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.”
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!