Dishwasher Dreams Come True

Ever since we moved into our house in July 2009, I have been dreaming of a new dishwasher. The one in our house was ugly, loud and didn’t do a great job cleaning the dishes.

P1080544Our friends have the same dishwasher in their house, and have the same complaints. In the photo above, the kick panel is missing because (spoiler alert!) it was right before we uninstalled it. That yellow thing under the dishwasher is a piece of fiberglass insulation. I guess someone else also thought the dishwasher was loud and thought that would help?

Recently Jeremy became annoyed with the failings of our dishwasher and we started discussing replacement options. We knew we wanted something quite, with a stainless steel tub, for not a lot of money. We gravitated towards Bosch because Jeremy’s parents have one and it is super quiet and they seem to like it a lot. Also, when we vacationed with our friends at Deep Creek Lake this past fall our rental house had two Bosch dishwashers. Implying to me that these dishwashers can take the abuse of a multitude of users.

We found the Bosch SHE55M12UC in white on the Sears Outlet website. The Sears Outlet is where they sell floor models and refurbished appliances (among other items). This Bosch model had everything we were looking for: stainless steel tub, fold down racks on top and bottom, 47 dBA, 259 kWh/yr operating estimate, 3 gallons of water per cycle, half-load option… and lots of other features. The price wasn’t so bad either, $450. The problem is, that is just the cheapest available dishwasher – and it was in Charlotte, NC. The closest dishwashers were still an hour away for more than $500 to pick up in store for an additional $100 to have it delivered. So, we put that option on hold.

Jeremy searched Craigslist for Bosch dishwashers. Now that we knew what we wanted, it made the search easier. We found a white Bosch Dishwasher in Annapolis for $300, and from the pictures it looked like it was the one we found on Sears. When we saw the dishwasher in person, it was a different model. This was Bosch SH55P02UC, which appears to be the older model of the one we liked. The SHE55P02UC has a stainless steel tub, folding tines, operates at 47 dBA, 259 kWh/yr operating estimate, 2.8 gallons per cycle, and it offers all the same wash options. The only difference I know of is that this model is no longer in prodcution.

New Bosch InsulationLet’s talk about why this dishwasher is so quiet . As you can see above, it is encased by insulation. This is the thick stuff, and it was securely attached on 4 sides of the dishwasher. Let’s compare to the insulation found on our original dishwasher:

Sad Dishwasher with InsulationThis sad insulation was like yellow fiberglass encased in a trash bag. It only wrapped around 3 of the sides, and was not securely attached.

There are other features that make the Bosch run quietly. It has two pumps to help minimize noise and vibration, and a solid base. Our old dishwasher was propped up by 4 little legs, but the Bosch rests solidly on the floor.

Well, as the pictures reveal, we bought the white Bosch and uninstalled our old dishwasher. Here’s how we did it:

  • Turn off the power to the dishwasher. Our fuse box had a switch just for the dishwasher. If you want to be extra safe, turn off all the power in the kitchen.
  • Turn off the water where the dishwasher connects under the sink.
  • Disconnect the drain hose from the disposal. Ours was a white hose attached with a clamp. Loosen the screw on the clamp and pull the hose off. We reused the same clamp for our new hose.
  • Disconnect the water pipe (should hook up near where you turned the water off). Our pipes are rigid copper pipes. After loosening the bolt, Jeremy had to give the dishwasher pipe a good tug to get them to separate. If all else fails, use a hacksaw.
  • Remove the kick panel from the front of the dishwasher. Open the electrical box and un-wire the dishwasher. Of course, if you have a multimeter, check for any electricity before you do this step. Many new dishwashers just plug in to an outlet – both our new and old dishwashers were wired.
  • Look around under the dishwasher. You should be able to see where either the drain hose or water pipe connect. Disconnect them if you can. Our rigid copper pipe attached in the back, and we couldn’t unhook it.
  • Lastly, un-mount the dishwasher from the counter top. Most likely it is attached with two screws on the underneath of the counter.

If you do all of those steps, then your dishwasher should be free from any connections and you can just pull it out.

Dishwasher HoleThere you go – a dishwasher hole. You can see the white electrical wire coming out of the wall, and above that, on the side of the cabinet, the hole for the drain hose and water pipe. Oh, and the filth. I think that dishwasher has been there since 1996.

New Bosch InstalledTo install the dishwasher, you just do all those steps in reverse. Jeremy wired the dishwasher to the power while I connected the pipes. Then we turned the power back on and ran a half-load of dishes.

Inside the DishwasherIsn’t it beautiful? The main criticism we found in reviews is that the tub is too small. I think the tub is a reasonable size for Jeremy and I. We ran a full load after three days of dirty dishes. I will admit that I am having trouble loading it though. After 3.5 years I knew how to load our old dishwasher, we had a good systems for what dishes fit where. These new racks have tines going in different directions and I just haven’t mastered the art of loading this dishwasher. Our largest dinner plates do fit in the bottom rack, but depending on how you pull out the top rack, the spinning arms on the top rack hit the dishes.

Oh, and it is nice and quiet. We can have a conversation in the kitchen and watch TV in the living room at a reasonable volume while it is running.

What upgrades have you made recently? In the market for a dishwasher? Fan of the Bosch?

Dual Flush Conversion

A few weeks ago, Jeremy and I converted the toilet in the hall bathroom into a dual-flush toilet. After reviewing our utilities, we saw that the one bill that hasn’t decreased over the years was our water bill. We hoped that converting our most used toilet into a dual flush toilet could help save more water (and monies).

Jeremy did the research and decided on the One2Flush drop-in converter kit. You can read about the kit and installation instructions here. Jeremy chose this kit because it comes with both a button and a handle. We thought that the double button would be more obvious to guests that this is not a “normal” toilet. With the handle, Jeremy worried that people would not realize that half-flush was an option. Another reason why we chose this kit is because it claims to fit most toilets and completely replaces the rubber flap. The flap is replaced with a piston mechanism that flushes the water out with an increased force. This allows the toilet to flush effectively with less water.

P1080284 P1080289The first step was replacing the rubber flap with the silicone seal that connects to the piston mechanism. In the first photo you might notice the ridges on the sides of the pipe. These ridges prevented the seal from fitting securely on top of the opening. A loose fit means that the toilet will keep running. Jeremy used his dremmel to shave down the sides of the pipe and make it smooth. Then he was able to secure the silicone seal and install the rest of the kit.

Complete KitHere is the final installation. On top of the seal is the piston mechanism. On this device is where you can set the water levels for “full” and “half” flushes. We have them both set to their minimum. This mechanism connects (via the yellow hose) to the button or handle. Other reviewers mentioned that a kink in the connection hose causes the toilet to not flush properly.

After the installation was complete we let the tank refill and tried a few test flushes. The button was not as responsive as we had hoped, and the full-flush always left the toilet running. After adjusting the pieces and trying to refit the silicone seal, we replaced the dual button with the handle.

Dual Flush HandleWe positioned the handle vertically, again to cue our guests that something is different about this toilet. We’ve been using the toilet like this for the past few weeks, and I have no complaints. The water level in the bowl is less than before, and we already had “low flow” toilets. There hasn’t been any clogs or issues with the half or full flushes. I think that the piston mechanism is making the toilet work better than before. Jeremy is still unhappy that the button did not work. The button’s malfunction may be because everything is too cramped in the tank (causing the hose to kink). This conversion kit works with a lot of the preexisting components of the toilet. There is another kit that replaces all the parts of the tank, and may make more room for the button mechanism.

During installation we filled and empty the tank several times, and there were a lot of test flushes – so, we don’t expect to see any water savings until our next bill cycle. Since this toilet is using less water, we’ve been prioritizing its use. Perhaps if there are noticeable savings we will convert our other two toilets.

Anyone else have experience with dual-flush conversions? Did you just decide to buy a new toilet instead?


Soyajoy Alternative Milk Machine

For Christmas we received the Soyajoy Soy Milk Maker from Jeremy’s parents. Jeremy and I already wanted to try making almond and cashew nut milks – a process of soaking, blending, straining, and additional blending. The soymilk machine seemed like a simpler process.

Dry Soy BeansSoaked Soy BeansFirst you have to soak your beans or nuts. Things like rice and oats do not need soaking. The first photo is the sample of dried soy beans that came with the machine; the second photo is 12 hours later. You can buy dried soy beads and raw nuts in bulk at MOMs and Whole Foods. While the beans were soaking, I cleaned the machine as recommended by the user’s manual.

Cleaning ExplosionThe manual says to fill the soymilk maker with water, like you are going to make milk. Then add a drop of dish soap and run the “bean” cycle. Well, I must have added too much dish soap because I had an explosion. Warm soapy water spurted everywhere. So, I deemed the machine clean and rinsed it of the soapy water (and wiped down the counters/floor).

Finished Soy MilkThe next morning I made soymilk with the rehydrated soybeans. All you do is add filtered water and beans to the machine and select a cycle. When the machine beeps, the milk is done! You pour the milk out of the machine, through the strainer, into the pitcher (all provided). The solid byproduct is called okara. The machine produced approximately 48 fl oz of soymilk.

To make soymilk, the machine heats the liquid, so the resulting milk is warm. I transferred the milk to a tupperware container with a spout and added some vanilla. I waited for the liquid to reach room temperature and then chilled it in the fridge. By lunch the milk was still lukewarm. I was surprised how long it was taking to chill. So, I would recommend making soymilk, or any other milk where it is “cooked”, the night before you want to have it, especially if you were planning on enjoying it with breakfast.

I found the soymilk to have a strong bean taste. I added honey in an attempt to sweeten it more, but I couldn’t cover the bean taste. Jeremy had the soymilk in his cereal and liked it. He did not think it tasted like beans. My sister drank the soymilk and liked the flavors. So, I must be overtly sensitive to the bean flavor. Next time I will add a pinch of sea salt and a tablespoon of sugar to improve the flavors.

OkaraThis is the okara. The Soyajoy Machine came with recipes that use the okara. We decided to try the “chicken” strips (or as we say chik’n) recipe. Only, my sister Mimi decided strips were too challenging and made spheres instead:

Okara Stir-FryHere are her chik’n spheres in a stir-fry. Basically, you just mix the okara with oats and spices until it reaches a dough-like consistency. Then shape the “dough” and dip in soymilk and flour, then pan fry. This chik’n definitely tasted as good as store bought faux meats – we usually like Morning Star brand. I also found them to be like matzo balls – but that might have been influenced by the shape. I also used some of the okara to make veggie burgers. I used this recipe and substituted 3/4 c of okara for the pinto beans and quinoa. They turned out delicious!

Our first batch of soymilk lasted four days. For our second batch of milk I made almond milk. Again, the raw almonds soaked for about 13 hours. For almond milk you use the “raw” cycle, which creates the milk without heat. This cycle only took about ten minutes. After straining the milk I flavored it with 3 tablespoons of honey, as recommended in the accompanying recipe book. I find the almond milk more enjoyable to drink alone (ie, not in cereal) than the soymilk. I haven’t experimented with the almond meal byproduct of the milk.

I think this appliance will be very useful to us. Since we stopped buying “real” milk (read about that here) we have been consuming at least 64oz (half a gallon) of soy/almond/rice/flax milk a week. That probably costs us $4 to $8 a week. At MOMs you can buy dried soybeans at $1.59 a pound, and you only need 3/5 cup to make 48oz of soymilk. So, I don’t really need to do the math in order to demonstrate that even with the cost of water, that’s a lot of savings. Almond and other nut milks are more expensive. Yet even at $9.99 a pound for raw almonds, we will still be saving money on “milk” (need 3/4 c per 48oz of milk). Plus, I am not even including the uses for okara and the other byproducts of the milks. With the okara of one batch of soymilk we made 4 veggie burgers and a stir-fry that served four. Needless to say, I am pretty excited about the possibilities of savings and foods that this machine has provided.

Now, why this machine instead of just using a blender and a nut bag (as used here)? I found this machine easy to use and clean. It takes all the guess-work out of the blending. To clean I rinse out the stainless steel pitcher with soapy water. The top part of the machine comes off and there is a “funnel” (that covers the blades) that you twist off. I rinse these parts and wipe them down with a sponge. Everything is easy to clean and reach, unlike cleaning out the bottom of my blender. The machine also came with a toothbrush-looking cleaning utensil, which I haven’t needed to use yet.

So, would I recommend this crazy appliance? Yes, if you already enjoy milk alternatives. I am sure that I will have more stories and recipes to share as we experiment more.

Anyone else have experiences making their own soy/nut milk that they want to share?

The Mattress is Here!

To read about why we chose all-natural latex, check out this post.

Our new mattress arrived Monday, sixteen days after we purchased it online. Jeremy came home from work to find the package propped-up against the garage door:

Jeremy opened up the cardboard to find the mattress rolled-up tightly inside.

Jeremy carried the 120 pound beast to our bedroom. He said that when he broke the seal, the package popped like a can of crescent rolls. When I came home, the new mattress was atop our former box-spring. Since we invested so much into the mattress, we wanted to get away with keeping the old box-spring.

The first thing I did was throw myself onto the bed. It was firm but bouncy – much bouncier than I had anticipated. I could feel the difference between this mattress and our worn-in spring mattress. You sink into the foam, unlike our spring mattress where I was rolling into the sagging center. The bounciness came whenever either of us rolled over. After the first night we placed two sheets of hardboard (1/4″ thick) on top of the box spring. This has reduced the bouncing. Now the bed is soft and firm, sort of like laying on the sand at the beach. It is very comfortable for laying on your stomach.

The complimentary talalay pillows are like jell-o jigglers. They are super wiggly – and dangerous in a pillow fight. Above is one of the pillows, outside of its zippered case.

This is the aspect of the mattress I was most concerned about. When I pressed my nose against the mattress, I could smell a faint odor. It did not smell like rubber gloves or balloons, just a warm plastic smell. Then we unzipped the mattress:

After the initial unzip, you can see the wool layer covering the latex.

Pull back the cover to reveal the talalay top layer and the double layer of dunlop latex. Only when the latex was fully exposed did I notice a stronger odor. Now after a few days, I don’t smell anything at all.

The pillows on the other hand, had a strong latex smell. I removed the zipper cases and washed them. This helped reduce the odor a little. Yet even through two pillow cases I can still smell a latex odor. I am unable to use the pillow comfortably. Jeremy has been using the talalay pillow without complaint. I am hoping that the smell will dissipate over time.

Overall, I am enjoying the new mattress. It feels soft and supportive. The quilted cotton cover is just the right amount of plush. We might eventually upgrade our box-spring/hard board set-up for a proper foundation. We’ll keep you posted.

Mattress Shopping

For our three-year wedding anniversary (and Jeremy’s birthday) we decided to invest in a new mattress. Our current mattress is around 12 years old. My mom bought it for me back when I was still in high school. Over the past year we have both been complaining of sleep problems, so we decided it was time for a new mattress.

When we began our mattress shopping journey, I was pretty set on just getting a traditional innerspring mattress – which is what we have now. Jeremy sent me this Young House Love post, which started my research of organic options. Now a few days later we have placed an order for an all natural latex mattress. Let me explain how that happened…

All Natural Materials
We spend a third of our lives in bed, so it is important that our mattresses not only be comfortable, but healthy. Traditional mattresses utilize synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, and polyurethane (memory foam). These materials must be treated with additional chemicals to make them flame retardant. These synthetic fibers and chemicals may emit VOCs, which have been linked to respiratory problems. (To read more about these topics, check out Renee Loux’s Easy Green Living). I will testify that memory foam mattresses can smell terrible. My mother purchased a lower quality memory foam mattress for my sister, and when removed from the box it smelled like sewage. For weeks.

On the other hand, natural and organic mattresses make use of materials that are naturally flame retardant – wool and natural latex. Wool is a natural insulator, helping you to feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The wool fibers also help to wick away moisture, relieving that “clammy” feeling. Natural latex comes from the sap of rubber trees and is inherently hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial and dust mite resistant. These properties appealed to me, but I was concerned about a latex mattress triggering an allergic reaction in my mother or sister, who are both allergic to latex. Several sources assure me that pure latex has not been linked to latex sensitivity.

Natural Versus Organic, and Other Tricks
Cotton and wool are natural and renewable materials. Unless these materials are certified organic, they can still be treated with bleach and other chemicals that contribute to VOCs.

As for latex, this article states that there is only one company that produces/distributes USDA certified organic latex. The main difference in the organic and all natural latex is whether or not the rubber trees have received fertilizer or pesticides in the four years prior to harvest. Most manufacturers of 100% natural latex mattresses claim no chemicals have been used in the processing of the latex – that’s good enough for me. Be aware of companies that mix natural latex with synthetic latex. Or this mattress, where the top layer of foam is natural latex, but the bottom layer is polyurethane foam.

Foam Versus Innerspring Mattresses
Once I was convinced that I should seek out all natural and organic materials, I still had to decide what type of mattress to get. The decision to go for latex foam was made surprisingly easy – it is really difficult to find affordable innerspring mattresses that use healthy materials. I had previously tested out some mattresses at Sears, but I couldn’t find any real information online about their materials or production process. I get nervous when I don’t feel informed. In addition, innerspring mattresses lose their shape quickly, and most warranties only cover up to 10 years.

I was hesitant about foam mattresses because I thought they wouldn’t provide enough support. All natural latex is processed in two ways – dunlop and talalay. The dunlop method is the traditional way to process the latex, and results in a firmer foam. The talalay process produces a pillowy foam and is usually more expensive. Most latex mattress manufacturers allow you to customize the feel of your mattress by choosing whether you want layers of dunlop or talalay (ex: Savvy Rest and earthsake). The more dunlop layers you have, the firmer your mattress will be. Both the companies I’ve linked to allow you to build split mattresses with different firmnesses – even in full or queen sized beds. In addition to being more customizable, all natural latex mattresses do not need to be flipped or rotated. They are guaranteed to keep their shape for 20 years.

What We Bought
Once we decided that we wanted an all natural latex mattress, we had to do some comparison shopping to get a good price. We eventually settled on Plushbed’s 8″ Botanical Bliss Natural Latex Mattress. This mattress has everything we were looking for – 100% natural latex with no glues or chemicals, organic cotton cover, pure New Zealand wool, a dunlop latex base with a talalay latex topper. We selected a full-sized, medium-firm mattress. With their special promotion, the mattress cost $1599. Although that price is more than we thought we’d spend, there are some factors to consider (like, 2 free talalay pillows). This mattress costs twice as much as an innerspring mattress that I liked at Sears, but it should last twice as long. Plushbeds has a 25 year warranty – with 100% coverage for 10 full years, and pro-rated in years 11-25. Within 100 nights, if you decide that the mattress is not for you, you can return the mattress for a $99 shipping fee, and full reimbursement. In addition, if you are unhappy with the firmness of your mattress, Plushbeds will send you a new top layer of latex in a different firmness. Since the layers of latex are not glued together inside the mattress cover, you can easily change-out the top layer.

In the end, it was this dedication to customer service that convinced me to order from Plushbeds. I always read the negative customer reviews first – I already like the product, I want someone to convince me to not buy it. Even if customers were unhappy with the latex mattress (which was only a few people) they only had good things to say about Plushbeds and their customer service representatives. I expect enjoying this mattress, but it is good to know that if I don’t, it won’t be a hassle to customize or return the mattress.

We will hopefully receive our new mattress in a few weeks. I look forward to reporting about how much our sleep has improved.

Are you thinking about a new mattress? Have you considered natural latex? If you already have a natural latex mattress, do you love it?

Fridge Friend

One room that we haven’t done much with is the kitchen. It’s pretty boring with its maple cabinets, dark green (fake) counter-top and laminate floor. And that thing above the sink.

When we bought the house there was no refrigerator in the kitchen. Just a lonely gap beneath the wall cabinets (and filth on the floor). To be truthful, there was a fridge in the basement. My sister Maureen cleaned it out. It contained curly hairs and pistachios. Jeremy said it would be a shame to not use it. I had to beg him to get a new one. Thank goodness my grandparents offered to buy us a refrigerator for a wedding gift. We measured the empty space in our kitchen (W – 36″  D – 29″ H – 69″) and went to Home Depot to shop.

The Missing Fridge

We soon learned that we needed a shorter than average fridge. We already knew we wanted a fridge with a high energy star rating, preferably not french doors (they tend to have a lower rating). I was advocating for a freezer on the bottom. We access the fridge part more often, why not have that at chest level? Finally we found this beauty. What I really like about this model is the bottom freezer is a door, not a drawer. I feel that with a drawer freezer the food gets piled on top of each other and you have to dig around.

Although we loved this LG refrigerator, we continued to shop around, primarily online. We shopped on, but only one result came up when I entered the dimensions into the search. In the end, we (my grandma) ordered the refrigerator from using a coupon code during a sale. Result: $899.00 for the fridge after $209.09 in savings.

Really, I love this fridge. Adjustable shelves and door cubbies. It beeps at you if either door is left open for more than a minute. The front is smooth white, and easy to clean. Also, it fits the space perfectly – which no one else could. There is less than an inch gap on top, and a 2 inch gap on the counter side. It does stick out slightly past the entrance to the kitchen though.

Oh, and that’s what happens when you open the door. This entrance to the kitchen is completely blocked. I guess that could be fixed by having french doors, or by moving the hinge to the other side (which you can do). If the door opened the other way (into the kitchen) it would be less accessible when cooking. I suppose a third option would be to move the fridge entirely. That would require running a new line for the ice maker. It is something to consider though, since we want to add more storage and workspace to the kitchen. We could do some crazy rearranging.

What do you love about your fridge?