How I Cheated Death (in 10 easy steps)


Today I’m taking a break from my normal posts about creativity and business to wax poetic about my newfound homeowner skills — I replaced a garbage disposal!

Yeah, I know, I know… This probably rates a grandiose “so what” for the average person, but this was my first try ever with a repair of something electrical. I’m extremely proud of myself, and mostly for not dying in the process. So indulge me a little, ok?

To truly appreciate this tale you need to understand that I am terrified by all things electrical.  I’m okay (generally) with plugging things in, but messing with wires makes me twitch.  Actually it’s the thought of doing it incorrectly and twitching involuntarily that freaks me out. I do my best to avoid it.

I lived with a building contractor for a while, and he had a saying:

“Screwing up plumbing will get you wet. Screwing up electrical will get you dead.”

At the end of the relationship we didn’t agree on much, but I still take this little ditty as gospel.

So on to my story…

Last week I grab a plastic bag from under the kitchen sink, and what I retrieve is a bit soggy and sloshy. I’m thinking this is a bad sign, but hey — a leak under the sink can’t be that hard to fix, right?  So I grab a flashlight and start investigating the source.  And where is the water coming from?  The garbage disposal.  And not just any ol’ place on the garbage disposal — it’s dripping out from where the electrical wires go in.  Crap.

Last time I checked, electric + water = bad. Very bad.

This definitely needs to be fixed. <insert involuntary shudder here.>

I’m too cheap and impatient to hire someone to replace it for me, so I do what any self-respecting homeowner would do:


Step 1:  Consult friends on Facebook.

Everyone assures me that I can handle this repair on my own.  One male friend reminds me to shut off the circuit breaker before I fiddle with anything.  One female friend tells me that leg strength is greater than arm strength, so feel free to crawl under the sink and use thigh power on stuck things if necessary. Okay. Duly noted.


Step 2: Go to Lowe’s and procure replacement garbage disposal.

Picking up a box like I know what I’m doing and paying for it successfully does wonders for my Weekend Warrior ego. I now understand why the home improvement industry is making tons of money.


Step 3: Watch every video created on how to replace a garbage disposal on YouTube.

Thank God for the internet — it makes idiots like me feel semi-proficient on just about anything in a matter of minutes. I am convinced by these strangers that I can fix anything with a screwdriver and duct tape.


Step 4: Download most comprehensive video to iPad for handy step-by-step instructions.

Yet another great use for the iPad!  Much more convenient than running back and forth to the desktop computer in the bedroom.


Step 5:  Turn off the power to the disposal.

This important step was verified by my FaceBook friends, all the videos I watched, and my inherent fear of electricity.  I flipped the circuit breaker, then tested the switch to make sure the thing no longer growled.  I flipped the switch several more times just to make sure.  Then I verified that the switch (now without power) was in the off position just to be doubly safe.  Belt, suspenders, etc…


Step 6:  Disconnect old garbage disposal from plumbing.

Let’s just say that after 16 years of service the broken disposal was drippy, smelly, and all-around disgusting.  I’ll spare you the gory details.  Eww…


Step 7:  Disconnect wiring.

Here it is: the moment I dreaded most.  Having to touch the scary electrical stuff, and sopping wet scary electrical stuff at that. I toyed with the idea of flipping the wall switch one more time just to be sure it was off, but decided against it lest I release that one last zap trapped in the line. (Yes, I am that big of a weenie.) First I unlocked the front door just in case the paramedics needed to barge in and save me. (Yes, I really did. I’m not sure who would call them in the event of a tragedy since I was home alone, but maybe the neighbors would be concerned if their lights started to flicker.) I cursed the entire pot of coffee I drank earlier that morning on an empty stomach as I tried to hold the screwdriver steady.  I fished the soggy wiring out of the housing with a metal screwdriver against the protests of every sane fiber of my being, and…

No zap.  We’re good.  Whew…


Step 8: Reconnect wiring to new disposal.

Having escaped certain death on that last step, I am now filled with weekend Warrior bravado.  I grab those bare wires like a two-bit whore on a tight schedule and wrestle them into place.

Fun fact: Did you know that you can re-use wire nuts, and that you shouldn’t twist the wires together first?  (You probably did, but I had no clue.) Again, many thanks to Google and YouTube for their timely assistance.


Step 9: Mount new disposal on hanging bracket and reconnect plumbing.

Easy peasy.  No leaks so far, so we’re good.


Step 10:  Flip circuit breaker and pray for success.

New disposal purrs like a kitten. Success!


The final step:

Retire to the back yard with a beer to celebrate, and write this post about how I cheated death.  Looks like I’ll live to post another day.

Colleen Clifford

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