Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How not to replace your dishwasher

Here is a fun and cautionary tale of my first experience in installing a home appliance! If you are looking for valuable tidbits of advice and not an epic narrative, scroll down to the bottom for my hard-won conclusions!

I knew from Day 1 that the dishwasher in my new house didn't work. Fortunately, my house came with a home warranty, and I had high hopes that I'd be able to use said warranty to get the dishwasher replaced. Supposedly, after you pay a 100$ deductible per service visit, this home warranty pays for the repair of mechanical failures of appliances and certain other things. However, it rarely pays for what you need it to pay for, and I caught on to that pretty quickly after reading just a few reviews of the warranty company online.

So, I got a little insurance for my warranty: I bought a used dishwasher on Craigslist for 40 dollars. My plan: I would call the warranty company and have someone come out to look at the dishwasher. If the warranty wouldn't cover its replacement (not just repair, because this dishwasher was so rickety and rusty and horrendous that I didn't want to use it even if it could be fixed), then I'd ask him to install the new dishwasher for me.

Sadly, that didn't work out. He ran the old dishwasher, explained that the machine was working but not draining, that fixing the drain hose would not be covered by the warranty, and that he couldn't install the other dishwasher OR disconnect the old one unless I wanted to pay a couple hundred dollars for the service. I didn't. I sent him on his way, and resigned myself to learning how to install a dishwasher.

One of my friends, who had never installed a dishwasher either, but was inexplicably interested in the "learning opportunity," offered to help. So together, armed with an arsenal of YouTube videos and step-by-step internet articles, we began. For those who are as clueless about dishwashers as I was before I began this, the installation of a dishwasher is a theoretically simple task. It involves connecting 3 wires, one hot water supply hose, and one wastewater drain hose. We already had the supply hose and the drain hose from the previous dishwasher, so all we really needed to do was disconnect them from the old dishwasher and reconnect them to the new one. My friend was confident that we were going to be able to do it. I was equally confident that everything was going to go wrong. I'll let you decide who was more right.

Installation attempt 1

We had all the tools needed for a proper installation, except for electrically. Since I didn't have a circuit tester, we just had to trust that I'd actually found the right breaker down at the circuit box. My friend had lots of fun pretending to be electrocuted when he went to disconnect the old wiring. Ha ha. 

When we got the old dishwasher disconnected and went to put the new one in its place, we ran into some problems, some of which just involved annoying amounts of extra labor. This is going to be a long story, so I'll spare you all the agonizing details, but the most serious problem was that the drain hose that we had was too big for the drain outlet stub on the new dishwasher. There was a second, capped stub that was a better size, but we didn't know what to do with the smaller one of we opened that one. We tried a series of solutions including cannibalizing a bit of hose from part of the old dishwasher, which we thought could be used as an adapter. Unfortunately, all it did was come apart the moment we put the new dishwasher back into its space. I can't even remember all the things we tried to make this too-small stub fit the too-big hose, but I do know that none of them worked, and after a couple of hours monkeying away, we gave up.

At this point, I turned the water to the sink back on and noticed the flow had decreased dramatically, as if my house were deliberately rubbing salt in my wounds. Fortunately the flow spontaneously returned to almost normal after a few hours.

Installation attempt 2

The next week, I went to a plumbing supply store and bought two parts, at a cost of 18 dollars, to try and solve the problem. They didn't. But they did cause me to close my water shutoff valves a second time, and this time, the water never started flowing again! I waited a day and then reluctantly called the warranty company to get me a plumber.

Installation attempt 3

Surprise! The warranty didn't cover the cost of fixing the sink, but the plumber was nice enough to take some time to do it as an independent contractor. He even tried to help me with the dishwasher. He didn't have any trouble connecting the too-large drain hose (he just kept clamping it until it was snug—Occam's Razor in action!) but when we ran the dishwasher, we found it was leaking from someplace other than either of the drain outlets. Fail! Again! He advised me to just get a new dishwasher, because even if we could find the source of the leak, this one was old as the hills and probably not long for this world. 

So let's take a step back and tally what this dishwasher issue had cost me so far: 40 for the dishwasher, 18 for the useless parts, and innumerable hours (OK, probably around 4) that we'll never get back! Also 220 dollars for the plumbing work that wouldn't have been necessary if I hadn't been constantly fiddling with the shutoff valves while failing to install the dishwasher. We're up to 278 dollars. 

Installation attempt 4

Having thrown away 278 dollars, I was especially resistant to buying a full-price dishwasher and bringing my grand total to around 700 dollars, so I started shopping around for used dishwashers again, this time at actual stores that have a return policy. I found Community Forklift, which is a local store selling reused construction materials and appliances. They were having a 30-percent-off sale, so I booked it over there and found a large selection of dishwashers of various ages! One of them looked newish, came with both a supply hose and a drain hose, and was only 25 dollars, so I bought it for 18 dollars (after discount) and prepared myself for another round. P.S. I'm totally sold on shopping at Community Forklift for all my future home-improvement needs.

This time, having a new drain hose that came with the second new dishwasher, I knew I had to disconnect the old drain entirely. I had learned in the research phase of this project that there's a plug inside the garbage disposal, where the dishwasher drain connects, and it has to be removed before hooking up a dishwasher. Part of me suspected that it hadn't been, but I'd ignored the disposal end of things during my previous attempts because I felt like the disposal was too far back in the sink and would be hard to access. But I knew I couldn't ignore it any more. And, surprise! It wasn't actually hard to access at all. And, surprise again! The disposal plug was indeed still intact, meaning that we could have installed brand new dishwashers until kingdom come and they never would have drained. Sigh.

I read a couple of tutorials on how to remove the dishwasher plug from a disposal that was already installed, and, feeling confident that I could do it, followed the instructions. But then, once the plug had been knocked into the body of the disposal, I couldn't find it! I reached around with my hand, digging into the slime of disposed items past, and there was no plug. No bits of plug. Nothing. But when I ran the disposal, I could hear it grinding raucously like it was about to explode! Thinking that maybe the plug had somehow gotten into the motor of the disposal, I removed the unit entirely with the help of still more tutorials. I shook it upside-down. Nothing. I looked inside. Nothing. I looked inside with a flashlight. Nothing. I turned the rubber drain cover completely inside out, looked inside with a flashlight again, and finally found the little plastic piece of drain plug trapped between a blade and the wall of the disposal. Once I knew where it was, it was simple to get out—I definitely hadn't needed to remove the entire mechanism.

By this time, my partner in appliance installation had arrived for our 3rd joint attempt, so he helped me put the disposal back, and we set out to install the dishwasher.

Annoyingly, the supply hose that had come with the dishwasher was the wrong size for our plumbing, so we had to painstakingly remove the 90-degree fitting (that's a thing in dishwashers) from the second dishwasher, where we'd haphazardly installed it after removing it from the first dishwasher, and jam it into place on the third dishwasher. Of course it took several attempts to get that right. Fortunately we were old pros at hooking up the drain line by this time, so that part was a piece of cake. Then it was finally time to run the dishwasher. And it worked! It didn't leak! It drained! It seemed perfect! Except for one little thing. 

It wasn't secured to the countertop, and consequently fell out of its cubby whenever the door was opened too vigorously. And of course, it was a tad too tall, so when it was jammed into place, the door wouldn't shut any more. To make it fit, I decided to shave away some of the wood under the countertop. Since the dishwasher was already taking up most of the work space in that area, and there was no way I was going to unhook it another time, I had to find a way to do some extreme carpentry in a very small space. I ended up drilling a couple dozen holes into the wood, creating a line of perforations which weakened it to the point where my boyfriend could splinter it off using brute force and a screwdriver. It was messy. It was smelly (the wood burned when I drilled it). It took about an hour.
A closeup of our artistry
 And after all that work, I found that even though the dishwasher had some clearance under the counter now, the door still wouldn't shut when the unit was actually screwed into place! Forced to explore alternative solutions, I then discovered that the latch could be bent into a position that allowed the door to pass smoothly. Meaning I had just wasted half the morning mutilating my counter for no reason. 

The fruit of 3 weeks of labor
But after that, we were finally, well and truly, finished with the dishwasher. It works!
And I've learned a valuable lesson: Never try to install a dishwasher without professional help.

Haha, just kidding. I'd do it again...if someone held a gun to my head...but I'm sure it would be a lot easier the 5th time around, since I actually did learn some valuable lessons. Here they are.


1. If you're going to install a dishwasher for the first time, try to make it a new one that comes with a connection kit. When you don't know what you're doing, minor incompatibilities in parts can turn into total stumpers. And plus, if you are installing a new dishwasher, you can get phone support from the manufacturer.

2. If you are going to buy a used dishwasher, at least take the time to ask the seller some questions. Where's the drain hose? What size nut is on the water supply hose? What's this thing do? Sure, it can feel awkward to look like an idiot, but the awkwardness will be over soon, and you'll be much better prepared for the actual installation, which is the real hard part.

3. Don't assume something won't work without actually trying it. We never bothered to try to connect the drain hose to the small stub because I just assumed it would leak. But if we'd only tried that, the most obvious solution, from the beginning, we could have potentially saved ourselves hours of work and damage caused by repeatedly removing and replacing parts.

4. Likewise, don't assume something does work without testing it. If I hadn't been so afraid to take the drain hose off the garbage disposal right from the outset, I might have actually gotten the very first dishwasher to drain without having to go through Four Impossible Installation Attempts.

5. And lastly, if you're doing this installation in an old house, don't overtighten your water shutoff valves! Dealing with a little trickle of water during installation is preferable to having to replace your shutoff valves and faucet because you broke them.


Bob V said...

Great work! In spite of your troubles, you saved a lot of money. And since you got it done, I'd have to say your friend (who sounds like a smart, helpful, and handsome guy) was right.

Anonymous said...

OMG I witness the same issue at a house that I am currently occupying, having to put things yourself without professional help is annoying.