How much do you use your garbage disposal? To figure out how big a garbage disposal you need, consider the largest meal you're likely to prepare during the year and buy a disposal that can handle the cleanup. On the other hand, if you compost most of your food waste and use your disposers only occasionally, you can probably get by with a smaller, cheaper model than families who use theirs daily.
What kind of kitchen scraps do you typically dispose of? Some food waste is easier for garbage disposals to grind up. If you know you'll be feeding it lots of stringy or tough waste such as carrot tops, celery, or bones, choose a unit with a higher-horsepower motor.
Are you on a septic system? Homeowners on septic systems have long been told that they shouldn't get a garbage disposal because it adds to the amount of waste in the septic tank and strains the tank's capacity. However, some disposers, like the InSinkErator Evolution Septic Assist (Est. $200) are designed specifically to minimize the impact on a septic system. Check with a local building inspector or environmental health official to find out whether you can use this kind of disposer without upgrading your septic system. Alternatively, you can just plan to empty the tank more often.
Do you have small children in your home? Parents should consider safer batch feed disposals that are activated only when the drain is covered by a magnetic lid. That eliminates any risk that the disposer could be turned on by accident while a small hand is fishing around inside. The downside is that these models take longer to process waste because scraps must be fed into the disposer one batch at a time.
How much room do you have under your sink? Garbage disposals with more horsepower usually have larger grind chambers and bodies that take up more space under the sink. It's important for disposers to have plenty of room so they vibrate less, causing less noise and less potential for leaks. If you have limited space for the disposal, look at models with smaller profile bodies.
How handy are you? Most garbage disposals are designed with timesaving installation mounts that should be easy enough for even casual DIY-ers. Depending on your kitchen's wiring and plumbing, however, some disposers might need to be directly wired into the wall or have extensions or reductions made to existing drain pipes. Take a close look at the setup under your sink before purchase and decide whether you feel comfortable installing it yourself. If not, you'll want to budget extra for installation by a plumber.
What's your budget? If you monitor sale prices, particularly at online retailers, you can find some less powerful disposals for less than $80. At the other end of the spectrum, you can pay upwards of $300 for a whisper-quiet, high-horsepower model with a long warranty. Your decision should be based on your budget, as well as how much power and capacity you need for the food waste you generate.
If your kitchen faucet uses a typical 2.5 gallons per minute, then running a garbage disposal for a minute a day will add about 900 gallons per year to your water bill. In most parts of the country, this isn't a significant expense. A DIY installation carries modest expenses -- for plumber's putty, for example, plus any components (such as extensions for existing under-sink pipes) you might need. However, if you need to hire a plumber for installation, that can drive up the cost considerably. Once the disposer is installed, maintenance is fairly easy and inexpensive: Simply grind ice chips to clean the blades and lemon or orange peels to kill bad smells. If you own a septic-friendly system, you'll also need to buy enzyme cartridges a few times a year.