cook plates have no temperature control. You have to work with what you've got. Sure, you can follow the instructions in the user manual and shuffle your pot half-on-half-off the cook plate. What a fiddle!

• The cook plates are large. Whilst you can juggle two pans on one cook plate, it’s hard to do this satisfactorily. Whether you have one or two pans on it, large amounts of heat are still wasted from the uncovered parts of the surface.

• The cook plate temperature drops during a heavy cooking session. When my wife boils up a batch or marmalade, we always end up finishing it off in the microwave because by then the Aga has lost too much heat.

• Sure, you can do other things with the Aga apart from cook. The Aga instruction manual suggests such bizarre rituals such as ironing clothes with it! It can be useful for drying clothes on top - but of course that's only if you don't want to actually use the thing for cooking at the same time.

• The ovens have no temperature control. OK, there are ways to adapt for that. "You just have to get to know your Aga" say some. Yes, there are workarounds for its quirks. The Aga cookbook is full of Aga versions of recipes. They can take a very simple conventional recipe ("Cook for two hours at 200 degrees C") and turn it into a major epic ("Put on the boiling plate for ten minutes. Cover and move to the simmering plate for 30 minutes. Transfer to a shallow pan and leave it in the simmering oven overnight. Finish off with 45 minutes in the baking oven before serving.") Gimme a break!

• The oven has no timer. You can't just set it to cook your supper in time for your arrival home. Even a £179 B&Q cheapie oven can do that kind of thing!

• There's no window on the oven door. You can't see how your cooking is browning, unless you keep opening the door to check.

• The airflow from the oven is up the flue - there are no baking smells in the kitchen to guide you to when something is "just right". Best way to cope is to go and do some gardening downwind of your chimney. You then have some chance of noticing when it is about to burn.

• Nothing is simple. You can't just "bake a cake" if you have the two-oven Aga. You either have to buy a special cake-baking accessory (I think it's an insulated container), or else you can follow some bizarre instructions to boil away three pans of water on the boiling plate so that you have reduced the temperature of the oven by enough to enable you to bake a cake. Really!

• The Aga can also heat your hot water. In summer, and in winter too, if you don't do too much cooking or use too much hot water or chant the wrong mantras (or expect to get the same efficiency as a boiler).

• Even the smaller Aga takes up much more space than a gas range. You really do have to allow for a bigger kitchen - which adds to your housebuilding costs.

• You also have to lay concrete reinforcement. You can't just put an Aga on a kitchen floor and expect to have any kitchen remaining afterwards.

Yeah, I really love my Aga!

OK, I know all of this is sacrilege to the true believers amongst you.
But when I get around to re-doing the kitchen, one thing is for sure -
the Aga will be sold to the highest bidder.

26 Comments:

Blogger Housebuilder's update said...

I know all the arguments against the Aga and they certainly guzzle fuel but the background warmth is great for sevenmonths of the year, they cook the best roasts and fantastic breakfasts. But for me the reason Agas are still in demand is that nobody can resist leaning against the Aga towel rail on a winter's day. Maybe £5000 is a bit much for a bottom warmer but then an Aga will last 30 or 40 years and still be worth at least half what you paid for it - not bad compared to a £5000 car which will depreciate that much in under two years!

Mark Neeter

9:58 pm  
Blogger sally leong said...

I love my Aga 4 oven stove. I have had many cheap gas and electric stoves over the years and also a Viking professional stove. However, I think that the simplicity of the Aga is what is attractive. You don't have to worry about preheating and you don't have to use nasty cleaning agents which are toxic to clean the ovens. Just wait and all will turn to ash and be swept out. Also the concept of cooking mostly in the oven leds to less mess to clean on top and the top is easy to clean. once again, the plates can be scrubbed with a wire brush. Astonish cleaner for the enamel is low impact. I used to dread cleaning my Viking (knobs, splash trays, racks, burnes, etc) and so I did not use it. I have also had excellent results cooking with the Aga. Yes it is hot during a few months in the summer but it can still work when turned down. Cooking just takes longer. And they can last more than 50 years. The service is not required. The principle is very simple with the gas unit. Regarding the fragrance of cooking, this can be missed but then when your house smells of cooking for days after you cooked, this can be revolting.

2:08 am  
Blogger carly said...

I wonder If any one could help me I'm trying to find out the total embodied energy that goes into the production of an Aga for a project I'm doing at uni, I would really appriciate anyones help with this.... Carly Salter

4:05 pm  
Anonymous tina mitche;; said...

does anyone know the running costs of a gas aga and how much the services are each year

6:54 pm  
Anonymous Deborah said...

For those people wanting info on aga production and energy usage go to an aga supplier. I have not got an aga but am considering it. Mark needs to go to one of the cooking demonstrations aga put on because it sounds at though he is not using it correctly, it really is a very different way of cooking.

10:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have an Aga. However, I hate the fact that it has asbestos installation in it because asbestos powder comes out in the oven areas sometimes and this could be serious in the long term considering that a lot of the food I eat is cooked in the Aga. Another point, ours seems to HAVE to have regular cleaning because the after a month or so, the temperature begins to fluctuate rapidly and it becomes unreliable. New Agas sound much better though

11:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a 70 year old coal fired Aga and I wouldn't swap it for anything. I was dubious when I first moved in 2 years ago but was convinced within 3 days that it was staying. It's easy to cook with, easy to clean and it cost £47and 10 shillings in 1936. You won't catch a modern appliance lasting anywhere near that long.
We have never noticed the heat in the summer and in the winter it's fantastically warm in the kitchen. You don't get all sweaty cooking either as most of the time the food is in the oven. As for the smell of the cooking, you get lovely wafts when you open the oven to check progress without the all pervading smell throughout the house.

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I built a new house so I decided on a new aga a dual fuel (elec/gas)they are only acouple of thousand quid do the job got the badge what more do you want.And yes you only turn them on when you want to. Re: servicing what a waste of time, when did you last have any of your other kitchen appliances serviced? Give her an AGA
Dave

5:39 pm  
Blogger nic said...

We brought a new aga 2 years ago and thought very hard about which type to choose re increasing energy costs. We dont have mains gas so lpg or elec were our only option. We choose the most expensive to buy which was a 2 oven 30amp elec at around £8,000. But the savings in elec on economy 7 are huge. The aga only draws its power at night so it will only save you money on economy 7. Weve worked out it costs less than £12 per week to run, so therefore the extra cost of purchase and indeed owning an aga are justified. We love it and wouldnt ever be without it.

2:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

• An new Aga costs around £5,000, including installation. Even an old used one is, say, £1,500. On the other hand, for under a thousand pounds you can get some really nice gas ranges. Agas last a very long time – a lot longer than a gas cooker and have more uses than just cooking. Dry your clothes, heat your boots on a cold day, Dry herbs,dry pets etc

• The Aga needs a flue; most gas ranges don't.
Not a big problem with a balanced flue to put a hole in the wall. Most aga installers charge a flat fee and it wouldn’t cost much more to put a flue in

• The Aga burns gas night and day, whether you need it to or not. In winter the "wasted" warmth is useful to heat the house; in summer it's like taking a match and burning a pound note every day (if you live in Scotland that is; in England you have to try to burn pound coins). In winter you can leave the central heating off till well into october

• In summer you can either open your kitchen windows wide, or turn off the Aga. Then you need a second stove for summer cooking (and many Aga owners do install a second stove for summer). Most people have windows open in the summer. Most aga owners don’t have a second stove installed for summer

• If you go away for a holiday, and switch off your Aga, you can't cook with it for a day or so after you get back and switch it on, and it warms up. Don’t switch it off if it bothers you. Most agas will heat up overnight and not take “a day or so”

• The Aga is supposed to be serviced every six months. Aga servicing costs a fortune. And you have to have the Aga cold for the service engineer. So that's another day or two without cooking every six months. Only oil need 6 months service. Gas is a yearly service and some electric 5 yearly

• If you buy an Aga more than a few years old, it probably has asbestos rope insulation in the lids (newer models have ceramic insulation). If you buy a reconditioned aga it will not have asbestos rope. Otherwise just replace it – max £20

• When you lift the lid, children can't see any indication that the plate is hot, and horrendous burns can result. You can feel an aga is hot before you get near it – It radiates heat!! The hot plate feels extrememly hot when you get to within 3 cm! If you child is tall enough to lift the lid all the way up they would be old enough to understand whats hot can burn.

• For effective cooking, you need very thick solid cookware with flat machined bottoms. This is the very same criticism that gas snobs make of electric stovetops, yet the Aga has the same problem. Not true. Any aluminium pan will be fine. In fact a less than flat pan will simmer better on an aga top and not boil over. You don’t need thick bases either.

• The flat-bottomed cookware that comes with many used Agas is machined aluminium. Aluminium cookware is one of the suspected triggers for Alzheimer's disease. Replace them if your worried!! Aga make stainless steel pans as well.

• The cook plates have no temperature control. You have to work with what you've got. Sure, you can follow the instructions in the user manual and shuffle your pot half-on-half-off the cook plate. What a fiddle! Now I’m thinking you never actually used an aga!! If its too hot on the hot plate you use the cool plate and if that’s too hot to simmer then in the bottom oven or just shove a 2p under the pot.

• The cook plates are large. Whilst you can juggle two pans on one cook plate, it’s hard to do this satisfactorily. Whether you have one or two pans on it, large amounts of heat are still wasted from the uncovered parts of the surface. Yes true but you are supposed to use the ovens more then the top plates.


• The cook plate temperature drops during a heavy cooking session. When my wife boils up a batch or marmalade, we always end up finishing it off in the microwave because by then the Aga has lost too much heat. Turn the aga up an hour before you start.

• Sure, you can do other things with the Aga apart from cook. The Aga instruction manual suggests such bizarre rituals such as ironing clothes with it! It can be useful for drying clothes on top - but of course that's only if you don't want to actually use the thing for cooking at the same time. See first comment above.
Move the clothes – dry AFTER you have cooked or overnight


• The ovens have no temperature control. OK, there are ways to adapt for that. "You just have to get to know your Aga" say some. Yes, there are workarounds for its quirks. The Aga cookbook is full of Aga versions of recipes. They can take a very simple conventional recipe ("Cook for two hours at 200 degrees C") and turn it into a major epic ("Put on the boiling plate for ten minutes. Cover and move to the simmering plate for 30 minutes. Transfer to a shallow pan and leave it in the simmering oven overnight. Finish off with 45 minutes in the baking oven before serving.") Gimme a break! Rubbish. You don’t need “aga” recipes to cook food. Just adjust the times.

• The oven has no timer. You can't just set it to cook your supper in time for your arrival home. Even a £179 B&Q cheapie oven can do that kind of thing! True But it is instantly on when you get in..no waiting to heat up the oven. You could leave you food to slow cook in the bottom oven ready for when you get back.

• There's no window on the oven door. You can't see how your cooking is browning, unless you keep opening the door to check. So open the door !!!
Unless it’s a cake its not going to spoil


• The airflow from the oven is up the flue - there are no baking smells in the kitchen to guide you to when something is "just right". Best way to cope is to go and do some gardening downwind of your chimney. You then have some chance of noticing when it is about to burn. You don’t actually do cooking do you? Most people time cooking and don’t use smell to tell when its done. In fact most people don’t like cooking smells.

• Nothing is simple. You can't just "bake a cake" if you have the two-oven Aga. You either have to buy a special cake-baking accessory (I think it's an insulated container), or else you can follow some bizarre instructions to boil away three pans of water on the boiling plate so that you have reduced the temperature of the oven by enough to enable you to bake a cake. Really! You don’t need it
If you had an aga and used it to cook a cake you would know this.


• The Aga can also heat your hot water. In summer, and in winter too, if you don't do too much cooking or use too much hot water or chant the wrong mantras (or expect to get the same efficiency as a boiler). An aga will provide plenty of hot water in winter and summer without problems. I have never found that doing too much cooking effects how much hot water I get in the evening as its normally heated up well from the night before.
If you need extra than its no biggy to run your central heating boiler in a secondary loop to your hot water cylinder.


• Even the smaller Aga takes up much more space than a gas range. You really do have to allow for a bigger kitchen - which adds to your housebuilding costs.
Yes.

• You also have to lay concrete reinforcement. You can't just put an Aga on a kitchen floor and expect to have any kitchen remaining afterwards. Only needed if you have a wooden floor.

2:07 pm  
Blogger laurie said...

An AGA is on night and day but if positioned correctly it will keep the whole house aired and is second to none for cooking and drying/'ironing' clothes. An AGA needs to be positioned in a central room with door leading off. An open door to the stairs allows the heat to travel upstairs. I wouldn’t place an AGA in a lean to kitchen.

To 'iron' clothes, pull /stretch along the ironing lines and either hang over the hand rail or place on the top of the AGA, but beware of placing them on directly on top of the hot plate lid as they might scorch. You can make or buy thick cloth pads to sit on the lids. These give adequate anti-scorching and anti scratch protection and allow you to place both utensils and clothes on them. Being a man I can't cook on conventional cookers.

My AGA cooked wedding fruit cakes are the envy of several chefs I know: all I do is put them in the simmering oven and leave them for 11hrs (overnight).

Finally you DON'T cook on the top of an AGA, you cook in the ovens. We didn't know this for a long time and struggled for 15 yrs until we went on an AGA cooking course.

6:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have the wood fired version known as a Rayburn and live in Australia. So I know about heat. My stove or cooker is just over 50 yrs old and still going strong. In the summer I just let it go out of a day time and light it of an evening. The three or four hours it burns of a night is usually enough to get the water hot again. And shut down on slow burn it will stay in 10 hrs with the right wood. I also have an electric boost on the hot water for the days I don't want it on or have been away.
So if ur still considering it I would say it's a worthwhile purchase. I gather the wood model has more control than the oil fired version as u can control the burn to heat things up pretty quickly or shut it right down for a slow oven. Does all take a bit of practise but I'm sure you and your wife are cleaver enough to master it. I did and I'm only in my 30's though did grow up in the bush so possibly a slight advantage there. But do not grow faint hearted.
Around here in winter temperatures of as low as minus 10 I wouldn't have anything else. Whilst summers can reach plus 40 centigrade. With a bit of practice it can work perfectly for you. And I got mine second hand for only $200 aud or around £100. So they don't need to break the bank either.
Guy

2:22 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

Can anyone help me. I have an aga which has just been installed. We bought it second hand so do not have any instructions on how to use it. It's running our central heating system, so has a pump installed. The radiators are getting hot but it's not heating the water tank. Do we need to have the pump on all the time, or should we leave the pump off until the water in the tank has heated?

8:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how much oil a wick aga would use in a year?

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous

It would take about £1500 a year to run an aga - my advice to you is say well clear of them

8:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've wanted an Aga for many years so when we were restoring our holiday cottage I took the plunge and bought a second-hand four oven one. My son and his family were going to be living in the cottage for a couple of years and he was very anti Aga which he described as all hype and too much money to buy and run. He was so anti they ended up putting in an electric hob and oven for their own use. However they did agree to give it a try and within three weeks the electric hob and oven were surplus to requirements and my son and his wife were loving the Aga. Couldn't sing its praises highly enough. "Food tastes amazing - it was so straightforward to use - what are we going to do when we move out..."
Renovating our kitchen in Cambridge I decided I could do without a car of my own and bought a new 30amp electric Aga instead. My husband (like father like son) was very apprehensive. He said he would never be able to cook anything again in the house and viewed the Aga as a huge waste of money to buy and run and complicated to use. A week later he too loved the Aga. He says now he would rather lose the house than the Aga.
Men can be just as big fans of the Aga - if they give them a chance! The 30amp Aga takes wasted electricity on an overnight charge so could be viewed as green - it did cost a lot of money - nearly £11,000 - but unlike a car - this Aga should be around for the next 60 years and the roast beef tastes amazing.

2:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spoke to a bloke in cambridgeshire,when i went to buy a used tractor,he told me his useage cost to run his OIL AGA,it was the same as or a bit less than my gas bill in surrey,plus drying clothes,heating house,radiators etc!!!!!!!!!!! I definitely will be buying one.............

12:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you only need to service an oil aga 6 monthly not gas or electric versions. Having said electric, I cant fathom why anyone would install an electric aga it doesnt make any sense as far as green issues go. however a gs/oil aga produces heat from a primary source ie oil/gas and what you lose in efficiency you gain in advantage of aarm kitchen where you end up spending most of your time. we dont live anywhere else in the winter, why heat a lounge/sitting room when you already have a nice warm kitchen where we are able to put a sofa and watch our tv.

7:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" horrendous burns can result. "

This is just not a cool thing to be saying. they are one of the most family safe things that anyone could wish to have. All my family from 94year old granny to little cousin all know how easy and safe an aga is to use when it keeps lit...

6:18 pm  
Anonymous chimney pipe said...

I wonder If any one could help me I'm trying to find out the total embodied energy that goes into the production of an Aga for a project I'm doing at uni, I would really appriciate anyones help with this.... Carly Salter

3:24 am  
Anonymous Nickie said...

Can any selfbuilders give me advise on installing an Aga? Due to current 2012 insulation regulations we are required to build in effect a sealed box! This jars completely with my longing for an Aga and I'm apprehensive about the intense heat I could experience having a gas Aga in this thoroughly well insulated new build. Has anyone installed an Aga in a recent newbuild and if so is it painfully hot? I know there is now the option for a Total Control Aga which heats up within 30 mins but does this then defeat the object of owning an Aga if you use it as a conventional oven for about a tenth of the cost of the £10k Total Control? Many thanks

1:24 am  
Blogger Andy Teagan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

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5:45 pm  
Anonymous find out said...

Don't waste your money on these pans. they work for a few weeks, but after that you'll be using more and more oil to keep food from sticking. Eventually even the oil won't help. One of the worst kitchen utensils I ever bought. 

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