Dirty Dishes and Other Water Related Issues

Some time ago my dishwasher began to malfunction.  At least that’s what I thought.  It was relatively new, but no matter what I did, the dishes started coming out dirtier than when they went in.

White film forms on dishes in the dishwasher and has to be washed again by hand.My husband and I set about solving the mystery.  He checked to be sure the drain wasn’t clogged and the screen wasn’t covered in food particles.  We put various kinds of cleaners in the dishwasher to make sure no food particles were hanging around in there.

We used the citric acid dishwasher Unless your dishwasher is stainless steel inside, you can't see the white film build up caused by poorly performing dishwasher detergents.cleaners, twice.  We used vinegar too.  Still, everything was coming out with that horrible film and sometimes little specks on the dishes.  Since our dishes are bright red, you can pretty much see that stuff a mile off.  To be honest, I was glad they were such a bright color.  If the dishes were white, we might not have noticed that nasty film.

People said, “Oh, just rub it off!  It will be fine!” and “Don’t be so finicky”.  Eh, no.  Gross.  I’m not eating from those dishes.

These dishes were clean when they went into the dishwasher. It was an experiment to determine the cause of the film. Clearly it was the detergent failing to rinse away.We changed dishwasher detergents, three times.  No help.  The problem seemed to be getting worse!  Now I don’t even want to use the dishwasher because I’ll just have to wash most of them by hand again when I take them out.

Having such a mess all the time and so much extra work makes cooking a pain and chore instead of a pleasure.  Finally, I stopped using the dishwasher.  Everything was being washed by hand.

When there was no possibility that the dishwasher was an issue, I called the company that made the detergents and asked them why their product wasn’t working.  I won’t say any names but it started with a “C” and sounds like the names of some mountains I know.

Their response was that it was the fault of my dishwasher.  After all, it couldn’t be their product.  When I tried to assure them there was nothing wrong with my dishwasher, the next solution was that it probably needed to be cleaned.  Seriously?  What were they thinking?

My response was the same one I gave the computer companies.  Each product maker blames the others so that none have to take responsibility.  You know, Microsoft techs blames Dell, Dell techs blames Microsoft during any phone call to get help.  You can’t win with a system like that.  In the end, the customer takes it in the shorts and is left with no resolution to the situation.

About three weeks into the dishwasher woes, the local news commented that we might notice our dishes are not getting clean.  Why?  Because this was the year they removed phosphates from the dishwasher detergent.  Oh, great.  First our clothes got dirtier and now our dishes are dirtier.

With the cat out of the bag, the dishwasher detergent producers are in big trouble because people everywhere are now complaining about how horrible their products are.  People everywhere are switching to paper plates and Dawn dish detergent.

The companies all scramble to come up with better products.  I’m pretty sure the government told them years in advance to figure something else out.  But they didn’t.

Now you see the various brands advertising how their new “platinum” version will clean your dishes “over time” and will even make your dishwasher cleaner over a longer unspecified period of time.  You know, the one with the kitchen counselor?  She tells you how it’s done.

What did I hear?  I heard that the companies didn’t care enough about the major disruption of the everyday lives of the families who purchase their products to get off their duffs and make a product that would meet the federal guidelines and perform well.

I heard they wanted to sell every last one of the old product they produced before they were outlawed.

I heard they didn’t mind giving us inferior products they could sell for the same or higher prices.

Lastly, I heard they would not have begun to work on the problem if so many people would not have complained and they faced losing business to paper plates and plastic cups.

Now that they have come out with their “platinum” version, how long do they want me to purchase a product that does not clean the dishes before they will come out with another product that will?  Do they really think I’ll keep purchasing a product from companies that have proven they really don’t care about the distress of having to do the chores over when families are busy?

Just when I am resolved to doing dishes by hand, we hear yet another voice chiming into the conversation.  It’s like someone coming into the back of a large convention hall waving their hands and yelling, “Hey!  We have an answer!  Does anyone hear us?”

The latest argument on cause and effect and who is to blame?  It’s the detergent.  No, it’s the water.   It’s a combination of them both.  If you have hard water your dishes will never be clean again with the new federal guidelines for acceptable dishwasher products.

Hard water is water with minerals in it.  How to know if your water is hard?  Easy.  Use a brand new tray to make ice.  Use tap water.  Don’t filter it.  Did the cubes stick to it when they were ready?  Hard water.  Now, if you are able to get the cubes out, what do they look like?  Can you see through them or are they cloudy?  Again, not pure water.

Place the cubes in a crystal clear glass of water.  Don’t touch them or bump the glass.  Come back later to see what happened.  Is there a pile of sediment in the bottom of the glass?  The more sediment, the harder the water.

You can also buy a water test kit to tell you what you can find out by using the ice cube test.  It doesn’t mean the water is unfit to drink.  It just means you have stuff in the water.  Even city water has stuff in it.  Well, I wouldn’t drink it, but they claim it is safe.

So, back to the dirty dishes.  It is the premise of the water filtration companies that the dish detergent binds with food particles and the stuff in the water to create a film on your dishes and dishwasher.  Ewww.  Gross.

They say with a good whole house water filtration system you can have clean water for drinking, cooking, doing laundry, and bathing.  With their systems you can even have water clean enough to run a dishwasher.

Your clothes will be cleaner and your skin less irritated.  Not running the dishwasher so many times or doing dishes by hand would be a great benefit of a whole house water system.   I just talked myself into making an appointment for an estimate.  Ouch.  $$.



Repairing Sub-floors is Not for Sissies

David and I decided to set aside a few hours on a Saturday to remove and replace 64 sq. ft. of damaged dining room sub-floor.  It had become dangerous due to various poor construction techniques.  We thought it wouldn’t be so bad, pull up the rotten wood and replace it  with new.  In the process we would get rid of that hideous peel and stick vinyl tile.

That tile is part of the reason the floor was rotting from below.  There was no moisture barrier under it either.  I didn’t know that.  As you can see, I like my floors all shiny and clean.  I cleaned them often, with plenty of cleaner, water, scrub brushes, mops and wax.  Little did I know that every time I cleaned the floor, water settled below the tiles and gradually rotted away the wood.  Wonderful.  My clean habit played a dirty trick on me.

I told David I would take up the tiles and he could help me take up the wood and place the new sub-floor.  After all, it was only the surface area of two 4 x 8 sheets of plywood.  How hard could that be?   Let’s just point out who is in that picture.  It isn’t me!  I managed to take out about four of those tiles, the rest were too difficult.  They were firmly attached to the rotting wood.  Since we weren’t ready to demo the entire floor, we were only removing the 64 sq. ft. we intended to remove.

Once all the tiles were removed, David used a circular saw, set to the exact depth of the sub-floor, to make the cuts.  He used a reciprocating saw to make the cuts against the walls.  One thing the previous owners did correctly was to use plenty of nails.  That made it difficult to remove the sub-floor in areas where the wood was still solid, mostly around the nails only!

With all the wood removed, the structure was exposed.  There it was.  Our worst fears.  The framework was not properly done.  Pieces of wood just stuck in here an there.  Parts of the floor joists were missing, others were improperly installed.  There is no crawl space as previously believed.  There was maybe 12 inches between the joists and the ground.  Part of the structure was resting on concrete, the rest on sand only.  We began to realize that the addition wasn’t just an addition but instead it was built onto a rickety old porch.  The timbers didn’t match up well, the spacing was off.  The structure of the house was not properly supported.  Now what are we going to do?  Right away we both began planning how we would could fix this situation.

The surprises were not over.  As David continued to remove debris, and I continued to clean up the mess, I accidentally stepped on a soft spot and promptly fell through the floor.  This same thing had happened to David earlier in the day.  As we were removing the sub-floor at the bedroom door (now an office) we discovered there were no supports under the wall.  That was the hardest discovery.  This particular wall runs the entire length of the house.  It had started to sink, but we are not sure if this is why since the foundation is also pulling at the same wall.  It was unsettling though, to find that there was nothing supporting it.

We continued to make progress, David cutting and nailing, me picking up the mess and doing errands for him.  Eventually everything was removed and cleaned up and ready to place the new wood.  Finally the temporary patch was done!


Wilderness in the Walls

After living in this house a short while, we discovered animals were making themselves at home in our garage.  We realized they were coming in through the windows we thought were closed.  After fastening them completely closed we stopped seeing raccoon in there.

Shortly after the garage infiltration, we started to hear noises in the kitchen wall.  We were unable to figure out how it was getting there.  I was convinced it was some horrible creature.  It had to be.  It was noisy as it went under the house and up inside the walls.  The real horror started when we realized it was more than one.  It was a family moving in for the winter.  This animal  thought it was bringing it’s wife and kids in to live in our walls for the whole winter.  We still didn’t know what it was.  Finally it managed to crawl it’s way up to the attic and tear up a ventilation duct.  We hired someone to come fix it and find a way to block animals from getting in under the house.  The repairman was happy to fix the damage, but was unwilling to work on the animal issue, which he diagnosed as opossums.

We blocked every possible opening under the house we could find.  This seemed to work until the next fall when once again we had animals trying to get under the house.  This time it was not just opossums.  Now, racoons wanted to live in the crawl space below the house.  Raccoons and opossums do not get along well. Once we had this little zoo going on, skunks absolutely did not want to be left out and they found a way under the house and managed to wiggle through the exterior wall to the master bathroom and then squirm their way to the cavity formed by the bath tub.  In this nice little warm space between the sheet-rock and bath tub, they had a nice little nest in which they were planning to raise babies.

Once again we head outside to find the locations these animals were getting under the house.  This time,  we just can’t find it.  That night, all those animals come in for their nightly rest at 2:00 a.m.  At some point the opossums and the skunks manage to cross paths.  The fight was on.  So was the stink.  From then on, until we could find a way to make sure no animals could dig their way under the house, we would have to deal with the skunk perfume.  It took a while, but eventually we either trapped or blocked all the animals from the house.  But the damage done by the animals remains, until we can take apart the walls to repair  the electrical and structural damage.  The list just seems to keep growing.

Major Home Repair Projects

All homes need maintenance and repairs.  The older the home is, the more it needs.  Our house was built in 1936.  A 76 year old house needs more maintenance than you can tell from the exterior or maybe even by visual inspection.

All houses “settle”, but this one has settled beyond the normal mark and needs foundation repair and the home leveled.  Further, the original part of the house was built in 1936 and the rest was built as additions during the 1970’s.  They added a large bathroom, large kitchen, and a bedroom along the back of the house.  Continuing from the bedroom, and turning the cornerr to form an “L” shaped addition to the house, they also added a master bath and bedroom, and a extra large two car garage.  Unfortunately, the work was not done with the care and craftsmanship one would expect.  The previous owners did the work themselves to save money.  This resulted in poor design and construction.

The roof over the rear addition is low, which means the ceiling is also low.   People over 6 feet tall have very little clearance.  Even small light fixtures are in their way.  Forget ceiling fans or other decorative light fixtures.  The kitchen and dining room have poorly installed recessed florescent lights.  The low ceiling and inadequate ventilation causes the kitchen to be too hot when cooking.

The bathroom has no ventilation at all.  It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  The do-it-your-selfer decided a fan in the summer and a heated fan in the winter was good enough.  It doesn’t work the way he planned.  The bathroom floor is cold in the winter and warm in the summer.

Every floor in the house is like that.  There is no moisture barrier and no insulation under the floor to prevent the loss of heating and cooling.  Because the sub-floor is poorly constructed, it has been rotting away.  Some of the floor became unsafe in the last year and we have had to patch them in an effort to stave off the large repair bills all at once.  (See the post “Repairing Sub-floors is Not for Sissies“.)

As if needing about 2,000 square feet of sub-floor replaced wasn’t enough to pay for, there are issues with the electrical and plumbing.  There are several electrical outlets that worked one day, and then didn’t work any longer.  We suspect this is the direct result of wildlife entering the walls from below the house and tearing up or shorting out the wires as they go.  (For more on the animal saga see the post “Wilderness in the Walls“.)   Electrical junction boxes are improperly wired or overloaded.  This previous home owner even strung Romex cable across the back yard 100 feet to the shed and barn.  It is barely covered with an inch of sand in some places and above ground in others.  The plumbing is substandard, the water pipes are pulled too tight and break, and are buried too close to the surface of the ground.

Clearly, we have a vast amount of work to do.  If we hired it done it would cost well over $100,000.  We might as well build a new house for that money.  This is a great place, on a great piece of land.  There is a pond just big enough to fish and enjoy the view.  It’s peaceful out here.  Most of the neighbor’s kids are grown too.  We have more time than we do money.  The kids are raised, so that not an issue.  We have decided to repair and replace as we go.

Kitchen Islands Cost HOW Much??

We have a really nice sized kitchen.  It’s out of date by about 30 years, but that’s how it goes when you live in 76 year old house.  The current kitchen, along with several other rooms, were added to the house sometime in the early 1970’s.  And it shows.

Most people would be satisfied with the amount of counter space and cabinets.  There is about six feet of uninterupted countertop on the one side, and another three feet on the other.  There is very little space between the stove and sink to work.  All that being said, there was this glaring open area in the middle of the room.  Space that could be used for an island.  That’s it!  I’ll buy an island!  Or so I thought.

As it turns out, kitchen islands, even small ones, are very expensive.  I found one about 1/3 the size I wanted for $800.00.  If they had a nice counter top they cost even more.  This situation was unacceptable!

As is the way we are, I decided to make my own island.  I would choose size, color and countertop.  There was no shortage of ideas with all the design shows and the plethora of information on the internet.  I liked that idea.  So did David.  Might as well save some money and keep his wife out of his hair for a while.  

This dresser was found at a second hand store.  Not much to look at, but it was sturdy and had a nice design.  The other one was part of the furniture my husband brought when he moved from Atlanta.  It was in equally bad shape, if not worse.  It was about 20 years newer but still quality materials were used to make it.

And so it began.  I sanded both the dressers, took off the hardware, and began painting.  Because it was cold out, the painting took place on my kitchen floor.  There were all kinds of paint cans, brushes and plastic all over the floor.

Walking and using the refrigerator was difficult.  So was cooking.  Everyone was happy when it was finished.

I paid special attention to the fine details of the woodwork to be sue it wasn’t lost in the paint.  I wanted an island, but I wanted one with character.

Once I got it all assembled and out of the way, I put on the new hardware and waited a few weeks before I started the second dresser.  It looked so much better it was inconceivable that it was the same dresser.

Some months later, when things calmed down from the other activities of the household, we pushed the dressers back to back in the center of the kitchen.  I carefully measured the walk way around the dressers to be sure there would not be any obstacles to the appliances or cabinets, and still be comfortable to walk around once the island was finished.

One dresser is six inches longer and 1/4 inch taller than the other.  No problem!  David will build spice shelves to fill the extra space at the end.  For the 1/4 inch height difference, we put 1/4 inch cork layer on the shorter dresser.   It worked great!!

Unfortunately,  we noticed when we put the dressers back to back that the one had yellowed.  After much thought, we decided it was because of the differences in the paint and the original materials used in the production of the dressers. Since we know the kitchen will eventually be renovated, we decided to wait and correct the color problem at that time.

The hardest part of this entire project was deciding what type of surface should we use.  Having spent a large amount of time watching HGTV and researching on the internet, as well as shopping at the local home improvement stores, we finally decided to make an oak countertop.

Selecting the wood wasn’t very difficult, but realizing the price of sanded wood is higher than expected, we made sure to choose the best wood for the job.  Once we got it home we used sand paper to knock off the sharp edges and round the corners.  We used a nail gun to affix it with six 2″ finish nails.

Usually staining wood is a job to do in the shop or garage.  I didn’t want to try to bring it in after it was finished without scratching it.  After three coats of stain and three coats of polyurethane, it was finished.  We are very happy with it and would do it again.  We learned some things while doing the project, and those skills we will take with us to the next project.

We no loner have two dressers in our kitchen.  We have a center island to inspire me to cook and gives that “wow factor” I’m looking for.  Eventually the rest of the kitchen will catch up to the center island.