Installing a Water Line for Your Refrigerator Icemaker or Water Dispenser
Installing a new water line for icemakers and water dispensers on refrigerators is a fairly easy job for the do-it-yourselfer. You need a few tools and a little muscle, after purchasing an installation kit from any home center or hardware store, the job can be completed in about an hour. Copper or plastic tubing is routed through the floor joists to a cold water pipe in the basement, or some other space near the refrigerator that you can access, where a saddle valve is installed to tap into a cold water line. You will need a drill with a ½ inch bit, a screwdriver, measuring tape, 2 crescent wrenches, or one crescent wrench and one pair of pump pliers.
The Hook-Up Kit and Locating the Route
This kit cost from $10 to $15 and usually includes; 20 feet of ¼ inch copper or plastic tubing, brass ¼ inch compression nuts, brass ferrules, a piercing saddle valve. If plastic tubing is used, the ferrules may be plastic as well. I feel that plastic is slightly less susceptible to kinking and therefore splitting than copper, but this would only occur if you move the refrigerator around excessively to clean. I have found that plastic tubing is slightly more prone to leaking at the compression fittings at the valve and the refrigerator.
Tongue and Groove (Pump) Pliers (Channel Lock)
The first step you should perform is getting a layout of you kitchen to find where the closest accessible cold water line is and what are the possible routes to get the line from the refrigerator to that point. If your refrigerator is surrounded by cabinetry you should pull it out to gain access to the wall behind it. In some cases it’s possible to route the tubing through the bottom or top corner of the base cabinets to where the kitchen sink is located. If this looks like a possibility, remove any drawers from the cabinets to see how much room you have behind the drawer track. The tubing would have to be run along the back side of the cabinet to ensure that it’s not hit by the drawers when they are closed. You may not want to run the tubing through a cabinet that has heavy pots and pans that are stored as they can damage the soft tubing. As an alternative, you can purchase ½ inch or ¾ inch PVC pipe and cut it to length to fit inside the cabinet and then run the tubing inside this as a guard.
In most cases the easiest option is drilling a small hole in the floor near the baseboard or shoe molding and running the tubing into the basement.. You will need a drill with a ½ inch drill bit to make a hole between the floor joists. Since you have 20 feet of tubing you should be able to go about 15 feet from the hole you drilled in the floor. You will need to keep about four or five feet of tubing coiled up behind the refrigerator to allow you to hook up the line and also pull the refrigerator out for cleaning. Try to run the tubing along one of the joists for as long as possible to protect the tubing from being hit later on. At the completion of the job, install plastic pipe supports to keep the tubing in place.
Installing the Saddle Valve
Piercing valves work by inserting a sharp needle into the pipe to pierce a hole in the cold water line while a rubber gasket is clamped around the pipe to prevent it from leaking. When you open the valve, the needle is pulled out of the newly-formed hole and water will flow. Don’t open the valve until the tubing has been connected. You should attach the saddle valve to a clean, straight section of piping. Follow the instructions for installing the valve to the pipe. Make sure that the needle of the piercing valve is fully retracted before attaching it to the pipe. An adjustable crescent wrench is used to tighten the handle of the valve to pierce the pipe after the valve has been clamped onto the pipe with a screwdriver. Make sure you have enough room to place your hand and tools on the valve to operate it and to attach the tubing without bending it too much. Typically the cold water lines are hung below the joist, so room is not usually a problem.
Saddle Valve with copper tubing, nut, and ferrule shown
When I installed a saddle valve in my house, I installed a reducing tee fitting, the two ends are ¾ inch and the tee is ½ inch, and an 18 inch section of ½ inch pipe with a ball valve after the tee to be able to isolate the saddle valve at a later date for repairs. I also installed a female adapter on the end on the pipe with a brass plug in case I wanted to install another appliance like an instant hot water maker or bar sink. When connecting the tubing to the valve, slide the nut over the tubing, followed by the ferrule. Insert the tubing into the valve and tighten.
Connecting the tubing to the refrigerator water valve
Follow the same procedure for hooking up the line to the refrigerator. The connection can be in the front or rear. Make sure you allow enough tubing for either location. Use caution when tightening the nut on this valve since the valve is usually only attached with a few sheet metal screws and has tubing and electrical control wiring to control its operation. Sometimes the valve on the refrigerator is constructed out of plastic so you should start the nut by hand to make sure that it is not cross-threaded which would cause it to leak. You do not need Teflon tape or pipe dope for sealing compression fittings.
Nut and ferrule in correct position on tubing
Compression fittings have a different feel to them than pipe threads. There is some resistance to turning, and then the nut suddenly gets very hard to turn when the ferrule is compressed between the seat and the nut. Compression fitting threads are machine screw threads so the diameter is constant unlike pipe threads which are tapered. The resistance to turning increases as the fittings are turned. If the connection leaks, tighten a quarter turn and turn on the water again. If the saddle valve leaks, check the tightness of the saddle clamp or tighten the packing nut below the handle of the valve.