(Bloomberg) — Britain’s cost of living crisis is claiming another casualty: the Aga.
More and more families are removing their Agas as rocketing energy prices make the cast-iron ovens expensive to operate. Originally designed to burn coal and be switched on 24/7, the Aga is an energy guzzler and now even owners of more modern electric models are finding them too costly.
Jack O’Dwyer, a Blackpool-based oven remover, has taken out 35 Agas this year and received at least 100 phone calls from people across the country looking to sell. Others are seeking to have them removed for free as they can’t afford the roughly £500 ($579) charge to remove them.
O’Dwyer says he won’t buy Agas from their owners as he isn’t confident he could find a buyer. One recent client was paying £10 a day to run her brand new electric Aga and had it removed after just six months, he says.
“It’s always a dream come true for people to have them but it’s just crucifying that they can’t hold onto them,” said O’Dwyer. “£70 a week is outrageous for a cooker.”
The Aga was originally designed in Sweden but has a huge following in the UK, with some owners naming their ovens and considering them part of the family. Available in a range of colors, Agas can have as many as five ovens at different temperatures and two hobs.
The unusual always-on functionality lets them use indirect radiant heat to cook food and means you don’t have to wait for an oven to preheat. They have been made in Telford, England, since the 1940s and are a status symbol in rural family homes.
A Facebook group entitled I love my Aga! has 16,800 members and currently the community is sharing advice on how best to save energy while running the appliance. O’Dwyer has seen owners moved to tears when he’s had to remove their beloved Aga.
Julie Bradbury, a married mother of two in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is studying how much energy her electric Aga uses in order to decide whether to keep it. Even with a new package of support for households from Liz Truss’s government, her energy costs have still doubled since this time last year “which isn’t inconsequential,” she said.
“It’s not just an oven,” said Bradbury, who uses her Aga, dubbed ‘The Blue Baby’ for its duck egg hue, to dry laundry and iron clothes. “Agas become a significant part of your life. It would be a big loss.”
To be sure, owners of Agas, which cost thousands of pounds, aren’t typically the biggest victims of a cost-of-living crisis which is hitting everything from gas to basic groceries. Some of the most cash-strapped people are increasingly turning to food banks and using buy-now-pay-later loans for essential purchases. Many this winter may face a choice between heating their home or eating three meals a day.
Invented 100 years ago, the Aga was bought by US kitchen equipment maker Middleby Corp. in 2015. It has been compared to the Coca-Cola bottle or the VW Beetle as a design icon.
The company now mostly sells the electric version after its kerosene and gas models faced criticism for their contribution to global warming. Brand new Agas cost around £15,000 with some people likening the purchase to a car rather than an oven. Second hand they can still sell for £5,000.
Glenn Bing, an independent Aga engineer based in Kent, has been removing them at the rate of about one a week this year. That’s around the same rate at which he’s converting gas and oil Agas to electric. Bing has 30 Agas flat-packed in his warehouse that he’s removed from people’s homes and plans to resell them.
The trend has “definitely got to be related to the cost of living,” said Bing. “Most of it is people moving to a new house with an Aga and thinking this is going to cost a fortune to run, let’s get rid of it .”
Middleby and Telford-based Aga did not respond to requests for comment.
Even the electric version of the Aga isn’t necessarily energy efficient. Unlike the gas and oil forms, it can be turned on for cooking, but takes up to 70 minutes to reach temperature and Bing recommends only switching it off for periods of longer than three hours.
Those who are sticking with their Agas are looking at other coping methods. Some are keeping them switched off for longer into the winter months after a typical summer period lying dormant. Andy Cook, a Hertfordshire-based engineer, is recommending clients run their Agas on a lower heat and take slightly longer to cook. Cook tries to persuade owners to keep them and buy alternative cookers like air fryers to use temporarily.
“I might get one call a week asking how much does it cost to take out,” said Cook. “If you’re a young family with an Aga and the costs are rocketing, you can understand that, but as a brand name it’s still wanted in the kitchen.”