Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cappuccino Maker Leak

Fixing the leaking DeLonghi EAM4500 cappuccino machine

Other blog post/fixes for the same model cappuccino machine:
It’s been almost exactly 5 years since I’ve taken on a couple of extra jobs so I could buy the ridiculously expensive ($900) but yet so wonderfully beloved cappuccino machine. I had originally calculated that the savings in Tim Horton’s coffee would pay off the machine within a couple of years and seeing as though we made about 7500 cups of coffee with that cappuccino maker since I bought it, the actual savings (if we had gotten a large coffee at Tim’s each time we made one with the machine) are over $11,000! Yes, that’s eleven THOUSAND dollars. Not like we would have actually spent that much at Tim’s but it looks darn good for the business case side of things.

About two years ago the gasket in the boiler unit started to leak a bit so I temporarily fixed it by making a gasket out of card stock and placing it under the silicone rubber gasket to give it a bit more thickness. However, now, two years later it completely dissolved and I had to find a more permanent fix. Unfortunately, the cappuccino distributers don’t have just the replacement gasket for the heating unit and I was left with either buying a brand new heating element ($250) or finding a way to fix it.

Once I dismantled the case I discovered that the leaking water had completely corroded the screws and brackets near the heating unit. After some prodding I finally removed it all and took it to the shop. Unfortunately, two of the screws were so rusted that they snapped off which meant I had to drill them out and re-tap the aluminum heating unit. Not much fun!

Another challenge was trying to find suitable material for the gasket. It had to be heat resistant and more importantly, it had to be food grade. After all, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for slowly poisoning my family or any guests we might have. So after much thinking I came to a McGyver-ish idea (thanks dad!). What if I took a silicone bake pan and cut my gasket out in the proper shape. It all made sense since those baking sheets/pans are heat resistant up to about 450 degrees (F) or 230 deg (C) AND they were food-grade.

So off I went to Canadian tire where they just happened to be on sale for 5 bucks. Bought one, brought it home, cut it up, shaved it to the right size (that was a bit time-consuming), put it all back together, greased it up with some high temp aluminum grease and turned it on. Soon I realized that the heat-resistant grease gave off a lot of fumes so I relocated the machine out to the garage and after keeping the machine on and heated up for an hour all the fumes stopped and I was ready to try making some java.

It’s been a couple of days now, the machine is put back together and on our countertop and I must say that $5 bucks plus a couple of hours were worth it and most certainly beat the $400 buck repair (element plus labor) it would have cost otherwise.

In summary, each cup of coffee cost us an average of about 20 cents and with the quality of the flavour you just can’t beat that!

The heating unit with the rusted bracket and the leaking gaskets
Inside of the heating unit: the water runs through the spiral and heats up
The top of the heating unit with the missing gasket; it disintegrated when I took it apart
The cut up 9" by 9" silicone baking pan
I used engineer's blue to print the outline of the heating unit top on the silicone material so I knew where to cut out the final gasket
The finally cut out gaskets (big one and two round ones in the middle)
The newly put together heating element with the new bracket and the replaced gaskets

 Tools:Screwdriver, small pliers, socket set, sand paper, elbow grease, engineer’s blue, scissors
Silicone baking pan, high-temp grease, a couple of nitrile o-rings


I see many more wonderful coffees ahead!!!