Installing a Dishwasher in my 1950 Kitchen
When I first moved into my house, I didn't think there would be any way to add a dishwasher to the kitchen. The kitchen is so small - think about 100 sq ft - and the cabinet space was already so limited. I didn't think we could afford to lose any more storage. I had, after all, already torn out an entire cabinet above the stove to make room for the range hood.
But when we started the cabinet refresh, I kept staring at this one corner of the cabinets where I had four drawers stacked. We weren't using the drawers very effectively to begin with, and the opening looked perfectly sized for a small 18" dishwasher, similar to one I had while living in DC.
After a lot of research, measuring, and strategically rearranging the contents of our cabinets, I was convinced it could work. Here are a few of the things I had to confirm:
I could create an opening at least 18" wide x 32.5" tall x 23" deep
The drain would be no more than 9 feet from my sink
I would be able to run an electrical cord to a nearby outlet
The circuits in my kitchen could support an extra appliance
I was pretty close. The only things I couldn't check off the list were the depth of my cabinet and having adequate circuits in the kitchen. So the very first step was to get an electrician in to run new circuits into the kitchen. I had him install a new outlet low near the ground and within a short distance from the cabinet where I was going to install the dishwasher. Each circuit only ran me $210, but I had him do some other work while he was in there, so I spent a total of $520 on all the electrical upgrades.
Then I had to brainstorm how to add some depth to my cabinet. There was one 18" wide dishwasher model that was only 22" deep, which would have solved the problem, but it would have required a custom-made panel to match the cabinets, and that wasn't really the look I was wanting.
After a lot of research I found that Z-Line made an 18" dishwasher that was 23" deep (only one inch too deep) and was exactly the aesthetic I was hoping for. So after a lot of brainstorming I realized I could just add a small 1 inch trim around the opening for the dishwasher and that would account for the extra inch of dishwasher sticking out of the cabinet. I was off to the races!
Step 1: Prep the cabinet opening
This proved tougher than I expected. The first thing I had to do was remove all the cross bars and structural support that was holding the drawers in place. Some of it popped out quite easily, while other parts I had to saw out. The hardest part was cutting out the bottom of the cabinet. I knew I needed to open it up to the subfloor, so I could just slide the dishwasher right in, but because these are such old cabinets, there were about a dozen 2 inch long nails keeping that bottom piece in place. It took a lot of work with the circular saw and a crow bar to pull it all out, but I eventually got it down to the subfloor. I definitely damaged the framing around the cabinet opening in the process, but shit happens. I knew I could patch it back up later.
The width was almost perfect, so I just sanded down the sides a bit to open it up another eighth of an inch or so.
Step 2: Build a floor for it to sit on
I didn't want the dishwasher to sit directly on the subfloor for two reasons. It would be about an inch too low to the ground, leaving a large gap at the top of the opening, and god forbid it ever started leaking, I didn't want the subfloor to rot out and the damn thing fall through the floor! So I dug through old wood scraps I had in the garage and was able to puzzle piece together a 1 inch thick floor for the dishwasher to sit on. Using my nail gun, I just nailed it into place.
Tip: If you've never used an air compressed nail gun, you can find a tutorial on my Insta here.
Step 3: Prep the dishwasher for install
PSA. Many dishwashers don't come with power cords? Or long enough drains? This was all news to me. So make sure you budget for those sorts of things. I was able to get a universal power cord and a drain extension at Home Depot for pretty cheap, but I certainly was expecting the dishwasher to come with everything in the box. I was wrong. And this is apparently common.
This step was fairly simple and will require that you follow your specific instruction manual, but at a high level, I connected the power cord to the machine and got the front connections ready for the water supply.
Step 4: Drill holes for power, water, and the drain
I thought this step would be easy. Just drill some holes through the back of your cabinet right? Wrong. Most dishwashers will come with a small channel at the bottom and back of the machine for all of the wires and hoses to run along, so it can still sit flush against the wall. You can see what I mean below, when looking at it from the side.
You want to drill your holes for the connections to run within the height and depth of that space, so that the dishwasher sits flush against the back of the wall. That said, that space is not very forgiving. It is only 5 inches high and two inches deep. That left me with very little room to drill at the back of my cabinet and meant I had to drill through some cabinet framing. And with cabinet framing came a lot of 2 inch nails. I eventually was able to drill a hole large enough on both sides of the cabinet:
1 on the left for the power cord
2 on the right for the water supply and drain hose
Step 5: Install!
Once the opening was prepped, the floor secured, and the holes drilled for the connections, I followed the step by step directions of the manual, hooked up the water supply and drain, fed the power cord through the hole in the cabinet, and slid that sucker in. I then secured it to the framing of the cabinet with two 2 inch screws.
Step 6: Connect the drain
Every city has its own code for how these drains need to be connected, but I used the high loop method. It really confused me at first, but it's really straight forward and makes a lot of sense. The purpose of this step is to ensure that drainage water doesn't run backwards through the drain and back into the dishwasher. You'll need a few items likely not included for this step:
A branch tailpiece for your sink drain
A dishwasher drain hose extension
If you don't need a drain hose extension, you may need to buy the connectors and steel hose clamps, but the kit linked above includes all of that in the package.
First, you'll connect the extension to your dishwasher drain hose and tighten the clamp around the connection. You want to make it tight to ensure nothing leaks from the connection. Then you're going to hang the extension from a point in your cabinet that is higher than the branch tail piece. I used a small screw eye and a zip tie to hang mine in place.
Then just connect the other end of the hose to the branch in the tailpiece you installed on your drain and tighten the clamp around that connection. See the diagram below.
The whole purpose of this set up is to let gravity work in your favor. This ensures that any water running from your sink down the drain won't find a way to your dishwasher and back it up.
Step 7: Attach the door panel and plug it in
After all the connections were done and secure, I installed the decorative door panel per the instruction manual. These are more common on top control dishwashers. Then I plugged it in, and we were operational!
Step 8: Attach trim
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the dishwasher was an inch too deep for my cabinets, so I had to get creative. I decided to add a simple 1in trim around the edge of the opening. I cut the trim to length, gave it 2 coats of paint, used a brad nail gun to secure it in place, and patched all nail holes and joints with all-purpose spackle.
Then the holidays happened and I was planning my wedding and my friends got married and I let two entire months pass before doing the next and final step. Because sometimes you just hit a wall, even when you're so dang close.
Finally, I sanded the spackled patches and gave the trim a final coat of green paint. And I now am the proud owner of functioning, aesthetically pleasing, dishwasher! And let me tell you, it has changed our lives! I have gotten at least half an hour of quality time back with my fiancé each evening. And as people with very busy and different schedules, that was worth every penny and frustrating roadblock!