2018 is here and so is a blast of subfreezing arctic air.
With so many new low record temperatures set in the past few days, it is no surprise that pipes are freezing.
Burst Dishwasher Water Inlet Valve
One such victim of the cold weather was my Whirlpool WDT790SAYW2 Gold Series dishwasher. After a particularly frigid night my wife went to unload the dishwasher and discovered that it had not run over night as intended. I figured that the waste line had frozen again despite my previous attempts (see here) at insulating the wall. We opened the cabinets to let warm air circulate and removed the bottom access panel of the dishwasher.
Later in the morning as I was washing some dishes in the sink I heard water start to run below the dishwasher. I quickly turned the water supply line off, and it was a good thing that I was there. The ice had melted and the culprit was quickly discovered when I pulled the dishwasher out from under the cabinetry. The water inlet valve had burst.
Removing the part is simple.
Turn off the electrical breakers feeding the dishwasher
Turn off the water supply line
Unthread the water supply line
Unscrew the single mounting screw holding the part in place.
Disconnect the electrical harness connected to the solenoid.
Use pliers to loosen the clamp on the black outlet hose and remove the hose.
Part # W10316814
There is an inlet filter screen that you should check if your dishwasher is not getting sufficient water. The filter might be clogged.
Installation is the reverse and takes about 5 minutes. The part is about $25 and requires needle nose pliers and a flat head screwdriver.
This part seems to be compatible with certain Kitchenaid dishwashers as well because Whirlpool and Kitchenaid belong to the same umbrella of companies.
I also checked in on the vacant apartment that I manage and discovered that it had some frozen pipes.
The first thing to do is open up the cabinets to let air circulate.
In this case, the cold water pipe was frozen, but the hot water pipe was still open. I cranked the apartment thermostat up from 62 to 75.
Turning on the still working hot water pipe also helps warm up the blockage. After about an hour, the ice had melted and the water was flowing again. No permanent damage was done.
The other frozen pipe was located in the crawlspace. I am a firm believer in fixing the underlying problem, so I crawled down there to take a look at what was going on.
While most of the crawlspace was warm, the perimeter had some issues. Above you can see the frozen pipe on the left. You can also see ice forming on the framing around an AC coolant line that exits to the outside.
Using a can of spray foam, I did my best to plug the hole.
I suspect when the temperatures rise later this week the demand for plumbers is going to skyrocket as pipes thaw out and problems become more apparent. The real damage of a frozen pipe is the thousands of gallons that can spill out and flood a house. If you can catch it early while it is still frozen, you can save yourself a lot of headache.
We bought a new furnace and air conditioner! As a bit of background, our 1905 house has a working furnace, but the AC is from 1984 and has never worked during our residency.
“Finally!” was the reaction that family members gave us when we told them the news. Then we informed them it wasn’t for our house but instead for a tenant’s apartment. Haha, silly goose you should know us better than that. 😛
The units that we were replacing were original to the 1975 building.
You can usually decode the age of a unit by its model number. This Friedrich furnace, # GDA080NDB, starts with GDA. G = 1970s, D = Year 4, and A = January. So the manufacture date for this particular furnace was January of 1974, or more simply put, it was 43 years old.
The outside AC condenser was also original equipment.
Why Not Repair?
About a week and a half ago I got a call from the tenant saying that the AC wasn’t putting out cold air. I ran through a quick troubleshooting list and found no easy fixes. The thermostat was set to “cool”, the air handler blower was working and pushing air through the ductwork, the outside condenser had power and the fan was spinning, and the compressor was running. It was almost certainly a refrigerant leak. I knew that the former tenant who had lived there for seven years had rarely or never used the AC. This was likely a long term issue that had not just sprung up since the last season.
I called out an HVAC professional to give me an opinion and prices. These older AC systems use a refrigerant called R22, a nice ozone destroying cocktail that is being phased out of production in favor of a more environmentally friendly R410A. R22 and R410A are not compatible. As such, R22 refrigerant prices have skyrocketed. It is simple supply and demand. There are still a lot of old R22 systems that have working compressors, capacitors, and coils. They just need a top off of refrigerant.
The HVAC technician gave me a quote of $100/pound of R22 refrigerant. I asked how many pounds would be needed and he said “A lot”. At a minimum, I would guess five pounds to charge the system. That’s at least $500 right off the bat, plus you have to factor in the labor and the cost of fixing any leaks in the refrigerant lines. That is assuming that the leaks are in the lines and not somewhere in the condenser or the coil, both things that are not serviceable.
Repairing the system would have cost around $1,000 and at the end of the day, you still have equipment from the 1970s. So what does it cost to replace?
Replacement costs are going to vary WIDELY depending on what equipment you select, but more so on who you select to do the work. While replacing a gas furnace for another gas furnace is probably in the realm for an experienced DIYer, AC systems are definitely something that you are going to want a licensed and experienced person to come do for you.
I got a few bids from smaller mom and pop shops and individuals who work for bigger shops but also do moonlight work. While big companies are convenient with their dedicated salesmen, 24/7 phone hours, and flashy new trucks, you are also paying a surcharge on every job for dedicated salesmen, 24/7 phone hours, and flashy new trucks. The smaller the company, the smaller the overhead.
In the end, I found an individual who moonlights on the weekends. He had all of the expertise, but none of the heavy overhead. For the equipment, I selected the no bells and whistles, simplest models of Goodman furnace, condenser, and coil. Goodman gets crapped on a lot and there is no shortage of hate for it on the internet. Personally, I believe that all of the different brands are within a few percentage of quality to one another. The biggest separator in how long something lasts is how well it is installed. For example, if I installed a top of the line Trane or Carrier model AC system, it probably would last a quarter of the time as the most basic Goodman installed by a professional.
Another common misconception that consumers may run into is believing that they must buy the most efficient furnace or AC unit to save money.
First off, we don’t pay the utilities for the apartments, so there isn’t much to be saved by spending more on a flashier unit. Secondly, assuming that we did pay for the utilities, the payback time of a more efficient unit might be longer than the actual lifespan of the unit. Thirdly, the more bells and whistles on a unit means more things that can break. Service calls and parts can quickly erase any money saved by the higher efficiency.
Finally, simply upgrading from any 1970s unit to a basic 2017 unit will likely be a HUGE increase in efficiency. If I had to guess, the original AC equipment when it was installed was probably around a 6 or 7 SEER unit. After decades of use, it had probably degraded to a 4-5 SEER efficiency. By contrast, the new ‘least efficient’ unit that we installed is a 13 SEER unit. Likewise, the original furnace was probably a 65% efficiency unit when it was installed. It too had probably degraded and was operating in the 50-60% range. The one we just installed was a ‘least efficient’ 80% model.
While the big equipment gets a lot of attention, the quality and longevity of a new install can be greatly affected by the refrigerant lines that connect up the inside and outside.
Known as a line set, these two copper pipes carry the R410a between the outside condenser and inside evaporator coil. I chose to replace the old lines for three reasons.
They were undersized for the new equipment
They might have leaks in them
Residual R22 contaminants and oil might be lurking inside them that could poison the new system
Unlike the water supply pipes in your house that might also be copper, these refrigerant lines need to be brazed together. Brazing is a high temperature method of connecting copper pipe. In terms of heat, there is Soldering < Brazing < Welding. Brazed joints can withstand the 400 PSI of pressure that is put on refrigerant lines.
Here is a picture of the new evaporator coil hooked up to the new line set.
There is really nothing DIY about this except maybe the condensate drain in the lower left corner.
Here is the old equipment waiting for scrappers to come and recycle all of the metal.
The new furnace is quite a bit shorter than the old one, so the difference in height needs to be made up with some transition ductwork called a plenum.
The inside of the furnace is dead simple.
The three black cylinders along the bottom are the burners. The two white electrical cables on the left that go to the cigarette looking thing is the hot surface ignitor (circled in purple). There is no pilot light to worry about, the hot surface ignitor just gets cherry red hot and lights the gas when it needs to. The other replaceable part is the flame sensor (circled in yellow) on the right side just above the burner.
Here is a picture of the AC system getting leak tested.
These outside condensers come pre-charged with refrigerant, but it is only enough to cover 12′ worth of copper lines. If your lines are longer than 12′ (hint, they probably are) you’ll have to top it off. Any HVAC pro worth their salt will fine tune the system anyway.
It took about 16 hours of work to replace all the components. The total cost, including labor, was about $3200 with the equipment being priced near or at cost. The nice thing about Goodman, is that you can actually see prices online. We saved $200 in labor by doing both the furnace and AC at the same time.
With any luck we’ll have no trouble out of this equipment for at least 10 years, hopefully 20. It is more environmentally friendly, reduces utility bills, and is quieter.
Now we have four more to do and you can guess which one will be done last. 🙂
For the past couple of days when Shae or I walked in the back door we noticed an unpleasant odor. We checked the half bath adjacent to the door, the entranceway closet, and underneath the kitchen sink. Taking the garbage and compost out did not seem to solve the problem and everyday the odor would come and go.
Yesterday, I finally figured out the source when I went to unload the dishwasher. I smelled that all too familiar smell of something died and saw a little glimmer of water at the base of the washer. Uh oh.
Removing the kick panel revealed a grisly scene of stagnant sludge water pooling under the dishwasher. My first thought was, “Yay, I found the problem.”, quickly followed by, “oh damn”.
Pulling the dishwasher out from underneath the cabinet isn’t too difficult of a task. Flip the breaker(s) at the electrical panel to kill power to the unit, find and turn off the water supply valve, and undo any screws attaching it to the cabinetry.
After mopping up the mess and hosing it down with a liberal amount of bleach, I set to work trying to figure out the source of the leak. My first inclination was the drain hose. The pooled water was not clean, and a leak from the supply line would have flooded the whole room, so I ruled that option out. That left the drain hose or the dishwasher itself.
Fast forward an hour and a half and I had a new drain hose installed and with Shae’s help we did a test run with the dishwasher pulled out from underneath the cabinetry. This way, we could easily see if anything was leaking. Right away, water started gushing out from a port at the bottom of the unit. Well, so much for my hypothesis that it was the drain line.
I looked up the part number online and found out it was the diverter motor. #12 in the diagram below.
Removing the motor was a simple task, it just had two electrical connectors and two screws holding it in place. Upon closer inspection, I could not deduce any water sealing feature on the #12 part. The fault must lie further upstream.
I opened the door to the dishwasher and started removing parts. The first to go were the filter screens, #2 and #6. Next was the sprayer arm, #7. A quarter turn was all it took to unlatch it. Then part #1 was liberated with another quarter turn. Below that is the diverter disk, part #4. It attaches onto the post of the diverter motor, #12, where we saw the water coming out of. Yay, progress!
In the above picture, you can see the white diverter motor post sticking up through the bottom of the dishwasher. Water was getting through that black gasket/grommet/seal. With a little digging around the internet, I found the replacement Sump Assembly part, #3 for $56. I don’t need the whole assembly, I just need the grommet. Thankfully, I found it as part #WPW10195677 (alternative part AP6016787). $6 plus shipping. [Update 4/4/2018] The previously linked part is no longer in stock. Here are some alternatives. from SearsDirect.com, or avxseals.com (hat tip to David Olson for finding a suitable replacement part).
With any luck, the replacement grommet will fix the problem, at least for the next 3 years. The total cost so far is $10 for a new drain hose, $14 for a new grommet.
$24 plus some sweat equity sure beats paying a technician to come in and bill $200-$400. It also beats paying $150 for an extended warranty.
The grommet seems to be compatible with Whirlpool, Kenmore, and KitchenAide dishwashers. I suspect all three brands suffer from this same problem. Our next dishwasher will not be one of these three brands.
The part arrived today and I was able to pop the old grommet out very easily.
The new grommet slid into place just as easily. This would be a much easier repair if you did not have to remove the diverter motor underneath the machine. Perhaps a more skilled person could, but since I already had the machine pulled out it wasn’t too much extra work.
A quick test of the system revealed no leaks! Huzzah!
As a final step and with the benefit of hindsight, I added a 1/2″ thick sheet of rigid board insulation in the cavity. On sub zero nights, the drain line would freeze. Hopefully, this will save us some future headache.
Here is a Youtube video that shows the entire procedure.
Picking up where we left off, I decided to replace the downstairs toilet first because it gets used more and if something went wrong, I had easy access to the plumbing from the crawlspace.
The new toilet comes with everything you probably need minus tools. As you can see, the instructions are printed on the top of the box (sorry for the blurry photo).
The tools that you’ll need to remove and install a toilet are:
Rag or Sponge
Pair of Disposable Gloves
Start by turning off the water supply valve to the toilet. Then flush the toilet and hold down the handle to empty the tank out as much as possible. Use the rag or sponge to finish emptying the tank of water. Once the tank is emptied, disconnect the supply line and then use the wrench and/or the screwdriver to disconnect the tank from the bowl.
At this point, you’ll probably want to use a plunger to get as much water out of the bowl as possible so it doesn’t go splish splosh on your bathroom floor. To remove the bowl, you’ll need to start by popping off the decorative caps and unthreading the nuts at the base. Once the nuts are removed, the entire base can be lifted away from the floor.
At this point, you will see the toilet flange (a fancy name for the drain pipe). It probably won’t look pretty and it will likely smell worse because of sewer gas escaping from the pipe. Put on those disposable gloves if you haven’t already and use the putty knife to scrape up the old (and gross) wax ring. Just remember the plumbers motto… “The more disgusting it is, the more money I make”. You can plug up the drain pipe with a rag to keep the smell at bay. Just don’t forget to remove it before installing the new toilet! With the toilet flange cleaned off, and the old closet bolts removed we can get started on installing the new toilet.
Start by doing a test fit of the new base. The new closet bolts inserted into the flange should match up with the holes in the bowl base.
Once you know the fit is good, apply the new wax ring to the bottom of the toilet base. Carefully set it down onto the flange and give it a good press down to set the entire thing in place. Thread nuts onto the closet bolts to secure the base to the floor.
The closet bolts probably have to be trimmed in order to fit the decorative caps on. Use the hacksaw to shave off everything above the nuts. I found this step to be the hardest part, most likely because I was using an old blade.
With the base firmly secured, we can go about attaching the tank. Here’s an obligatory plumber butt shot of yours truly.
Each toilet model will differ a little bit in how the connection is made. Just follow the instructions. You will probably need the wrench and screwdriver for this step.
With the tank attached, reconnect the supply line and turn on the water. If there are any leaks, tighten the connection and try again. Sometimes the supply hose is shot and needs to be replaced. They are only about $5 so it’s not worth trying to salvage a 10+ year old hose. Once the tank fills up, give it a couple of flushes and make sure everything works properly.
Finally, place the tank lid on and attach the toilet seat.
TADA! That wasn’t so hard was it? The whole job took only about two hours and that was with no previous toilet experience. Dispose of the old toilet(s) according to the rules and regulations of your municipality. In our case, that meant a trip to the city bulk waste drop off facility.
Goodbye water wasting, easily clogged, smelly toilets! By our calculations it will take about 2 years for the new water saving toilets to pay themselves off. Also, we have yet to have a single clog!
7 1/2 months ago when we moved into our house, none of the existing toilets worked. Due to the huge list of other ‘fixer upper’ projects and a lack of DIY experience, we chose to repair, instead of replace, the existing toilets and continue to use them for the time being. They weren’t great toilets and only kind of worked but it was a quick bandaid fix. This week after reviewing the numbers we decided it was time to replace the two main toilets (first floor and second floor).
Why Replace a Toilet?
We weighed several factors into our decision to replace the two toilets.
Ability to stay unclogged
Water usage was a big deciding factor. City water costs ¢0.536/gal, sewer costs ¢0.384/gal for a combined cost of ¢0.92/gal. While less than a penny per gallon of water sounds cheap, it does add up quickly. According to the EPA, the average person flushes a toilet 4-6 times a day. Multiply that by the number of occupants in your household and you start to get an idea of how often that toilet is flushed. Going back to our example, it would be 8-12 times a day. Both toilets were older models that used 3.5 gpf (gallons per flush). That means around 28-42 gallons or ¢26-¢39 a day was spent just for flushing the toilet. Well that doesn’t sound to bad does it? Hmm, we have made some assumptions about these toilets that don’t hold up in real life. Firstly, we’ve assumed that they don’t leak. Morning Sickness has a peculiar way of getting you up close for those leak inspections. According to an in-the-know source, both toilets leak water. Secondly, we’ve assumed that they never clog and require a second, third, fourth, etc. flush. Yep, those toilets clog, so our 8-12 flushes a day isn’t exactly accurate.
Our downstairs half bath often smelled of sewer gas. I was fairly certain it was because of the toilet and the bandaid “fix” was to leave the door open so the room could air out. The most often cause of sewer gas is a dried out water trap, but that wasn’t the case with this toilet. The second most likely cause is a bad wax seal on the closet flange. To replace the wax seal, you have to remove the toilet, and while you have the toilet removed, you might as well install a new one.
Finally, there is the issue of comfort. All of the toilets in our house are round seats and fairly low to the ground. Our potty training niece loved the “Ruby Throne” because it was just her height and at 14 1/2 inches tall, it is one of the shortest toilets out there. I am average height for a man and let me tell you, that thing is uncomfortable. Nowadays there is a stronger preference towards chair height toilets and elongated bowls (where they can fit). Chair height or ADA compliant are a great option for older individuals because it is easier to get on and off the seat. We chose to replace the first floor half bath with another short round toilet, but the upstairs we went for an elongated and taller commode.
Shopping for a Toilet
So you’ve come to the conclusion that you want a new toilet. You also know if you want a round or elongated bowl, height of the seat, and if you’d like a 1.28 gpf or a 1.6 gpf (max allowed by law), but wait! Before you go to the home improvement store, measure the rough in dimension. What is the rough in dimension you ask? It is the distance from the back wall to the middle of the floor bolts that hold the toilet in place. Most toilets are a 12″ rough in.
For the downstairs toilet we found the Kohler Wellworth toilet. It is a 1.28 gpf, round bowl, 14 1/2″ height, 12″ rough, score 10 on flushing, and has a canister flush mechanism. I thought the last part was particularly nice. Most toilets use a flapper that you pull open in the tank (by pressing the handle) and water drains from the tank to the bowl. Kohler has switched over to canisters that lift up and let water flow in from all directions. Not only does this seem to deliver a better flush, it also makes the handle easier to actuate.
Do you know how many Gpf your toilets use?
Do you know the water and sewer rates for your area?
Do the plungers in your house get used?
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I cover the removal and installation.