Replacing your dishwasher? Get ready for some hefty electrical rewiring

Replacing an appliance should be pretty straightforward, right? Refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers all come in fairly standard sizes. It should be as simple as going to the store, picking out a new one that you like, and arranging for an installation.

Well, if you are replacing your dishwasher after January 2014, get ready to update your electrical wiring. New rules put out by the National Electrical Code (NEC) have been adopted by several states including my own Massachusetts, and they add stringent new rules. Unless your home is brand new, it probably doesn’t comply.

Our home is a little over 10 years old, and we have reached the phase where some of the appliances have started to give out. We replaced the refrigerator last year, and most recently the dishwasher went on the fritz. It would never finish its cycle and just keep going for hours. I never liked that dishwasher, and according to Consumer Reports, you are better off replacing it than trying to have it repaired if it is more than five years old.

The top rated dishwashers in Consumer Reports were Kenmores, so I went off to Sears to buy a new one. After searching to find one I liked that was in stock and getting a better deal by checking the online price, I worked with the salesperson to ring up the purchase. I expected a few additional fees for installation, but I was caught by surprise at just how many fees there were, which quickly added up to nearly 50% of the price of the dishwasher itself:

  • Delivery free
  • Installation fee
  • Installation kit (um, why is this not included as part of the dishwasher???)
  • Haul-away fee for the old dishwasher
  • Plumbing permit from the City of Cambridge for installation
  • Electrical permit from the City of Cambridge for installation

I was surprised by all these fees, but I really hated that old dishwasher. And with two kids, we do a lot of dishes. We just needed to get it replaced. So, I bit my tongue, pulled out my credit card, and arranged for a delivery date.

When the delivery date rolled around, the installation team showed up about 30 minutes into the 4 hour delivery window they had given me (shocking!). They looked at me and said, “So, did your sales person tell you about the electrical work? There are new requirements, and a lot of the sales people don’t know about them yet.”

Um, no.

They explained that as of 2014, new rules went into effect that added the following requirements for dishwashers:

  • The dishwasher must be on its own dedicated circuit (it can’t share with other appliances like the garbage disposal)
  • The dishwasher needed to have a shut-off within 4 feet of the appliance
  • The dishwasher circuit needed to have a GFCI breaker (extra protection for moisture or sparking) on the circuit breaker panel

He went on to explain that unless the home was built within the last year or two, it was almost impossible that the structure was compliant. The first thing they would have to do is identify how much work needed to be done. Most homes they looked at needed to have a new electrical line installed from the circuit breaker, and some really old homes needed whole new circuit breaker boxes that could accommodate a GFCI breaker.

I did have some hope, since our home was built in 2004. As we have had various contractors in for work, they have often told us how impressed they were with the care taken in details like wiring and plumbing. Perhaps he would have been ahead of his time?

The installers did an inspection and said that our house was the closest they had ever seen, but not quite perfect:

  • Dishwasher was already on its own dedicated circuit
  • It was plugged in to its own outlet rather than hardwired, so this could arguably be considered a shutoff within 4 feet of the appliance, since you could just unplug it
  • There were already GFCI breakers on other circuits, so the circuit breaker panel could accommodate them

All they would need to do is replace the existing circuit breaker. But, this is not covered in the “installation price.” That only covered installing the dishwasher itself. They had their own electrician on their way, and this would cost a few hundred dollars on top of what we already spent.

I was stunned. We were the closest he had ever seen, and it was still a few hundred dollars? I’m lucky enough to be able to afford this. What about people who live in an older home and have a broken dishwasher? Now they would have to spend over $1000 dollars to bring their home up to modern codes?

I did some research trying to find out how real this is. There isn’t a lot of clear documentation, but the installers did not make it up. Different states adopt different versions of the NEC recommendations, and Massachusetts adopted something called 210.8 effective January 2014. 210.8 address branch circuits and GFCI protection for dishwashers.

What can’t find any documentation of is exactly when these rules apply. Clearly, they would apply to all new construction and renovations. But for a replacement of an existing unit? I can’t find anything that says one way or another.

The installation guys explained that earlier this year, they started getting failure reports when their work was inspected for proper installation. In order to cover themselves for liability, they now needed to make sure that they were following the code. Alternatively, the owner could take installation of the dishwasher, but they couldn’t hook up the electrical and the owner could just sign that he/she would do it themselves. But this would apparently void the warranty.

So, was the work truly necessary? The code calls for it, but was it required for the appliance replacement? I don’t know.

But at least I know with confidence that my dishwasher is covered by warranty. More importantly, it works, and it is working much better than the old one.

If you live in Massachusetts and need to replace your dishwasher, beware!


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14 Responses to Replacing your dishwasher? Get ready for some hefty electrical rewiring

  1. pjd says:

    Great post. We’re about to get a new dishwasher, and fortunately was told by the sales person that we might need to deal with this. I’m trying to confirm with my installer just what I’ll need to do.
    Thanks again for the post.

  2. Denise says:

    Wow, well I guess it is good that I have manual replacements Children) I will not be getting a new dishwasher for a while. Thank you so much for your post.

  3. Ray says:

    Hello I am Ray, I have been installing dishwashers (appliances) for thirty six years. When I started we (my brother) were replacing 25-30 year old dishwashers for fifty bucks. Today we charge eighty five (Miele, Viking, Asko) an even hundred. Now we are replacing 3-12 year old dishwashers, Go figure. I have worked hard, dishwashers alone, at least three a day, six days a week. (no vacations) I do not care to do the math. We worked for Sears for a short time, they almost doubled our install charge, because they had someone. I read your post and became angry, not in a bad way, but as our Lord intended. If you wish to call me, venting my anger, ok; we are good at our job. Today I had a customer refuse to pay that 85 dollars, because “code enforcement on his new home required the drain be fed through the top of the cabinet, not the bottom” I had done his neighbors new home a stone throw away, a few days before. No problem. It seems every one is trying to get in my wallet. A permit for every town, an annual fee for the pleasure to work in your city, or county. But can i call a thief, a thief? Your installation kit was a three dollar hose fitting they changed to, a couple of years ago. Most new construction jobs have the electrical plug behind the dishwasher (within 4 feet) but not accessible by the homeowner. Your Government came up with the idea to charge 2 dollars a piece to buy land “one day” to dispose of your appliance that I take to the scrap yard going to China. I have to install an anti-tip bracket on a range so a child could not open the oven, and stand on the oven door??? If you care to wonder whether I will sue these liars, these thieves, No, but if I can, I will tell them of my Lord. Peace!

  4. chrisduryea says:

    Great post! I just purchased a new dishwasher to replace my aging one. I bought it from a major retailer (I will not name names), and when I ordered it via the website they said that they would install it. They did NOT tell me how much time, extra money, and general hassle it was going to cost me. NOT A WORD. Nothing about the electrician, or the town permit, or the nearly 400 dollars extra I was going to pay, which had I known at the time of the sale would have impacted my decision making. Way to go, customer service! After all that I found a local appliance guy to install it for (way) less than half the price the big box store quoted me. Still rankled that I had to shell out more clams (ha! see what I did there?) than I wanted, but at least I didn’t reward said big box retailer for their lack of communication skills.

    • janet says:

      Sadly, not all states have the same requirements for code and permits. This means when you purchase online, they don’t know or care where this is being installed or what the extra costs or procedures are. Always purchase things like this from a person, not a website.

  5. Bob says:

    When replacing an existing appliance to an existing circuit, it is the responsibility of the electrician to inform you of the code changes, this does not however require you to perform this work, as long as it was code compliment at the time of initial installation. As far as changing out a panel to accommodate a GFCI circuit breaker, you can just replace the existing outlet feeding the dw with a gfi RECPT and not need to deal with the panel at all, if you opt in for the gfi, which is a good idea because it add a level of safety to the person using the appliance.

  6. milkywayresident says:

    I ran a remodeling business for about 20 years. The only part of this that sound wrong is the several hundred dollars for a GFI. A service call from a local electrician should not be that much and a breaker doesn’t ‘t cost much either. It would be a fifteen minute job, then any good electrician would charge a nominal labor fee- telling you he’s giving you a little break, hand you his business card and say ” call us if you ever need anything or have a question”. That’s how it’s done.

  7. Jim Minich says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    I I was just reading your blog about the dishwasher wiring. I am shocked that they didn’t offer you the option to put in a GFCI receptacle. They are about $15-$20 depending on which one you get. I know this article is been out for a while but I just stumbled across it while I was looking for information.


    • Richard says:

      Jeremy, if the existing receptacle was behind the dishwasher,the option to replace the existing receptacle with a GFCI receptacle is available since the GFCI will the need to install in readily accessible location.

      • Richard says:

        Jeremy, if the existing receptacle was behind the dishwasher,the option to replace the existing receptacle with a GFCI receptacle is not available since the GFCI will the need to install in readily accessible location.

      • Richard says:

        Jim, if the existing receptacle was behind the dishwasher,the option to replace the existing receptacle with a GFCI receptacle is not available since the GFCI will the need to install in a readily accessible location.

  8. John Selensky says:

    Who gives a crap about a warranty if the cost of installation is twice the cost of the dishwasher? Install it yourself and save the hundreds of dollars. If it fails (extremely improbable), it’s much cheaper to just buy another one. Besides, I’d be willing to bet the warranty would never be questioned anyway. It’s essentially tripping over dollars to get to dimes.

  9. Mike says:

    It’s code nonsense like this that makes me do my own work.
    Shut the breaker off, install the new washer like the old. Done.
    If the old dishwasher didn’t burn down the house hooked up the way it was, the new one probably won’t either. Jeez.

  10. Ppm says:

    Thank you for your informative post.
    My house was built in 1994 and the dishwasher was originally hardwired to the garbage disposal unit. Since the dishwasher now needs to be replaced and after reading this article I have some questions/comments.
    I can plug the replacement dishwasher directly into an outlet that is thankfully within 4 feet and this outlet can be controlled by a GFI switch (to turn power on or off) in the same kitchen area. The GFI switch is also wired to the breaker and I can turn it on or off from the circuit breaker as well. So would I still need a GFCI breaker on the panel? Would the existing switch not be sufficient since there is already a level of protection. I do have another GFCI breaker for a hot tub and would appreciate any comments/ observations. Thank you.

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