Utter Dish-may

(Last in a series of home appliance installation challenges…)

I mentioned in a recent post the joy (insert eye roll) a fairly simple dryer-maintenance project brought. Undaunted by that calamity, I gamely moved on to tackle the long-delayed installation of a new dishwasher.

Some background: the new dishwasher had been sitting in its original packaging, in our storage shed, since I bought it ONE YEAR AGO. The old dishwasher worked, technically — I mean, the water ran and the arm spun around and it probably *would* have cleaned the dishes if the racks weren’t completely rusted out. “Why didn’t you just replace the racks?” you are asking me telepathically right now. Have you ever priced replacement dishwasher racks? Surprisingly, they can be nearly half the cost of a brand-new machine. Considering the dishwasher was well into its dotage, it made little sense to spend that much on replacement parts for something that would likely die a painful death right in the middle of our next Thanksgiving dinner. Last year I saw that Sears was having a great sale on appliances so I bought: a replacement for an oven that randomly re-set its temperature mid-bake (I didn’t notice there were two small pieces of packing tape affixed to the heating element in the new unit, so the first time we turned on the oven the house filled with the smell of smoldering plastic and adhesive; I think we’ve gotten used to it by now since remnants of the tape are still welded to the bottom of the oven), a new under-the-counter microwave (I didn’t really pay attention to the “how to measure for your new microwave” guide on the Sears website and purchased a unit large enough to defrost a 20-pound turkey; if you want to see what’s happening on the stove top you have to step back from the microwave and crane your neck to one side to bring the burners and control panel into your line of sight), and… what was I talking about? Oh, yes — and the dishwasher.

After making those purchases last year I thought I’d get all three appliances installed one upcoming weekend when our son Josh was going to visit. According to various videos I watched online, the oven should have taken twenty minutes and the microwave and dishwasher an hour or so each. A half-day’s effort for a dramatically improved kitchen — easy peasy. Josh and I started with the oven. That job was complicated by an awkward placement since there’s an island directly across from the stove leaving a space barely wider than the open oven door. But we got that done and moved on to the microwave. I’ll give credit to the directions for that one — the manufacturer supplied a template to tape on the wall making it very clear where to drill holes and affix the necessary hardware for a snug installation. I had to drill a hole in the bottom of one cabinet to snake the power cord through and didn’t have a large enough drill bit, so I utilized a carpentry technique I call “what the hell” to make multiple overlapping holes and trust that somewhere in there was enough clearance to push the plug through. The good news — it resulted in a sufficiently sized opening. The bad news — I ended up spewing particle board detritus all over the kitchen not once, not twice, but three times. [BTW – did you notice our error here? Why would we have put in the new oven before installing the new microwave above it? Because idiocy is a genetic trait from my side of the family.]

We’d had enough of home improvement after wrestling with those two tasks and moved on to beer consumption for the remainder of the day before Josh needed to head home. The dishwasher continued to sit in its packaging in the shed… silently judging me every time I walked past it, season after season. I couldn’t motivate myself to get started with the job, and besides there were so many other projects to overwhelm us undertake around the house. We continued to wash our dishes by hand (#FirstWorldProblems). This past weekend, Josh was coming up for another visit and I asked for his able assistance to finally get it done, which he said he would gladly provide. After a relaxing family meal on Friday night, it was early to bed so we could get started first thing Saturday morning.

When Josh hadn’t emerged from the guest room by noon I started to remove the old dishwasher myself. I’d actually replaced a dishwasher before, years ago, in our house in South Carolina. That task was complicated by the fact that we’d put in a tile countertop, adding a border that hung down over the top of the old appliance, and had also laid a hardwood floor that was higher than the original linoleum. That meant the dishwasher was boxed in top and bottom — I couldn’t chip away the tile and I couldn’t remove the flooring. It was a long time ago but I’m fairly certain I just set my phaser on “stun” and evaporated the old appliance, leaving a nice, neat space for the new one.

But back to the task at hand: I struggled to get the old dishwasher out because of various non-code-compliant decisions the prior homeowner made during its original installation. Once I addressed the various hang-ups (and yes, I remembered to flip the breaker and turn off the water… shortly after I got started), I was able to free the old appliance. As it slid back away from its home under the counter, I saw an empty Milky Way wrapper on top of it… the little bite-sized ones you give out for Halloween. “How’d that get in there?” I wondered. I figured whoever installed the machine had been chomping on some candy and just lazily dropped the wrapper on top before sliding the dishwasher in place. But then I saw another wrapper, and another, and… then I saw a boatload of them behind the machine. Along with a small mountain of mouse turds. Looking like a collection of broken pencil leads, they were piled up along the back edge of the opening where there was a gap between the wall and floor, as well as where there was room around the hole through which the electrical wiring had been brought up from the crawlspace. By this time Josh had emerged from hibernation, so he helped me carefully bring the dishwasher outside so we could cart it to landfill. Then Carol and I tackled removal of the mouse droppings. That was a whole lot of fun. The final steps were to mop mop mop the area with disinfectant and Murphy’s Oil Soap. I wanted to let that area dry out completely before proceeding, so that was the end of what we could accomplish on Saturday. Josh was going home that evening, thinning our ranks in the middle of the battle.

Sunday brought a new day but a few lingering turds. I carefully vacuumed out all the crevices (THAT bag was hermetically sealed before going into the trash) until I was satisfied the area was now waste-free, and then stuffed steel wool in the various crevasses (crevassi?). Finally it was time to get started with the new install. I opened the box and there it was, free at last — a brand-new-yet-one-year-old Kenmore dishwasher. The sheet on top of the contents said to “carefully” open the dishwasher door and remove the installation instructions and assorted other parts. I put my hand on the door latch and pulled and… nothing happened. The door wouldn’t open; nothing clicked or seemed to release. I tried again with the same result. I pulled harder — it wouldn’t budge. Carol tried to coax it open with no luck. I dialed the Sears “Installation Hotline” number and spoke with a very pleasant man who essentially told me to… yank on the door. I did — it opened. I thanked him for his help and he kindly waited almost until I’d hung up the phone before laughing at me.

Now I had the installation booklet in hand and began to review the steps required. The twenty-six pages of steps required. Twenty-six pages to explain how to connect the water source, connect the drain hose, connect the electricity, roll it in place and level it up. Certainly all of these steps must be done in a certain prescribed manner, both for safety’s sake as well as the efficient operation of the machine. But were TWENTY-SIX PAGES required to explain? Well, as I came to learn, this was because the author of the manual decided repetition was the key to success — several steps were repeated, occasionally in a different order. This, along with illustrations that were meticulous but rendered largely out of context with the surrounding components, left me unable to get my bearings to find anything I was supposed to be handling.

Typically, a set of instructions goes like this:

(If “Yes”, go to Step 4. If “No”, go to Step 7.)
9. (optional)
10. Turn it on.

These instructions went like this:

8. Before beginning this task, complete Step 3.
9. (optional)
10. Step 9 isn’t optional after all, so go back. Do not pass “Go”…

Among the first steps was a clear instruction to carefully lay the dishwasher on its back. Then you were supposed to hook up the drain hose and electrical wiring. However, there was no way in hell the drain hose or electrical wiring had enough play in them to reach their intended locations with the machine oriented that way. Sure enough, another ten pages in, the same steps were presented with the device pictured upright and rolled into the opening underneath the counter. Now, of course, the hose and wiring reached their proper points of connection. And now, of course, I was working in that small space underneath the machine where I could insert only three of five fingers, one hand at a time. The video I’d watched before getting started (which, as you may now realize, wasn’t all that helpful) was entitled, “Installing a Dishwasher in an HOUR!!!” Christ Almighty – it took me nearly forty minutes just to get the water source connected to the machine, a step complicated by the existence of copper, not flexible, tubing coming from under the sink. There were two pieces of drain hose to connect together, one running from under the sink and the other from the machine — but the end coming from the machine was tucked up along one side of the dishwasher (the sides now firmly encased in the cabinet space, since the instructions were to connect these two hoses after placing the machine in the opening) — so I rolled it back out, found the end of the hose, brought it down underneath the dishwasher, and rolled everything back into place to hook the two sections together. The electrical cable was a direct-line, not a grounded plug, so that led to some awkward wire-twisting, capping and taping done in a tight space underneath the machine up against the side of the cabinet. The last step was to “locate brackets on top of dishwasher and secure dishwasher to countertop with two, #10 x 1/2″ Phillips-head screws (included).” I had the two, #10 x 1/2″ Phillips-head screws (included) ready, but where were the brackets? Oh, there they were — located in the package of assorted parts provided for installation. If only the instructions had mentioned those brackets earlier on, say… before I’d connected the water, drain hose and electrical wiring. I disconnected everything, rolled the machine back out of the opening, slid the brackets into place on top of the dishwasher, rolled the machine back into the opening, reconnected the water, drain hose and electrical wiring (with the two functional fingers I now had remaining on each hand), and finally completed the installation (long after sunset). It’s a good thing the brackets were there to secure the dishwasher in place because otherwise I would have thrown the fucking thing right out the kitchen door.


One small leak-tweak later and this bad boy was operational — a mere one year and six hours after purchase. I told Carol this task marked my retirement from self-installation, no matter how “E-Z” the instructions say the job is going to be. From now on I’ll gladly pay the additional fee for professional assistance; whatever the cost it will be well worth the time saved and frustration avoided. I can use my newfound freedom in pursuit of other interests.

Such as my latest hobby — catching mice.

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