January 2021 - Homeowner Newsletter
Welcome to the Homeowner’s Newsletter! Each month, you’ll find plenty of useful information for keeping your house in great condition so that you can enjoy it for years to come. Preserve your investment—and keep your family safe and healthy—by maintaining your home using the following tips.
How Does a Dishwasher Work?
Dishwashers are labor-saving and water-conserving appliances that were first invented in the U.S. in the 1850s. There are both portable units and permanently installed units that are found in most homes today.
Permanently installed dishwashers rely on the home’s electrical and plumbing systems, which is why their proper operation and maintenance are critical to household safety and trouble-free use.
A dishwasher operates with sprayed water using multiple cycles of washing and rinsing, followed by drying, using hot, forced circulated air. These cycles may be further distinguished according to length of cycle, power, and temperature.
Dishwashers are plugged into a dedicated electrical receptacle at the back of the unit, and usually plumbed into the home’s hot water supply, although the cold-water supply is also an option. This assures that the dishwasher’s load is optimally washed and rinsed using the maximum recommended temperature range of between 130° F and 170° F.
The dimensions of an average unit are 24×24 inches, although deluxe models may be wider and/or deeper to accommodate larger loads. Its interior components are typically made of stainless steel and/or plastic, and the exterior door may be metal, enamel-covered metal, or having a wood or wood-like veneer to match the decor of the kitchen cabinets.
Use, Maintenance and Precautions
Dishwasher-safe glasses, cups, plates, bowls, pots, pans and utensils, as well as some ceramic-ware and cutlery, are loaded into pull-out racks and baskets. They can be safely washed and rinsed in cycles that vary in intensity and length.
Many users rinse, soak or pre-treat cookware to remove solids and excess food waste before loading it in the dishwasher; this is a matter of personal preference, as well as how well the unit works on every day and heavy-duty loads, although waste that cannot be drained should be removed from dishware before the soiled items are loaded into the unit.
Dishwashers can also be used to effectively disinfect toothbrushes, infants’ plastic toys, formula bottles and synthetic nipples, and teething rings, as well as other household and personal hygiene items. However, extremely soiled items that encounter potentially hazardous or toxic materials, such as tools, gardening implements and the like, should not be washed in a dishwasher, as the toxic residue may not fully rinse out of the interior, which can contaminate future loads of dishware and utensils, as well as clog plumbing lines.
Soaps, pre-treaters and rinsing agents to prevent or eliminate water spots are available in a variety of costs, quality, and effectiveness. They also come in both powder and liquid form. Regardless of the type of detergent used, it should be specifically for dishwasher use only, as other soaps can leave behind residue, as well as create excess foam and leaks.
Maintenance is easy and can be done by running the unit through a hot-water cycle while it is empty, but this is only suggested following an especially dirty load where residue has not fully washed and drained for some reason.
Dishwashers should never be overloaded. Loads should be distributed and racked such that cleaning will be effective. It is recommended that plastic items be loaded into the unit’s top rack to avoid their encountering hot elements in the unit’s bottom and then melting or being jostled by the power of the sprayers and subsequently blocking them, which may prevent the water from reaching the unit’s entire load.
It is important to monitor the unit for failure to fully drain, as well as for leaks, excessive noise, and movement, and burning smells, which can indicate a burned-out motor, an issue with the plumbing connected to the unit, or a problem with its original installation. A qualified professional should evaluate a malfunctioning unit and perform any repairs.
Sinks are a category of plumbing fixtures that includes kitchen sinks, service sinks, bar sinks, mop sinks and wash sinks. A sink is considered a different item than a lavatory (or a bathroom sink), although the terms are often used interchangeably. Sinks can be made of enameled cast-iron, vitreous china, stainless steel, porcelain-enameled formed steel, non-vitreous ceramic, and plastic materials.
Sink waste outlets should have a minimum diameter of 1-1/2 inches. Most kitchen sinks have an opening of 3-1/2 inches in diameter. A food-waste grinder has a standard opening of 3-1/2 inches, and so do most kitchen sink basket strainers. A strainer or crossbar should be provided to restrict the clear opening of the waste outlet.
Plumbing Requirements for Garbage Disposals
Food-waste grinders (also known as garbage disposals and disposers) are designed to grind foods, including bones, into small-sized bits that can flow through the drain line. Using them to dispose of fibrous and stringy foods, such as corn husks, celery, banana skins and onions, is not recommended because fibers tend to pass by the grinder teeth, move into the drainpipe, and cause drains to clog.
Water must be supplied to the grinder to assist during its operation in transporting waste. The water flushes the grinder chamber and carries the waste down the drainpipe. Blockage may result if the grinder is used without running the water during operation. Grinders should be connected to a drain of not less than 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Food-waste grinders are supplied with water from the sink faucet. They do not add to the load used to compute drainage pipe sizing. The drain size required for a grinder is consistent with that for a kitchen sink.
Plumbing Requirements for DishwashersThe water supply to a residential dishwasher should be protected against backflow by an air gap or backflow preventer. The machine must be equipped with an integral backflow mechanism, or the potable water supply must have either a backflow preventer or an air gap. The discharge pipe from the dishwasher should be increased to a minimum of 3/4-inch in diameter. It should be connected with a wye fitting to the sink tailpiece. Before connecting to the sink tailpiece, the dishwasher waste line should rise and be securely fastened to the underside of the counter. The combined discharge from a sink, dishwasher, and waste grinder can discharge through a single 1-1/2-inch trap.
Maintenance TipsHomeowners should take care not to overload the garbage disposal or the dishwasher, as this can lead to leaks and backups in the sink and the plumbing system. A backup at the kitchen sink may mean that the garbage disposal is clogged, or the plumbing line has some obstruction that prevents proper drainage. It’s important that homeowners understand the cause of the problem, as well as the proper way to repair it, before dismantling pipes under the sink. The right size of fittings and replacement parts, as well as proper drainage (including slope and traps) will ensure that the sink will work as it should following a repair, which is why most maintenance issues are best left to professionals, unless the homeowner has the proper instruction, parts, and tools available.
Garbage Disposals/Food-Waste Disposers
What Are Food-Waste Disposers?Garbage disposals, also called food-waste disposers, are residential appliances designed to shred food waste so that it can fit through plumbing. They are usually electrically powered (although occasionally powered by water pressure) and are installed beneath sinks.
Why Use a Garbage Disposal?When food waste is discarded into the trash, it places an enormous burden on waste-management systems. Garbage disposals reduce the severity of these problems by routing food waste into septic systems or sewers instead of landfills.
Garbage Disposals and Septic SystemsIf a garbage disposal discharges into a septic tank, it can place significant strain on the septic system. The amount of waste that enters the tank, particularly grease and suspended solids, will increase considerably. This load increase requires that the septic tank be pumped more often than would otherwise be required. The additional strain will also reduce the lifespan of the septic system. Septic systems can be designed to accommodate food waste, but, in general, they are not.
Electrical Wiring RequirementsThe National Electrical Code (NEC) does not require a garbage disposal to have GFCI protection. The vibration caused by the operation of a garbage disposal can cause electrical connections to separate. Check for any loose connections in the wire compartment box at the base of the disposal.
Garbage disposals should be either hardwired or connected to an outlet through a grounded electrical outlet. A dedicated circuit is generally recommended, although a circuit that is shared with a dishwasher is sometimes appropriate. The disposal’s user or installation manual should be consulted.
Precautions for Testing Garbage Disposals:To test a garbage disposal for leaks, turn it on and run water through it. The water load should be great enough so that any leaks will become apparent. A good way to do this is to close the drain and fill the sink with water before releasing the stopper.
While testing a garbage disposal, never put anything other than water through it. Before turning it on, check to make sure there are no objects already in the disposal.
- If a dishwasher is connected to the disposal, make sure that the line that connects them is securely attached.
- Check to make sure that the garbage disposal is connected to a drain that is 1½ inches or greater in diameter.
- Check to make sure that the disposal is provided with an adequate water supply.
- If the home has a double sink, check to make sure the waste pipe from the disposal has a trap installed.
- Maintenance and Operation Suggestions:
- Put only small quantities of food into the disposal at a time. Large food scraps should be cut into smaller pieces before entering the disposal.
Never put anything down the disposal that is not food or water. Bottle caps, aluminum foil, and other non-food items can damage the disposal or get stuck in the plumbing piping.
Run water while using the disposal and for approximately 30 seconds after you turn it off. Food scraps will flow through the piping more easily if they are pushed along by water. Cold water is better than warm water for this purpose because it will force fats and grease to congeal and harden, allowing them to move more easily through pipes. Warm water can be run through the disposal while it is not in operation.
Ice can be used to clear off solidified grease and other debris from the blades in a garbage disposal.
The garbage disposal should be used to grind only non-fibrous, leftover food. If in doubt as to whether something can be put in the disposal, err on the side of caution and put it in the trash instead.
The following items should never be put in a disposal:
- items that are hard enough to dull the blades, such as shells from shellfish or bones;
- food that is highly fibrous, such as corn husks, artichokes, pineapples, potato peels, asparagus, or celery, which should enter a disposal only in small quantities or disposed of in the trash. These foods take a long time to grind and can clog the disposal or the plumbing;
- grease and household oils; or chemicals.
- Garbage disposals have the potential to limit the amount of household trash that must be taken away to waste management facilities. They can also place additional strain on septic systems and, for this reason, they should be used infrequently.
Why Use a Trash Compactor?Permanently installed residential trash compactors run on electricity and use a small hydraulic system to crush trash down to a fraction of its original volume (sometimes down to 25%) in order to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste regularly generated by a household. Smaller and narrower than a dishwasher, they are a standard kitchen appliance in new-construction homes.
How They WorkTrash compactors have three main components: the motor; the ram; and the trash container drawer. The motor runs using household electricity, which activates the ram that is operated using hydraulics. Units vary by size, quality and cost. The loading capacity for the average home unit is generally around 25 gallons, and the compacting force can range between 2,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds, depending on type and quality.
Most units must be at least half full in order to work properly. To use the unit, non-food refuse should be placed or stacked neatly at the bottom of the drawer. When it is at least half full, the unit can be activated so that the ram compacts the drawer’s contents.
Safely Disposing of Household TrashGenerally, bottles, cans, cardboard, paper and plastic items and the like can be conveniently disposed of in a trash compactor. In order to minimize odors, containers that once held food and beverages should be rinsed before being placed in the drawer.
Trash compactors require the use of specially-fitted bags that, once filled, easily lift out of the unit for disposal or trash pickup.
Perishable food items can stain the unit’s interior and create unnecessary mess and foul odors, which is why they should not be disposed of in a trash compactor. These types of items should be discarded using a garbage disposal or food grinder, or recycled as compost waste.
Additionally, hazardous materials should never be placed in a trash compactor, as crushing them can have unintended consequences that can damage the unit, create an unsafe environment, and/or cause negative health effects. These include batteries, cigarette butts (which may not be fully extinguished), household rags used with toxic substances, cans and containers that held hazardous liquids and chemicals (as residue can spill out and cause damage or negative health effects), and similar items. These should be wrapped and disposed of separately, or recycled according to local guidelines or ordinances.
Safety Precautions and SensorsAs a safety precaution, trash must never be stuffed down into the bottom of the drawer with one’s hands or feet, as this can dent or offset the drawer and its rollers, as well as damage the hydraulics. Rough use and frequent misuse can lead to chronic problems with the unit and its components.
Caution should be used when removing filled bags, as items that have been crushed may create sharp protrusions. Many people wear gloves while removing bags for disposal.
The unit should always be locked, even when not in use. Curious children may wish to pull open the drawer and hide inside, or activate the unit, which is why they should never be left unattended around an unlocked trash compactor.
Spills around the unit should be immediately cleaned up for safety as well as hygienic reasons. Because trash compactors use electricity, spilled water or other liquids can cause the unit to short out or create an unsafe hazard for users.
Trash compactors have built-in safeguards, such as locks, misload sensors, tilt sensors, and drawer-monitor switches, which are designed to help prevent injury, over-filling and under-filling, as well as detect when trash has been accidentally placed within the unit but outside the drawer (such as behind the drawer where the ram and hydraulics are located). However, because they are constructed of many mechanical parts and electrical wiring, trash compactors can malfunction and chronically break down if not used and maintained properly.
Repairs and replacing parts should be performed by a qualified professional.
Mike Avelar, CPI
Avelar Home Inspection Inc.