Why Does A Good Kettle Cost $90+?

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Yesterday morning I woke up to a house without electricity – that meant I woke up in a puddle of sweat because the fan was no longer turned on. It turned out that my housemate, while making coffee, had tripped the mains of the house. The kettle had caused the trip. It was no longer safe to use the kettle and so I had to buy a new kettle.

My Dead Kettle

The Dead Kettle

Lately, I had coincidentally been considering buying a new kettle to replace the old one, which I have used since 2007. I was also kinda tired of sticking a thermometer in the water to figure out the temperature of the water before I brew my coffee or tea. However, I never actually had a good reason to do so. The kettle we had was absolutely serviceable, and there wasn’t a good reason to change it. Now I do.

And so, I took a break from writing my book on Javascript interview questions (alternate title: Underhanded Javascript) and hopped online to find the best variable temperature control kettles I can find. Being the coffee and tea snob that I am, I perused a number of forums, looking for the best recommendations for such a kettle. I narrowed my choices down to the Breville BKE820XL($149), the Cuisinart CPK-17($115), or the Sunbeam KE9450($100). The main reason why I shortlisted them was because they had temperature control. There was also another brand that was mentioned – Shark, or Belle, or Da Vinci – basically Chinese knockoffs of the Cuisinart.

The one thing I noticed about these is that they all cost more than $90, which is way more than what I’m willing to pay for a kettle. My old kettle had cost me something like $10 from K-Mart. I wasn’t very willing to part with so much money for a kettle. So I decided to look for a cheaper version – I was willing to forgo the temperature control – afterall, I had been using a manual thermometer for years and it didn’t affect my making tea or coffee.

My housemate had also mentioned earlier that she would not prefer a plastic kettle and would prefer something metal. And so I went to look for normal electrical kettles. To my frustration – all the basic kettles cost roughly the same price: $39. The branded ones cost slightly more, and the non-branded ones cost slightly less. Why in the world would it cost so much? A kettle is not something difficult to build. The most difficult part is the grounding of it – which metal kettles are in sore need off, lest they give you an electric shock. But it’s really not that difficult to build a kettle, nor does it cost that much.

How to Build a Kettle With Temperature Control

I’m a big fan of conceptual thinking. I’ve once complained about some of my acquaintences’ inability to even conceptually build something, what more actually building something. In Programming Pearls, this was referred to as the skill to do back-of-the-envelope-calculation. I think it’s a very good skill to have.

So I began to conceptually build a kettle with temperature controls. I chose a top-down approach to building this in my mind. First, I built a mental model of what is needed in a basic kettle: a heating element, a receptacle to store liquid while it boils, some sort of automatic off switch – probably heat powered – to turn the switch off once it hits boiling point. Then I think about what extra stuff are needed to build the same kettle, except with temperature control. Temperature control indicates that a) a reading of the temperature of the water is required; b) a switch that could understand the reading of the water temperature.

This implied only one thing: a PID, and a relay of some sort. I know what PIDs cost – I own a couple of PID controllers and have built one from scratch. Because of the cost, that also meant that the kettle that I currently have (and that is broken), cannot possibly be digitally controlled – it’d cost too much.

Dismantling the kettle

So out of curiosity, I began to dismantle my kettle. A kettle is an extremely simple electrical appliance, really. A heating coil heats up water. When it is hot enough, it stops. And I was right – it was ridiculously simple. It simply consisted of a switch, a power source and a heating element:

Power source, switch and heating element

I had removed the switch to remove the heating element from the jug. The image above shows a reconstruction of how the power supply connects to the heating element. Inset is the power supply connected to the switch. The red wires are to a LED which tells you that the heating element is turned on.

However, I was still puzzled by how the kettle would automatically turn off when the water boiled. And so I looked carefully at the details of everything in the kettle. Suddenly it hit me. I was looking at it all along, and it was staring back at me:

The back of the heating element, exposing the bimetallic strip

OK, paredolia asides, the metal strip in the middle actually plays a very important part in the analog automatic control. I had actually seen one of those before when I was very young. It’s actually a bimetallic strip that curls outwards when heated. It’s basically 2 pieces of metal that is pressed into one strip. Because the different metals have different expansion rates when heated, heating a bimetallic strip would cause it to bend one way.

To prove that, I took a blowtorch to it and it curled outwards exactly as I thought it would. When it cooled down, it became a flat strip again. The metal strip curved outwards. It must trigger something. Looking at the back of the power source, I found what it triggered – a spring loaded switch. Here’s how the back of the power supply looks like:

IMG_3325S

The way the kettle is constructed, the heating element and the power source are pressed together when the blue switch is pressed down to turn on the kettle. The switch is basically a see-saw. When it’s pressed down, the lever will latch on at the top (the silver coloured piece in the picture above), pressing the power source towards the heating element. The copper piece in the picture above comes into contact with the metal base plate of the heating element, and the circuit is complete. The heating element heats up.

When the bimetallic strip gets heated up, it curls outwards, pressing on the trigger. The trigger, when pressed, pushes the lever outwards, causing the latch to unlatch. Once the latch is undone, the power source is no longer pressing onto the base plate of the heating element. The circuit is broken, and the water stops heating.

There is a certain elegance to these analogue systems that one must be able to appreciate. Using a bimetallic strip to trigger a mechanical trigger is simply quite a brilliantly elegant way of solving a problem. There is no reason to build an expensive kettle with digital controls if perfectly cheap and simple analogue solutions like these exist.

How Much Does A Basic Kettle Cost

Once one knows how something works, the magic is lost. Very quickly I began tabulating how much it would cost to build and market a kettle. My answer came to a little over $7. Even with the fanciest metal designs, I estimate it’d cost no more than $12 to make and market a basic kettle with no bells and whistles. Even with the most generous of all estimates – which is to say extremely expensive industrial designers were hired to craft the shape of the bottle (let’s assume we’re talking about something like the Bugatti Vera.), and that the manufacturer uses the most expensive possible manufacturing tools, the price over a mass amount of units (say 100,000 units) would not cost more than $16.

So why did the rest of the basic kettles cost $39? Given the almost-same price from all the brands, they all have to function on the same principle essentially. They’d also have to have pretty much the same fixed and variable costs. If we assume we see the market in action, then that would mean I was wrong. It didn’t cost $16 to manufacture and market those kettles. The problem is, there exist on the market, homebrand kettles that cost $10 or so. If both homebrand and branded kettles use a similar principle, then it would be cause to wonder why the basic kettles of the bigger brands all cost $39.

Unless of course, those $39 kettles use a digital solution to stop the water from boiling. But that is just rather silly, given that an analogue solution works better. I do not see how a digital solution is actually a superior solution. It’s rather like saying replacing your car’s control panel with a touch screen is a better idea – oh wait. Tesla actually thought this was a good idea. It isn’t.

Given that a digital control solution is not going to be much superior (and in fact, like the Tesla example, could actually be inferior) – water has ONE boiling temperature – 100 Celcius, why would a basic kettle cost $39 and up? Yes, I mean, people could be paying for the design (because a red kettle is so going to boil water faster than a white kettle), but really, there is no basis in reality to pay for such an expensive kettle. Especially so if the basic kettle is digitally driven. It’s just a waste of time and energy of the designers, trying to cramp so much electronics into a small space.

No, rather, basic kettles from bigger brands cost $39 as a form of price differentiation. Consumers who can afford to pay more, or do not know better, would pay more for the same basic product. Anything extra is mostly cosmetic and has no say on the functionality (or if it does, like for example, if the shape or material of a kettle would help it retain heat better, it doesn’t add much marginal utility).

How to Build a Kettle With Temperature Control – pt2

Which brings me to why I actually want a kettle with temperature control. Unlike a basic kettle, I understand why a more advanced kettle with variable temperatures would cost so much more. As previously mentioned, having temperature control means requiring something to read the temperature of the water – a temperature probe (I own a couple of PT100 probes myself), and a PID controller. Those things are not cheap, even if one buys them in bulk. A basic PID would set one back about $30 (and that was the best bulk price I could get). With PID controllers also come costs of hiring electronic designers, and micro-controller programmers. Also, a relay is required to turn on and off the kettle, instead of mechanical solutions like the one above. Furthermore, these electronics have to be heatproofed. A kettle is a very hot thing, and the microcontrollers in the kettle must not fail under heated circumstances.

All these little things add up. But it’s actually useful. Instead of hiring electronic designers, programmers, and using electronics for basic functionality, the main use is for precision boiling. And that’s a good use. This is one of the main reasons why I am looking at variable temperature kettles (okay, I admit, it’d make my life a lot easier too, if I didn’t have to stand and take the temperature of the water every time I make my coffee or tea).

The reason is I don’t feel ripped off paying for a variable temperature kettle. Knowing how a basic analogue kettle works and especially knowing how much it would cost to build one, I would feel terrible if I had to spend $40 on a kettle that works exactly the same way in principle. And yes, before you ask, the ones I saw, they DO work on the same exact principles. How do I know this? The switch in those kettles are mechanical. A digital kettle wouldn’t have a mechanical switch (you can design one that has, but I don’t see the point).

Why Does A Good Kettle Cost $90+?

Here’s a rough bill of materials/services and estimates I came out with, assuming a unit cost over 100,000 units in a production run:

Description Estimated Cost
Manufacture of kettle body (metal, because plastic is so pedestrian) $5
Industrial design of kettle body (assuming 3 high calibre ($100k p/a) industrial designer) $7
PID Controller + other electronics $10
Heating element $3
Electronics engineer (assuming 3 electronics engineer and 2 test technicians) $7
Various manufacturing fixed cost (safety tests, product tests, etc) $5
Marketing, stocking, etc fees $5

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It comes close to $45. And these are on quite generous assumptions. I have no doubt that given the scale of these big branded companies, they would have more economies of scale and scope to reduce these costs even further. Of couse, this being a mental estimate, it could go very wrong. It could be the companies don’t manufacture 100,000 units per run. That would change things quite a bit.

This means a markup of double. But the main reason why I would rather go for a $90 kettle instead of a $39 kettle is because the $90 kettle does a lot more. There is quite a bit more function per dollar than the $39 one.

But …

Of course, then there’s the Hamilton Beach programmable kettle, which comes pretty close to the estimated cost price of building a variable temperature kettle I had estimated. I had estimated it costs about $45 to build and market a digital kettle with basic PID functions. I was willing to accept advanced kettles cost about $90 because PID tuning is a variable quality, and I’d be willing to accept that companies like Bonavita or Breville actually spend more time and money into tuning these little details. I don’t know how Hamilton Beach did it, and I’m exceedingly curious as to how. The people at Steepster don’t think too highly of it though, so there’s some clues there.

As for which kettle I bought, the house is currently kettle-less while I figure out which one to buy. I’m leaning heavily on the Cuisinart CPK-17. I am also quite partial to just buying a water warmer like the Zojirushi, mainly because my mum uses one and I grew up with one, but who knows, I might just go buy another $10 kettle.

TR;DR: I seem to have given a lot of thought to buying a kettle (this article is 2250 words long). I come to the conclusion that expensive basic kettles are the same as cheap basic kettles, except for price differentiation. The increase in marginal utility from purchasing a expensive kettle is not big enough compared to buying a baseline cheap kettle to warrant it. It’d be better to buy a temperature control kettle, as then the increase in marginal utility would be enough to warrant puchasing it. What do you think?

72 Comments Why Does A Good Kettle Cost $90+?

  1. Anon

    The kettle had caused the trip. It was no longer safe to use the kettle

    You know enough to start designing a temp. controlled kettle, and yet you overlooked the simple (and most likely) possibility that the kettle was on the same circuit with another high draw appliance (hair dryer, electric heater, etc.) and the combination of the two resulted in the trip from overload.

    And that there was nothing in fact wrong with the kettle at all.

    Reply
    1. Chewxy (or The Doctor)

      Everyone else in the house was asleep. But yes, you’re right, I have overlooked that possibility

      Reply
      1. Pete R

        If you really did blow the mains of the entire house, and not just the circuit that the heater and fan were on, you had an electrical situation beyond just a kettle.

        Reply
  2. no

    The boiling temperature is actually highly dependent on air pressure.

    On top of Mt. Everest, it boils at 71°C.

    Water can boil just fine at room temperature at lowish pressures (fun experiment: take a syringe, push it to 0% capacity, suck in enough water to fill 10% of the syringe, close the opening and pull it back to 100% capacity. There, boiling at room temperature.)

    Of course, in a kettle you want to get as close to the boiling temperature as you can without ever failing to shut off the heating element when it boils.

    Reply
    1. Another anon

      True, that’s why most kettles actually have pressure operated switches, so they always turn of at the boiling point.

      Reply
    2. Another anon

      As a matter of fact, this kettle is also pressure operated, the bimetal strip is just a backup for when you leave the lid open or something fails. You’ll see that there is a channel going from the top of the kettle to the blue switch (in this case its probably in the handle). When the pressure reaches a certain point it flips the on switch back and it switches off.

      It’s so elegant, OP didn’t even spot it.

      Reply
    3. Another anon

      Btw, this might also explain the minimum required water amount, as with less water the longer it needs to keep boiling to reach the required pressure. And there is an amount that doesn’t produce enough steam to switch it off. This is where the bimetal comes in and saves the day.

      Reply
  3. Kevin

    If you want water at a certain temperature, why don’t you just use a microwave? A microwave heats water up at a linear rate, so x grams of water increases y degrees in z seconds.

    Reply
      1. Peace Lover

        You would need to do the work of calibrating the formula to your own microwave, but what Kevin said is the entirety of the theory involved.

        1. put 100g (variable M) water in a glass
        2. measure temp. of water (variable X)
        3. turn microwave on at 100% power for 30 seconds (T)
        4. measure temp. of water (Y)
        5. Calculate following power value for your microwave (everyone’s is different):
        Z = ( Y – X ) / T * M
        Z = ( Y – X ) / 30 * 100
        I guess the units are something like degrees per gram per second.
        6. Now to apply the formula, measure the mass of your water to heat (M), measure the starting temperature (X), decide your target temperature (Y). We are trying to find the time (T)
        Rearranging to get T on its own (everything else by now is known)
        T = ( Y – X ) / Z * M
        7. Test that this simple model works to your satisfaction.

        An example for a hypothetical microwave

        		calibration	large mug cool day	small mug hot day
        X	start temp	25	20	27
        Y	finish temp	70	75	72
        T	measured	60		
        T 	calculated	60	92	45
        M	mass of water	200	250	150
        Z	micro. power	150	150	150
        
        

        Have fun, and in what I take to be the spirit of this blog post, that means enjoy trying to figure things out for yourself.

        Reply
      2. Kevin

        Your comment is the troll bait, I’ll bite.

        I know it works because I use it myself. Peace Lover has done the math for you, try it out yourself.

        Has Google destroyed your ability to do a 5 minute experiment and obtain data all on your own?

        You seriously think a database exists where you can look up your microwave and find out how long it takes to bring a cup of water to 100 degrees?

        Reply
      1. Kevin

        Water will not do that unless you super heat it. Furthermore, you also need to have an environment in the cup that doesn’t seed the boiling.

        The conditions for this to happen are so rare that there is no verified case of it occurring outside of a lab that I could find.

        A single mote of dust in the glass will prevent it.

        Reply
        1. Haenk

          Call me the owner of a verified case – some years ago I heated a cup of coffee at my parents home, when taking the cup out of the microwave, the coffee literally jumped out of the cup right to the ceiling. The brown spots are still visible today (seems to be difficult to paint them over). Luckily I didn’t get injured – but it certainly is a good idea to shake the cup / stuff *before* you take it out of the microwave, worst case this will burn your hand – not your face.

          Reply
        2. Uri

          An employee of mine was heating tea in his microwave at home. Not normally used to heating beverages in a microwave, he set the timer for 3 minutes.
          The beep sounded, and he immediately opened the microwave and reached in for the cup. The bottom of the microwave set at about chest level for him. As he pulled the cup out, the action caused the surface tension to break – the cup shattered, causing him severe burning to one entire side of his face, his neck, shoulder, forearm and hand. It was almost a full month before the swelling and pain subsided to the point where he could open his burned eye.

          This entire incident would have been avoided if he had greater understanding of, or simply more respect for, the technology.

          Reply
  4. Kenny

    A good kettle is probably $90+ for reasons beyond the cost to build it.

    For every product a company produces, there are paper instructions that must be written, insurance policies that may need to be purchased, a marketing team that is involved in selling it, packaging costs, labor, and many, many other costs that creep in.

    You might also imagine that electric kettles probably aren’t an extremely popular item. I personally have no idea that they are, but I have never seen an electric kettle. In fact, I didn’t know they existed.

    It’s actually kind of amazing the cost is only $90 when you think about it from that angle.

    Reply
    1. Bob

      This.

      Some of the other elements that are obviously missing from the costing include , a margin for the manufacturer (suppose ~10-20%), transportation and distribution costs (typically on the order of 10-20% of the wholesale price), and the retailers’ gross profit (will vary by industry, buts supermarkets have gross profit margins of 50% of the retail price).

      The post was interesting (sorry, my mistake: I meant a tedious and condescending example of an autistic nerd intellectually masturbating), but shows a fundamental ignorance of the full costs of manufacturing, distributing, and selling a product.

      While we’re casually throwing about terms such as, ‘marginal utility’, though, allow me an economic observation: the cheaper kettles, in particular, are commodities that are mass-produced and have few, if any, features to differentiate them. If it were possible to produce them for much under $39, it seems fair to expect that at least one factory in China / wholesaler / retailer would attempt to increase its share of the market by selling a generic kettle at a lower price. That the prices seem to cluster around $39 suggests collusion, that the industry follows certain economic models of pricing, or that $39 is about the cheapest price at which they can be produced.

      … and I’m suddenly conscious that I’ve wasted quite a few minutes of my own time on this response.

      Reply
      1. The Doctor

        That’s actually my point (in case it weren’t clear) – it IS possible to produce AND sell them for much under $39. In fact, home brand kettles do just that.

        Reply
      2. Bob H

        Agreed,

        The margins here are pretty much ignored and the costs seem strange to me. The super cheap generic kettles are generally purchased in high volumes from a generic design by a supermarket, they then either take the manufacturers brand or use their own brand (paying extra for the new packaging layout). Certainly the cheaper ones don’t employ three high end designers at $100k each! Even a well known brand might not design a product in-house, instead buying an exclusive design from an unknown company in an emerging market.

        At first I thought reading this I might learn something about kettles or something I had missed about manufacturing. I didn’t, I just learnt that some people have too much time on their hands (e.g. measuring the temperature of water for their drinks).

        Reply
  5. Dave Masselink

    I have used this one for a few years regularly now. So I can vouch for its build quality.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/e60d

    I did some similar, though less well documented, research on these and wondered the same.

    The Adagio guys either built this one or relabled a real nice white label product.

    It is all analog… Though still variable temp. They use a potentiometer as a dial to choose approx temp. The part I dont understand is how they get the switch to flip at different temps if they use a bi-metal approach.

    One day, when it dies, I’ll open it up to learn more. But in the meantime I dont want to give it up.

    Reply
  6. Markoff

    So what’s reason why to buy 90USD kettle over 10USD? Quality argument won’t work, when I can buy 9 kettles for price of one and I’m pretty sure lifetime of cheap kettle will beat expensive kettle when use few more pieces.

    Reply
    1. dundun

      Many people (me included) believe that there is an inherent value to using quality products and not surrounding yourself with the cheapest option at all times (unless the cheapest option is of high quality, of course).

      Reply
  7. Matt

    My kettle quandary was different. Living in the U.S., I chafed under the slow boiling of the 1,500 watt kettles available here. When I redid the kitchen in our house, I wired in a 220 volt 20 amp GFI circuit (an expensive circuit breaker), bought a 3,000 watt kettle whilst in England, and now my water boils twice as fast. Two of my engineering buddies did the same thing. It’s fun to see your same model of kettle in Love Actually or some of the British Television Advertising Awards adverts.

    Reply
  8. Jeremy

    I rather like the idea of a simple kettle sitting on a gas stovetop. Cost of material, $5 for a metal body and no doubt cheaper to run than an electric kettle. You could even add a whistle so you know when it’s boiling and if exact temperature is an issue, I’m sure you could affix a thermometer.

    I was over the convenience of running an electric kettle when I realised that they draw up to 2kW of power. I’ve had the circuit breaker trip when other householders were running the kettle, toaster, espresso machine and dishwasher (which happen to be connected to the same circuit as my computers, which were also running) simultaneously.

    Reply
    1. supertreat

      It doesn’t stand to logic that the kettle would be more inefficient- considering you have the heating element in DIRECT contact with the water vs a traditional setup where the heat has to warm up and transfer through metal before reaching the water.

      Reply
  9. supertreat

    You need to troubleshoot the circuit this was plugged into. You destroyed a perfectly functional electric kettle.

    Reply
  10. James

    What I can’t fathom is that current kettles, regardless of cost, don’t have any insulation and instead some more expensive ones have a “keep warm” feature which uses electricity to keep the water warm.

    Reply
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  12. Peace Lover

    My metal kettle is ridiculously noisy. Regret the purchase every time I use it. Therefore the microwave is making my beverages lately, and is much quicker than heating the 500mL required minimum water level in the kettle.

    Reply
  13. Chris

    time = Time required to write this article, including studying the old pot.
    rate = How much you make an hour.

    total = time * rate

    If total > $90, you spent more money asking the question than just going out and buying a kettle. :)

    Reply
  14. hibbelig

    Why not adjust the distance between the bimetal strip and the switch? Larger distance means strip needs to coil more, means water needs to be hotter?

    I love the whistle idea though.

    Reply
    1. Will D

      The majority of the VAM/Arrarex Caravel espresso machines do exactly that — bimetal strip with the triggering distance controlled by the twist of a knob.

      Reply
  15. Peter

    Electric kettles are pretty much ubiquitous in every home in Ireland and the UK, due to the necessity of drinking tea with every meal. The factors I’ve used when buy a new kettle are the speed to boil and the noise generated when doing so. I ended up getting one of these http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B005FWT0CC for about £35 so ~ $60. It’s fast, a bit noisy, but looks nice.

    Thanks for the kettle tear-down.

    Reply
  16. John

    I loved the Cuisinart CPK-17, had it for a year and a half before it stopped working.

    Currently using a pyrex measuring cup and the microwave to heat water for tea/coffee. You just need to experiment with microwave time/ water volume and a thermometer to get a pretty consistent temp if you don’t want quite boiling water (for say green/white tea)

    Reply
  17. TheQuietOne

    I work for a company that designs and builds small kitchen appliances such as teakettles.
    The retail price of an object is typically 3x Cost Of Goods. We sell it to the retailer for about 1.5x COG. building the product is pretty cheap but supporting it with a marketing drive and warranty complaints and lawsuits because someone used it wrong eat into the profit of the company. The Hamilton Beach kettle is most likely a steeply discounted discontinued product.

    Sunbeam doesn’t build products anymore, they sell the brand name “Sunbeam” to anyone that is willing to pay to use it. Chinese manufacturers use it to get into western markets when they can’t find another brand to sell their stuff to. Not to say they are all bad products but you cannot trust the brand as an indicator of quality.

    I have been impressed with the quality of Eurpro brand (Shark, Ninja, Etc) products.

    Cuisinart products are pretty good so far. You do pay for quality, if it’s cheap its safe but won’t perform as well as the higher end products.
    From my experience tearing apart competitive products, try to avoid things that are ETL listed and use products that are UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed. Quite often the ETL listed products to not meet the safety standards when we test them in our lab.

    My company does not make a electronically controlled teakettle because very few people are willing to pay the extra money for one.

    Reply
  18. Semi Essessi

    two things – but let me point out i am quite naive first – especially regarding the costs of components.

    #1

    why do you need a pid controller? is it cost? surely a thermistor or thermocouple can provide a simpler, more targetted approach than using more general purpose hardware to create a sensor and control system?

    again I don’t know much but Google suggests to me that the cost of such components is miniscule – fragments of pennies.

    naively to me it seems like a potentiometer and thermistor with some kind of transistor should be enough to create a way to shut off a kettle at a user specified temperature.

    i’d imagine an actual electrical engineer would know a more elegant solution – like some kind of temperature sensitive variable transistory thing.

    #2

    i’m pretty sure that most kettles use pressure and the gas laws to shut off near the desired temperature (which i’m quite sure exceeds 100C by how the water behaves at this point). my reasoning is simple but weak – if i open the top of a kettle whilst its boiling then it never shuts off. i’ve not seen a kettle that doesn’t exhibit this behaviour.

    this is a repeatable experiment but i haven’t actually examined anything to determine what the mechanics are behind it… basically i’m curious if the bimetallic strip described relies on the pressure somehow too because the idea of it being triggered by heat is at odds with my experiences.

    now i have to resist the temptation to take apart my own kettle just to find out how it works. :)

    Reply
    1. Chewxy (or The Doctor)

      You’re correct. Many kettles do use pressure to unlatch the latches. I don’t think mine does though, because where the latch is sealed from contact from anywhere except that trigger.

      That said, you SHOULD open your own kettle to have a look. For most kettles, the switches can be carefully removed from the sealing gasket/washer. I took a dremel to mine before realizing that it can very easily be dislodged without a saw.

      Reply
  19. hemmy

    If you haven’t already made a purchase (and you’re still considering one), you should consider a Bonavita variable temperature kettle. They’re the preferred choice of many coffee professionals, as (in addition to variable temp control) they have a gooseneck design that gives you much greater control when brewing with pour-over methods.

    Reply
  20. leoc

    I use the Cuisinart CPK17U, the CPK-17′s 3kW UK sibling. Frankly I selected it because it’s the temperature-adjustable kettle which seems to have the fewest customer reports of leaking at the base. This seems to be their bane – I got the Cuisinart to replace a Morphy Richards kettle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00275FV50 when it started to do just that. (The stainless steel version of the Morphy Richards might be the nicest-looking temperature-adjustable kettle, but among its other faults it’s now out of stock.)

    Reply
  21. dak

    I think the dominant maker of electric kettle controls is Strix, a UK company.
    You can find out some about their products here:
    http://www.strix.com/product/prodek03.php

    They have many types, including a temperature measuring, electronic control. A typical control contains several thermostats – a main control thermostat, a boil-dry shut-off thermostat and a safety over-temp thermostat. The main control thermostat is often operated by steam, ducted from the boiling vessel into the thermostat housing.

    Someone made a suggestion to alter the kettle operation point by bending the thermostat. I advise against that because you’re very unlikely to get it right, but stand a high chance of damaging the thermostat to the point of uselessness, and there is potential to introduce a safety fault as well.

    Reply
  22. Kettle lover

    I bought a Cuisinart last year when I saw it was the kettle used at the mathematics department of my university — lots of tea drinkers there, so it sees a lot of use and has been there for years.

    I don’t recommend the Zojirushi kettles at all. I bought one when I came back from Japan, it broke within two years. I bought another one, same story. The stuff sold in America under the Zojirushi brand doesn’t see the same kind of quality control as the products for domestic use, I would believe.

    Reply
    1. VJGoh

      The thermoses are still great. But I got mine off of Amazon, and the packaging was still all Japanese, so it was probably the real deal.

      Reply
  23. VJGoh

    I have the Cuisinart and it works really well. Just be aware that it only took a few months before the labels had been rubbed off the buttons by our thumbs. We use the kettle about 4-15 times a day, though. (The high end happens when someone has a cold.)

    If you’d like to know about why the kettles cost that much, this podcast on the Psychology of Price that aired on the CBC last week probably explains a lot: http://www.cbc.ca/undertheinfluence/season-3/2014/01/11/the-psychology-of-price-1/

    Reply
  24. Russell

    Probably being stupid but could you boil the water and then do a countdown – does the temperature go down over time in a predictable fashion?

    Reply
    1. Chewxy (or The Doctor)

      Too many variables for that: external temperature is a huge factor, so is humidity and wind speed

      Reply
      1. Russell

        Still likely being stupid but in my house at least all these factors are not so variable. Especially wind speed!

        Reply
  25. hugh

    Using a PID controller seems ridiculously over the top, you could easily do it with a relay, an op-amp, a NTC resistor and a variable resistor to dial up the temperature you wanted i.e. just a P controller. Of course, if you’re trying to show off then PID is the only way to go.

    Reply
  26. At wendel

    The only reason a good kettle costs what it does is that there are enough people willing to pay that price. Production cost is secondary and not even a close second.

    Reply
  27. dundun

    About your Tesla analogy: The usage of digital panels in a car is not all just bells and whistles. Tesla is able to (and does!) upgrade the functionality of the car over-air in ways that would never had been possible without a flexible control panel.

    For example, the Model S has gotten a creep mode, hill start assist, new ride height options, new charging options and many other enhancements since released – all of which has been delivered over the air to all existing customers.

    Reply
    1. The Doctor

      Those are software and can be done without having a touch-screen front panel. I upgrade my servers all the time, and the servers are headless – no UI whatsoever. I don’t see why having a touchscreen control panel is even remotely a good idea.

      Don’t get me wrong – I really love Teslas. I think they’re very much the future. Maybe if there were a self-driving Tesla, then a touchscreen control panel makes sense. Otherwise it’d be a hazard trying to change the radio or adjust the temperature control while driving.

      Reply
  28. sfosparky

    Why does something as simple as a kettle cost $90 or more? Because we live in a world of lies. That lie is known as marketing.

    Modern manufacturing processes are such that within a few years at most, the costs of setting up a facility to make top of the line kettles, or cars, or indeed pretty much anything, have long since been recovered. At that point it becomes completely possible to sell extremely well made products at such a low cost that all but the very poorest customers can afford the best.

    For the marketing mind that is a problem. It means that many customers are buying a high quality product AND also walking away with money in their pocket. It’s that “surplus” money that marketing exists to capture.

    To capture it, marketing creates the illusion of value where none actually exists. “Branding” are one key component of the lie, artificial pricing tiers are another, features shuffling is yet another. The reality of modern manufacturing is that manufacturer will actually spend money withholding relatively inexpensive assembly processes simply to further the illusion that more expensive products cost not only more, but a non-linear amount more. Simply put, marketing and advertising strive endlessly to create the illusion that overpaying for things makes sense.

    Marketing’s central goal is to maximize revenue, period. (Doubters of that should please explain why they believe that marketing would strive to minimize revenue, or even strive to be indifferent to it.)

    We live in a world of lies. And so we end up with $10 worth of parts and $10 worth of assembly costs retailing for $90 or more.

    Reply
    1. The Doctor

      I have a very much different view. Marketing is necessary. In fact Marketing is in my opinion, what builds today’s civilization. You can create a panacea for all the world’s ails and yet if nobody buys it from you, you haven’t changed the world. The very act of telling people that you have created a panacea is in fact marketing. So why not take it to more logical extremes?

      Branding is also quite important in terms of signalling. Imagine if you will, a village that has 5 blacksmiths. All of which are identical nondescript houses. One of the blacksmiths has a 50% chance of just taking your money and never returning anything. Sooner or later, his ill reputation builds up and the local villagers know to avoid him. He’s just built a negative brand for himself. Brands are signals as much as big buildings are signals that banks won’t run on people.

      Marketing as we know it today does not strive to maximize revenue. That’s kinda the job of the firm. Modern marketing simply takes all what I just mentioned and takes them to logical extremes. Which is, as appalled as I am to say, the rational thing to do.

      I had addressed the issues of markups rather implicitly in this blog post, leading many people to think I don’t actually understand that markups are standard. That is a rather unfortunate artifact of my writing style, of which I shall strive to improve in the future. So I ask you this: surely you cannot be expecting to pay $10 for a kettle that costs $10 to make? If that is the case, then there would be no kettle makers because there is no profit to be derived (and like any other economist, here’s my “on the other hand”: On the other hand, it might actually be an interesting new shift of economic paradigm to want no profit).

      Reply
  29. Glen

    I come to the conclution along time ago that you often just pay for the name better the marketing the more people want that brand hence higher the price. Look at apple computers they don’t really do what there designed to do any better than a cheaper PC but people just belive the hype around apple products. Keeping up the jones also plays it someone they know buys a apple product they have to buy one too.

    Reply
  30. BSMSnudge

    Stainless electric kettle 2 liter capacity, fittings are ceramic and stainless, auto off and built like a brick outhouse, 9.00 in Yiwu City, China, matching bombproof toaster with no electronics just old school type controls, 7.30 at the same place.
    Modern kettles are ridiculously priced but do manage to bring a large profit to corporate sellers, which is of course their primary interest. It is of no interest to them that your kettle only lasts a short while, the built in obsolescence guarantees them a sale down the road.
    If this isn’t bad enough you sure don’t want to know how much mark up there is in a typical designer watch as it’s eye watering and makes the kettle sellers look like amateurs.
    I know of not one thing that is priced fairly, all items are set to sell at “what the market will bear”, and nothing to do with value or actual cost.

    Reply
  31. Mick

    Well it’s not just production costs.
    To bring the product to market would involve shipping costs , wholesale margin then retail margin. You probably should have just bought a new kettle and not spent so much time analyzing :-) but hey was a great read

    Reply
  32. Josh Harness

    Very detailed analysis! I always wondered why these were so pricy. I have the Hamilton beach you mentioned and, besides an odd ui, think it’s great. The timer is especially handy and gives me piping hot water for my siphon or chemex before I wake.

    Next you need to write an article about why gooseneck kettles cost so much :)

    Reply
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