Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Dishwasher Breaks, Sort Of.

Older dishwashers don't break, usually, they just start to leak.

After breakfast today, Mark notices that the engineered hardwood flooring is warped and stained next to the dishwasher.   Hardwood floor in a kitchen, what could possibly go wrong?  If we ever replace this, we will put in tile.   Anywhere there is plumbing in your house, water will end up on the floor, either from splashing or the inevitable leaks.   There is no reason to put carpet or hardwood in such an environment.   Yet, we've owned houses with both.  Put in something waterproof.

I wrote about dishwashers before, how they are arguably a useless appliance, as they really don't get things "clean" but might cater to your phobias about germs.  It hurts your back to even think about bending over to load and unload them - and in every household, it is a passive-aggressive game to avoid loading it, and avoid unloading it.  Many people never put their dishes away, but use the dishwasher as a storage cabinet, running it occasionally and taking dishes in and out.  I know, gross, right?

Of all the appliances in the house, the dishwasher is one of the most fragile - usually the first or second to fail.  They are remarkably inexpensive to buy, and when you work on one, you realize why.   They are surprisingly flimsy - with plastic hoses, plastic cabinets, and a piece of rope attached to a spring to hold up the door.  Yet, they are engineered to last a decade or more, and then fail.  Considering all that, it is a pretty good job of Engineering.  For the buck, that is.

As I noted in earlier postings, our house was remodeled about 13 years ago, right before we bought it.  So all the appliances are the exact same age.  And given that the design life of an appliance is about 15 years, we are seeing them fail, one after the other, and the dishwasher is no doubt next.   First it was the disposal, which has a plastic housing and cracks over time, as I discovered by googling the problem.  I avoided the temptation to "upgrade" to a fancier one ("this time it will never break!") as I realized from experience that the fancier one wouldn't last longer, it would just break more expensive.

It is like our buggy.   The battery trays, after 19 years 24 years, rusted through, due to battery acid and a salt air environment.   Some folks would go overboard, fabricating stainless steel or aluminum trays, to make sure "it never happens again!"   But I was able to buy new trays for about $100 made of the same mild steel as the originals, which lasted nearly two decades, which is longer than I plan on keeping this buggy (indeed, longer that I may even be alive!) and certainly a more reasonable proposition for a $300 buggy.

I saw the same thing in online BMW forums.  Someone is replacing a decade-old part that simply wore out, and people online (who work for aftermarket parts companies) say, "You should buy the super-duper part made of unobtainium!  It will never break again!"   But the reality is, you might keep that car another 5-10 years, tops, and if you just replace it with the stock part, odds are, you will never replace that part again, either.   And oddly enough, the more plebian part can sometimes be more reliable, easier to install, and fit better.   A lot of this "upgrade" shit is not really an upgrade.  But I digress.

Anyway, after the disposal, it was the icemaker.  Do I replace it or install a cabinet or a wine cooler or what?  My neighbor was faced with the same dilemma - he opted to install a cabinet, as he never used the ice maker anyway.   Myself, I bit the bullet and bought a new one - a definite luxury item, and this time, I intend to maintain it religiously.

Then it was the washer and dryer.  Actually, those were not yet completely broken, although the washer was starting to do funny things and rust everywhere (a problem with appliances in the South, particularly near the coast, particularly in Florida).   So we bit the bullet and bought new ones, as part of a plumbing upgrade to the garage and laundry room.   By the way, I am pleased to report that I finally finished the sheetrocking, painting and wiring the lights.   It is nice to have a clean, well-lighted place to work in.  We donated the old washer and dryer to a local policeman who does work for veterans.

So that leaves the stove (getting pretty ratty) the microwave (hanging in there), the refrigerator (please, God, no!  They cost thousands today!), the dishwasher, the hot water heater, and the air conditioning system.

We both looked at each other and said, "the dishwasher is next!"   It has been behaving oddly - not draining all the way, not getting things really clean.  The cap to the "rise agent" bottle was melted, so when you put the rise agent in, it just leaks out all at once.

My experience with dishwashers has been not that they fail, but they start to leak, and when you look at how they are made, you understand why.  We unscrewed the two screws that hold it to the underside of the cabinet and rolled it out.  Yes, it has wheels, which tells you how often they expect you to roll it out, I guess.   The plastic drain pipe connecting it to the disposal was dry and brittle.  It wasn't leaking, but it is only a matter of time before that explodes.   You could replace it, I suppose, but there are a number of similar plastic hoses that snake around the inside of the washer that are equally as brittle.

Shutting off the water is always fun.  Every sink has shutoff valves, right?   Problem is, they are installed when the sink is originally installed (in our case, 13 years ago) and never used since.   And in most cases, including ours, they simply stop working.  Either they are rusted open, or the seals are so shot that when you turn it, nothing happens - except perhaps it leaks through the stem, so don't turn it if it won't turn easily.   They make patch-job valves you at attach to the broken valve, so you can shut off the water using the second valve (and just leave the old valve in place).   In our condo, there were a string of four such valves, each with an indication they had been dripping over the years.

And like the valves in the bar sink, whoever did the plumbing just let the pipes hang loose, so when you turn these valves, there is a 50/50 change you may break off a plastic pipe in the wall.   So anyway, I had to shut down the hot water in order to disconnect the dishwasher, as the shutoff valve under the sink was worthless.

The wiring was the next nightmare.  "Professionally Installed", the wiring was a plug, not hard-wired, and there was no wiring clamp holding this wire to the electrical box underneath the washer.  Yank on the plug, and you rip the whole wiring out.  Speaking of electrical box, it was missing as the "installer" decided, I guess, that it wasn't necessary and wires hanging down underneath was just peachy.  Trivial things, perhaps, but shit, you have one job to do, do it right.  Right?

We cleaned everything and re-installed the washer.  I removed the front kick-panel so I could see underneath and we placed sheets of paper towel underneath as a "tell-tale" to find leaks.  I find this is a good way to spot leaks under sinks and where you've been working on plumbing.

Sure enough, the plastic water line from the inlet solenoid valve makes a drip - but that isn't enough to cause the damage to the hardwood we are seeing.  I run the washer on super-heavy duty mode, and sure enough, we start to see a drip, drip, from the right front side of the door.   It doesn't take much water to make a big mess, particularly on the unsealed edges of engineered hardwood.

I will try adjusting and lubricating the seal and maybe putting a drip tray underneath there for the time being.   But down the road, we are looking at a new dishwasher.   Hopefully, Trump won't have put some sort of stupid tariff on them.

So what's the point?  The point is, a house is a collection of things - machines and structures that wear out over time.   It is not "The American Dream" and never was.   It is just a thing you will own for part of your life - an expensive thing that earns you no income and makes you little money.   In fact, it is a series of expenses over time, and if you are lucky, you may end up breaking even when it is all said and done.

If you are renting an apartment or townhouse or condo, don't think you are "missing out" on something by not owning it.   And in today's overheated real estate market, don't stress yourself financially for the "privilege" of owning a home.

And for God's sake, if you are going to own a house, learn how to be handy!

UPDATE:  A reader asks, "why not just remove the dishwasher and replace it with a cabinet?"  That is an interesting idea, but a house without a dishwasher would be considered "quirky" at least in this market and price range.   Plus, hiring a cabinet maker to make a matching cabinet (good luck with that!) would cost more than a new dishwasher.   Yes, you should keep your house in condition to sell at any moment  - because you may have to, someday.

So, it is like with the icemaker.  You could do without, but you are going to spend a lot to patch up the hole where the appliance was, and end up with a quirky house.  And your house, while it doesn't make you money, is a huge asset that should be taken care of.

I found the door seal to be covered with scale from hard water.  I will clean it with Lime-Away (from the dollar tree) and put some silicone on it.   It doesn't seem to be leaking - for the time being, anyway.   We'll keep monitoring it, but a new one is in the cards - along with a new kitchen floor.

Other people have told me horror stories about leaking dishwashers - where the intake valve leaked.  They went away for a few weeks, and came back to a flood and rotted floorboards.

Always turn off your water when you go away!  At least, I do.

UPDATE: Turns out there were two problems.  First, we have hard water and this made deposits on the seals.  Some Lime-A-Way (dollar tree) and gentle scrubbing cured this. I ran the washer with some Lime-A-Way in it and when it was done, it was spotless!  The stainless steel in the door was like a mirror!  Second, Mark has these cutting boards which are like plastic sheets.  If you put them in the washer, parallel to the door, they can get caught in the seals.  Anyway, upshot is, our Dishwasher isn't broken just yet, but it is getting old.  I found a new cap for the rinse agent dispenser on eBay for $10 (ouch!).  Not sure it did any good.  If the cap it not screwed in all the way it falls out and then melts on the heating element during the drying cycle.