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A Plumber’s Guide to Your Garbage Disposal
A modern garbage disposal or, as they call it in Canada, a “garburator,” looks a bit like something NASA designed for a space mission with hoses, wires, and a big barrel-shaped unit that has an awful lot of pieces inside performing the various stages of chopping, grinding, and adding to the water flowing through. With a methodical approach it’s actually fairly simple to understand, and getting to know your disposal will help you understand how to use it carefully and correctly. You’ll have a better idea about when you can do something about disposal problems, and when it’s time to call plumber for repair or replacement.
Upper Hopper Chamber
The upper chamber of the garbage disposal encloses the grinding process and water flow that combine to turn food coming down the sink’s drain hole into organic matter flowing freely through the sewer lines. When the material fills the upper hopper chamber, the grinding process that relies on free motion of incoming food can become stuck, so it’s important to feed material into the disposal on a regulated basis, rather than all at once. The upper hopper chamber is also the drain input from the dishwasher, or the location where your plumber can connect one if desired.
The dishwasher connection simplifies the plumbing of your kitchen drain with multiple sources of flow. Connecting the dishwasher to the disposal requires an “air gap” or “high loop” between the machine’s output and the disposal’s input. You can often see the air gap as a small bump protruding from your counter. The high loop is below the counter, and simply raises the dishwasher drain line above the machine’s water level. In both cases, the goal is to provide a mechanism for preventing backflow into the dishwasher and feeding your sink’s drain water back onto your clean dishes.
The dishwasher knockout allows operation of the garbage disposal unit with or without a dishwasher attached. You can have your plumber install the disposal and later connect a dishwasher should you choose to add one. If you remove the dishwasher and decide to do your dishes by hand, it’s important that the knockout be replaced when the dishwasher line is disconnected, to keep water and food material from gushing forth and flooding under your cabinet
At the base of the upper hopper chamber and harnessing the energy of the motor, the flywheel drives the impellers, usually a pair of blades that rotate with the flywheel. They push outwards to press food and anything else in the upper hopper chamber against the shredder ring for processing. The particles pass from the shredder ring, also called the grinding ring, into the flow of water from the sink’s faucet. Without that flow, as you can imagine, things start to jam and back up.
If the material jams and causes sticking of the rotating parts, keeps the impellers from moving and directing food material, or blocks the holes through which water and ground material are passing, you’ve got a garbage disposal jam. Since many of the parts involved in this process are sharp, your instinct to reach in and clear the jam with your sense of touch can be catastrophic. It’s important to find a better way, and that often involves calling a plumber.
Lower Hopper Chamber
The water and food particles flow from the “chewing” mechanism down into the lower hopper chamber and out into the drain. The lower hopper chamber provides a buffer so that the material can flow steadily into your drain line without backing up into the upper hopper chamber, where the grinding is taking place. Your plumber may have to clean your disposal in case of a drain backup, since material will first arrive in this lower section unnoticed before it emerges into your sink in more extreme cases.
Waste Line Connector
All the sink, disposal, and dishwasher flow combine and enters your drain and sewer line through this connector. From this point on, your plumber will handle backup and other issues with standard methods, as the pipes are similar to those in other parts of your home.
The motor’s rating can range from one-half horsepower to a full horsepower depending on the quality and purpose of the unit. While most homes will use a basic unit with horsepower at the lower end of the range, homeowners who desire a full-scale commercial kitchen may select a more powerful unit that will be less sensitive to jams and blockages, but can cost as much as ten times the price of the basic units.
To protect the motor, a circuit breaking mechanism disrupts power to the disposal when it determines that the unit is working exceptionally hard, either from a specific jam or heavy use. When the unit stops from this protection, it’s possible that a short cooling-off period followed by pressing the reset button under the unit is all that it takes to restore functioning. Sometimes, if the unit is not functioning after a jam is cleared, pressing the reset button is the final step of that process as well. On a few units, the reset button can be located on the front.
Flywheel Turning Wrench Hole
A trick your plumber may use to clear a jam when the motor is disabled due to overheating is to manually turn the flywheel and internal components using a small wrench inserted into this hole in the bottom of the garbage disposal unit. By cranking the flywheel slightly by hand through this access point, it may become easier to dislodge jammed material that had been wedged by the motor’s power.
Getting Your Garbage Disposal Repaired, Replaced, or Cleared Safely by a Plumber
bluefrog Plumbing + Drain provides expert plumbers to handle all of your plumbing issues including routine care and emergency service for your garbage disposal unit. Call us to install, repair, and replace kitchen equipment and keep your kitchen plumbing functioning properly.