My house and I are both in our early 50s and, to be totally honest, we could both use some work. In the spirit of the New Year, I’m resolving to fix things up around the house and around my waist. I’m making a list of 52 goals to accomplish over the next 52 weeks.
Think of this as part self improvement, part home improvement. One half bucket list and one half honey do list. Except, I plan to still be alive at the end of the year and I’m putting everything on the list myself. Anything I’ve been meaning to do but putting off or avoiding is fair game for the list. Major home projects, health goals, cooking, learning, athletics. Anything.
The first few weeks will be heavy on the home improvement. I can replace a garbage disposal in a weekend (hint), but I can’t lose 30 pounds in that time. Over the weeks, the goals should shift more towards my mind, body and soul.
Week 1 – The Garbage Disposal
I’d been thinking about doing this series for a while. I had a couple of ideas for the first post. I’d even started writing one. Then fate stepped in. My dishwasher died right after Christmas. Replacing it set off a chain of events that resulted in my having to replace my garbage disposal over the weekend.
How hard can that be? You just twist the disposal onto the sink mount, connect the dishwasher drain pipe, connect the U-bend, screw on 2 wire nuts and screw in the ground wire. Easy, right?
Wrong. Nothing is every easy in a 50 year old house. My rule of thumb is every repair requires 1 trip to Home Depot for every decade of age. This job was no exception.
BTW, I had already started planning a full kitchen remodel for the Spring. So when the dishwasher and the disposal went I replaced them with the cheapest units I could find. I wasn’t going to buy a high end dishwasher now, then try to design the new space around it in 3 months.
The first trip to Home Depot was to buy the new unit. They say to look for the silver lining in every cloud. At least now I have a disposal named after a viscous weasel.
I laid out all the parts and was ready to get started.
The first step was to remove the old unit. When I replaced the dishwasher, I found a slow leak out the back of the existing disposal. Whoever installed it had used a weird, flexible hose to connect it to the U-bend instead of the down-pipe that comes with a disposal. That hose had decayed causing the leak which then corroded the mount on the disposal.
The dishwasher drains through the disposal. The two are connected through a Y shaped junction called the “air gap”. That’s the little stumpy thing that sticks up at the back of your sink. The air gap prevents disasters if the disposal clogs while the dishwasher is draining and stops back-ups for getting into the washer.
Usually, I could have used the existing air gap. Unfortunately, it was so old and brittle that as I was disconnecting the old disposal, the air gap snapped in two and the Y shaped junction tubes hit me in the face. Oh boy, not a good start.
And that lead to the second trip to Home Depot. New air gap in hand, I was ready to get back to work.
Installing the new air gap was simple. Two radiator clamps and a plastic nut to hold it on the sink.
The disposal has a solid plug blocking the inlet for the dishwasher. If you’re not connecting the disposal to a dishwasher you leave it in place. If you are connecting a washer, you have to knock it out with a screwdriver. If you forget this step, you get a big surprise the first time you run your dishwasher.
BTW, Don Black, my high school shop teacher would roll over in his grave if he saw me using a screwdriver like this. His mantra was always, “A screwdriver is not a chisel.” But these plugs are actually designed to be knocked out with a screwdriver and very little force. The 3 pound sledge hammer in the picture was complete overkill. But it was the hammer I had out at the time.
This is a cable connector/strain relief for running the electric wiring into the disposal. It creates a firm connection between the disposal and the wiring so vibrations don’t wear through the wire’s insulation over time.
For some reason, these are only sold in packs of five. I needed one.
Next time four of my neighbors need to replace their disposals at once, I’ve got them covered.
The strain relief screw onto the bottom of the disposal. That was easy, too. I’m making great progress. I should be done with the job in another 10 minutes.
Oh crap. Now I know why the weird flexible hose was there. The down pipe from the new disposal doesn’t line up with the U-bend. There’s an inch and half gap horizontally between the down pipe and the bend. I’ve got to figure out some way to bridge it.
That lead to the third trip to Home Depot. I was looking for an extended down pipe or something. Came up dry there.
So I made a fourth trip, this time to Twins Ace Hardware. Twins isn’t as big as Home Depot and it’s further from my house, but its staff tends to be more knowledgeable than the people at Home Depot. I go to Twins every time I get into trouble on a job.
Vincent at Twins listened to my problem and looked at the pictures I’d brought in on my phone. He then told me that there was nothing like an extended down pipe or U bend. I was going to have to replace the whole U-bend assembly and make a new connection with the 1 1/2″ galvanized steel drain pipe at the wall.
He also told me he didn’t have the parts I needed and pointed me to Thos. Somerville plumbing supply distributor in Fairfax. That was at 6:00 pm on Friday. Somerville was already closed by then, so I was on hold till Saturday morning.
Trip five occurred at 7:45 am Saturday morning. I explained my problem to K.C. at Thos. Somerville. He looked at my pictures and told me I could remove the 90° bend, replace the U-bend with a P-trap and use a rubber coupling to attach that to the 1 1/2″ galvanized pipe.
10 minutes and $10 later, I was on my way.
I got home and took a pipe wrench to the 90° bend. Surprisingly, it came right off. Who ever had installed it had used Teflon tape, so it wasn’t welded onto the drain pipe.
But that left me with a new problem. The connector the bend was screwed into would not budge. I’m a big guy and I used all the might I have. It was unimpressed.
Thinking I might have to cut it off, I looked more closely at the pipe behind the connector. Now that the 90° bend was out of the way, I could see that that pipe wasn’t 1 1/2″ galvanized steel. It was 1 1/4″ copper!
The old disposal had been connected with that weird, out-of-code, flexible hose going to 1 1/4″ PVC going to 1 1/2″ steel going to 1 1/4″ copper. What a mess!
The one bit of upside is I was able to melt the solder holding the steel pipe to the copper using my propane torch. That saved me about an hour of laying on my back with a hack saw cutting through the pipe.
Unfortunately, it did mean trip six back to Thos. Somerville. The rubber coupling I’d bought was for connecting the 1 1/2″ steel to 1 1/4″ PVC. With the copper, it was 1 1/4″ straight through.
Thos. Somerville is fairly close to my house, though. It was just a 20 minute round trip to return the first coupling and get the right one.
With that switch I was finally able to complete the job. 2 days, 6 trips and over $100 later, my “quick, cheap, temporary” fix was finally done.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do next week. I’ve got jury duty the beginning of the week, so maybe write something on the criminal justice system or maybe start cleaning out my shop. Depends on if I get assigned to the trial of the century or released early.