DIY Appliance Repair: How to Install an Ice Maker Water Line

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The forerunner of the modern refrigerator was an external refrigeration unit that mounted on top of the ubiquitous “Ice Box.” invented by Fred W. Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1913, this first refrigerator used external plumbing to carry the

The modern, hermetically sealed refrigerator did not make its appearance until 1925. Actually, the invention of the self-contained, hermetically sealed refrigerator was based on the work of two inventors whose work goes all the way back to the late 1800's. Marcel Audiffren of France and Christian Steenstrup of Schenectady, New York, working independently developed the systems that made a standalone, hermetically sealed refrigerator possible. Like many of the great inventors of those bygone days, Christian Steenstrup was a self-trained machinist/scientist/engineer/inventor. The problem with those early refrigerators were that they still used poisonous gasses within the hermetically sealed components—gases such as methyl chloride, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide as refrigerants. It was not until 1929, with the invention of the Freon operated hermetically sealed compressor motors did refrigerators become truly safe for home use.

Refrigerators have come a long way since Fred W. Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana, converted the first “Ice Box” to a refrigerator in 1913, with his box top compressor unit. Although most entry level refrigerator/freezers still rely on low-tech ice cube tray to produce ice cubes and a pitcher filled with water in the refrigerator to produce ice water, the automated ice cube makers are becoming available as add-on units even for entry level units. Today, as prices continue to drop, almost everyone can afford a refrigerator with an automated ice cuber maker and with an ice water dispenser built right into the door.

As more people move up to refrigerators with these built-in ice makers and cold water dispensers, they encounter a need to have a water line ran to where the refrigerator is located. You have two choices here, you can hire a plumber to install the line and pay him or her $75 to $100 an hour labor, or you can install the water line yourself. Believe it or not, even a person with little or no plumbing experience can do it quickly and easily. Read on to find out how you can do it too.

Tools and Supplies that you will need for this project.

Which of these tools and supplies you will need will depend on which of the three options for the installing the water line you choose to go with.

You will need these tools and supplies with all options.

  • Tape Measure

  • Tubing Cutter

  • 1/4-inch O.D. (Outside Diameter) Flexible Copper Tuning

  • 1/4-Inch Compression Nuts ans Sleeves/Beads

  • 6-Inch adjustable wrench

  • 8-Inch adjustable wrench

  • 3/8-Inch Drill/Driver

  • 1/2-Inch Spade Bit

Option 1 tools and supplies

If you are comfortable with sweat-soldering copper pipes and fittings, you may choose this option.

  • Propane or LP-Torch

  • Soldering Flux

  • Flux brush

  • Emery cloth

  • Fitting brush

  • 1/2-Inch copper “Tee”

  • 1/2-Inch rigid copper pipe

  • 1/2- Inch solder stop-valve with 1/4-Inch compression outlet

Option 2 tools and supplies.

If you are comfortable cutting into the waterline but not confident in your soldering skills, you may prefer to go with this option.

  • 1/2-Inch Compression “Tee”

  • 1/2-Inch Rigid Copper Pipe

  • 1/2-Inch to 1-Inch compression stop-Valve.

Option 3

This option does not require you to cut the water service line.

  • 1/2-Inch Saddle Valve to 1/4-Inch Compression outlet.

A word of warning is in order at this point. Saddle-valves do not meeting local plumbing codes in some areas so check with your local building codes department before deciding to go with this option.

Planning the project.

For most people, the most difficult part of this project is getting the 1/4-Inch flexible copper tubing from where you tap into the cold water line to where the refrigerator is located. The route you should take depends on where the nearest cold water line is located and how easy it will be to access it. Basically you have two options. The first option is to drill down through the floor to access a cold water line in the basement or to access a cold water line in the crawlspace under your house. The second option is to route the 1/4-Inch water line through the kitchen's base cabinets as shown here.

If the refrigerator is located near the sink, routing the line through the cabinets may be the best route to take. On the other hand, if there are many feet of cabinet space between the sink and the refrigerator, drilling down through the floor to access a water line in the basement or crawlspace is usually quicker and easier.

The reason you will want to form 6 to 8 curls of copper tubing at the refrigerators location is to make it easier to move the refrigerator in and out of its space without damaging the water line.

Option One Installation Procedure.

  • Shut the cold water off in the basement/crawlspace at the street service valve. Then open any faucets or valves at a lower level that the pipe you are going to cut into the drain the water from the pipes. This pictures shows the Copper Tee being inserted in the cold water line under the kitchen sink. For a quick course on how to solder copper pipe, check out my Basic Plumbing Skill Set: Soldering Copper Pipe.

  • When soldering stop-valves or anywhere close to stop-valves, you should disassemble the stop valve to keep the heat from the torch from damaging the valve's rubber components.

Option Two: Using all Compression Fittings.

  • Begin as you did above by shutting off the water at the street service valve and then draining the cold water pipes.

  • This picture showing the compression Tee and compression valve are pretty self explanatory. The only thing that I want to add is that making square cuts is very important when working with compression fittings. It will pay to invest in a copper tubing cutter because these cutters assure you of a perfectly square cut.

Option Three: Installing a Saddle Valve

  • Once again, shut off the water at the street service valve. Draining the pipes is not necessary when installing a saddle valve but is advisable if you intend to enlarge the initial hole made by the built in piercing rod. Some refrigerator manufacturers require that you drill out the original hole to a specified diameter. Check the information that came with your appliance.

  • Check with your building codes department before using Saddle Valves because they are not acceptable in all jurisdictions.

Flush out the new water lines.

Be sure to run a few gallons of water through the new water line before connecting it to the refrigerator to flush out any soldering flux, metal particles, and any other debris that may have entered the system.


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