February 2, 2014
I’ve written before of my attempts at home and car improvement, and in January I had two opportunities for such projects. I did one for the most part by myself, but the other was mostly done by John Henderson, the husband of Betty Henderson, who has been a teaching colleague of mine for the past 25 years. Betty and John are both generous folks, and when they purchased a new home with its own permanent dishwasher, they no longer needed their portable unit. Betty offered the unit to me, knowing that the old HotPoint unit in the galley kitchen at Meador Manor still worked but had odor problems. I am truly thankful she also offered John’s services in installing the new unit; this Mr. Fix-It needed the help.
That Stinking Dishwasher
I did a very minor repair to the old HotPoint dishwasher when I bought my home twenty years ago; the racks were bulging with rust and I was able to purchase new ones. Some years ago I began having odor problems with the kitchen sink and slowly realized it was not just the garbage disposal but water caught in the drain line from the dishwasher. That line had been strung up into an inverted U where it connected to the garbage disposal, but it had been hung from flexible wire which had finally given way. I strung the hose back up by tying it to a water line. This made the odor less horrible, but I still had to run the dishwasher half empty sometimes because it just stunk up the place.
So I was hopeful the new unit would have better drainage, but also trepidatious about what it might take to get a portable unit to install under my kitchen counter. That concern was justified; the installation took many hours as we puzzled through it, and wasn’t finalized until I received a few parts some days later.
Removing the Old Unit
I used a YouTube video to guide me in removing the old HotPoint unit. It was right on point, reminding me to unplug the unit from the electrical outlet under the sink. Then I disconnected the drain line from the garbage disposal, removed the low panel below the dishwasher door, and disconnected the copper hot water line and the rubber drain line underneath the dishwasher.
Next I removed the hangers connecting the dishwasher to the underside of the kitchen counter, and lowered the leveling legs on the front of the dishwasher to provide clearance. I put a big piece of cardboard down on the floor and pulled the old unit out from the cabinetry. Once I could reach them, I lowered the leveling legs on the back of the unit, and pulled it all of the way out. I drug it out into the garage to await a spring clean-up day when the city will hopefully haul off old appliances.
It was fun to make a couple of discoveries in the slot where the dishwasher had been. The installer had left a screwdriver under it years ago, and there was also some of the old original sheet vinyl kitchen flooring under there. Wow – my house was built in 1981 and that original floor had a definite 1970s vibe. It had been replaced with newer sheet vinyl by 1994, and a few years ago I pulled that out and put in self-stick tiles. They gap a bit these days, but they still look a lot better than the sheet vinyl did.
Stripping the Portable Unit of its Cover and Base Frame
John and Betty arrived and we unloaded the new portable unit, made by Whirlpool. I helped John remove the wood top and outer cabinet, and he cut the drain and feeder hoses off the connector which fitted them to a sink for portable use. He said his father had installed a portable dishwasher into a house before, so he knew it could be done.
I was glad to see a nice tall inverted U for the dishwasher drain hose, built right into the side of the unit, which would keep water from backflowing. A permanent dishwasher does not use a base frame and counterweight, instead resting on leveling legs and using hangers to secure it to the countertop.
We took the unit off the base frame, but found there were only leveling legs on the front of the portable unit; the back end had slots where some sort of legs or supports might attach, but they were absent. When shoved under the counter, there was now a big gap between the top of the unit and the countertop.
John called his father to see what he had done with the other portable dishwasher back in the day, and he said he had left it in its case with the counterweight. So we reattached the base frame and counterweight. I pulled off the casters and John snipped large holes in the metal cover to allow the drain and feeder hoses to pass through the right side so they could go through into the kitchen sink cabinet on the right side.
But, alas, the portable dishwasher on its frame and in its cabinet would not fit under the counter anymore, even with the top removed. We were truly chagrined when we found that even when sitting on its base frame without the cover, it was still too tall to fit into the slot beneath the counter. Now what?
Looking for Help
I tried finding information on the Whirlpool website about converting a portable dishwasher for permanent installation, but only found an expensive conversion kit which I was uncertain would work on our unit. So we decamped to Lowe’s to see if they could help. Their Whirlpool catalog showed an undercounter mounting kit, but again we couldn’t tell if it would truly work with our unit.
Then we went to Teco appliances, where the Hendersons bought the unit a few years ago. They couldn’t help regarding the lack of back legs, but I noticed their regular Whirlpool dishwashers on display, of similar design to the portable unit, had some front hangers that looked like they would work with our unit. It had no hangers, but did have two slots in the metal where hangers might fit.
So Teco ordered two of the hangers, apologizing that because the part was not a commonly needed item, they could only order it for $7 each as part of an assembly, which is of course a huge markup. I did not care about that, wanting to get the unit bolted to the countertop without devising a hanger of my own making.
Building A New Base
So we now would have a way to connect the dishwasher to the countertop, but needed to lift it without using its own frame. John measured the cabinet and the dishwasher and decided we could buy a piece of plywood of appropriate thickness, cut it to fit, and screw the dishwasher and counterweight to that wood so the unit would slide into the slot and be at the right height.
So we returned to Lowe’s, had the wood cut, and bought screws. We also bought some new connectors to allow us to extend the dishwasher drain hose to reach the garbage disposal and also connect its water line to the copper line in the cabinet. Back at the Manor, John drilled holes in the metal and plastic edges of the dishwasher’s bottom edge so we could screw it into the wood, struggling because I only had very old drill bits at home and some were too dull to cut through the metal. But he found a decent bit and John was able to connect the dishwasher and the counterweight to the new plywood base.
We got the unit inserted and it was just about right, with the top resting close to the bottom of the countertop. The counterweight meant the unit would not start walking when used, so we hooked up the hoses and set it running. Success!
John and Betty were finally able to leave, having invested much more time in getting rid of that portable dishwasher than they had to. I was still concerned about the drain line, given the long history of odors. Even though there was a tall inverted U for it in the side of the dishwasher, we had not elevated the drain hose above the inlet into the garbage disposal.
I figured disposal waste could backflow into the drain hose and get to stinking, so I bought some more hose and connectors and a pipe bracket and put a tall inverted U in the drain hose as it exited the garbage disposal, using the pipe bracket to hold it up high against the cabinet wall just under the sink. The double traps should keep the stink to a minimum.
A few days later the front hangers arrived at Teco. I picked them up and pulled out my dishwasher, inserted the hangers in the slots and bent a metal tab to hold them in place. Then I shoved the dishwasher back in as far as possible and used spare unused floor tiles to shim up the front of the unit until it was flush against the bottom of the counter. I screwed the hangers into the underside of the counter and then used a reciprocating saw to remove the part of the hangers sticking out beyond the edge of the counter.
Putting It to the Test
I’ve been steadily filling the unit with dirty dishes, but it has taken me awhile to fill it since the racks are so much better designed than the old HotPoint unit. They hold far more glasses up top and plates and bowls down below than the old unit did. They save room by putting the silverware in a door rack, which you can remove to empty it, although I find that harder to empty than the old unit’s silverware bucket.
When I finally had a full load, I popped in some detergent, and set it to work. The new unit says it reduces typical energy consumption by 40% but in doing so extends the time for a cycle to several hours. They recommend using the Rinse Aid to help compensate for less energy use in drying the dishes, although I ran the unit without it and it did fine. So far there has been zero odor from the unit or the sink, so this project was a definite win.