To DIY or not to DIY


After seeing too many backyard repairs performed incorrectly or dangerously, Maurizio Marcocci of Service Sphere stresses when do-it-yourself maintenance is acceptable and when it’s not. 

With the rise in popularity of commercial and home coffee machines, the team at Service Sphere has seen an immense spike in backyarders attempting repairs and end users having a go themselves. 

Most people are able to diagnose simple errors or issues by either physically seeing the problem or noticing a change in the machine. This includes a shift in water flow pressure, buttons not working, or water leaking out of obscure places.

You can find all kinds of tutorials on YouTube relating to coffee, from harvesting fresh beans to repairing a commercial three-group espresso machine. Although it’s easy to find and watch these videos, it’s even easier to make a crucial mistake.

Many of these tutorials either cut corners or do not cover the finer details of diagnosis, dismantling, and subsequent repair. This is particularly important as time progresses and coffee machines are becoming more advanced. You’d be hard pressed to find a basic single-tank espresso machine in any retail or hospitality venue. Most machines now have multiple boilers and intricate electronic features, such as turbo steam wands. With coffee machines becoming more complicated, working on them has become harder, often requiring specialised knowledge to get the job done. 

More than meets the eye
In our past Tech Talks, we’ve emphasised the importance of changing components before they wear out, commonly known as preventative maintenance. 

Inside your coffee machine, you will find various parts, such as pressure stats, power boards, flow meters, elements, and valves. If you don’t maintain them, they can underperform or fail altogether. 

The boiler pressure valve, for example, is designed to relieve an excessive build-up of pressure inside the boiler and is a critical part to ensure the safety of an espresso machine. Our engineers at Service Sphere often identifiy incorrect components fitted to machines. This is particularly important to note when working on the boiler pressure valve. An instance overseas occurred where a coffee boiler over pressurised and exploded due to a safety valve failing to work correctly when required.  

Looking online, it’s easy to find a replacement pressure valve you believe will work for your machine, but this can just as easily not be the case. There are often very slight differences between valves and machines, and installation isn’t as simple as screwing on a new part.

In other cases, people have ordered boiler element replacements which are not suitable for their current power requirements. You can easily fit a larger element drawing more power to your machine, which is not only incorrect but dangerous, as the element draws more power than the wiring and machine can handle. 

Inside a coffee machine, there’s a whole host of electrical components which come into contact with or are frequently close to water. This is an obvious hazard. Many online tutorials are from overseas where the voltage may differ. So, the likelihood of serious injury or damage to property is dramatically increased if you take their advice as gospel.

Laying down the law
From a legal standpoint, any DIY electrical work involving the electrical mains – not just coffee machines – are illegal in Australia and for good reason. Things can and do go wrong, when an inexperienced and unlicensed person attempts to work on mains power. 

Watching a short video online is nowhere near enough to qualify someone to pull a coffee machine apart. This requires years of training and experience. 

Furthermore, if an unlicensed electrical job is completed – such as changing your own boiler element – and it results in a fire, you could be liable. Don’t make the assumption that because your local hardware store will sell you electrical and plumbing components you can go and legally and safely install them. 

On a safety and legal level, working on your own coffee machine is a bad idea. You’ve got a lot of risk for minimal gain. 

What can you do?
Maintenance costs can add up, and while worth it, many people would like to have a go at fixing issues themselves before paying for a professional to do the work. So, what is usually safe to do?

Provided they have some degree of knowledge on the matter, an espresso enthusiast or barista can handle changing the seals and showers of a coffee machine, as long as the machine is disconnected from power and no longer hot. 

If you do decide to do this, ensure that you’ve ordered the correct part through Service Sphere’s spare parts department, who will cross reference this with manufacturers’ part manuals.

However, once you go beneath the surface, you will find a lot of complex components, many of which are not only expensive but possibly hazardous to replace. On these occasions, you should leave these to a reputable coffee machine technician.  

Do the right thing
Coffee machines contain a whole host of components covered in this Tech Talk column, each having a causal effect on each other. 

If there’s an issue with your coffee machine that you’re not qualified to handle, we recommend you take your coffee machine to a credible repair agent, even if it isn’t us. 

Coffee machine technicians aren’t born knowledgeable. They’ve learned their skill and most did their training directly with manufacturers. With all this being said, if you are seriously looking into repairing your own coffee machines or making a career out of it, look into becoming a coffee machine technician. Most people have minimal previous experience and a good employer will train you up. 

Ask yourself, would you pull a part any other electrical appliance – the fridge, microwave, or toaster – in your house? The coffee machine is no different. If the answer is no, or even “I don’t know”, then don’t do it. 

This article appears in the October 2019 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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