Moving a refrigerator water line

I wanted to move the refrigerator to the other side of the kitchen, opposite the sink. This meant running water to the new location somehow. Here is what we did and what we learned:

Run a new line, don’t snake the old one

Moving the refrigerator was easy, cleaning the old location was gross, and dealing with the water line was not easy.

For the water, the best way is to find the nearest cold water pipe in the basement below and run a new line from there. Water should come from below, not snaked around or over from the old place.

Of course if the refrigerator is near the sink then go from the sink. Our sink is on the otherside of the room so we went from the basement.

Strategy for adding a new line

Once I identified a nearby 1/2″ cold water pipe in the basement, there were two ways advised to add the new refrigerator water line:

  1. Use a saddle valve that clamps on and pierces an existing pipe
  2. Cut the pipe to install a tee for the new line

The saddle valve option may be ok but it looks and feels really flimsy.  I was worried that if the line were accidentally yanked, there would be a random hole leaking in the pipe.  Thus we went with the second option.

So the plan is…

Cut 1.25 inches out of our existing copper pipe in the basement, fit the tee, add a short length of PEX pipe, then a stop valve (sometimes we might want to shut off water only to the refrigerator), and last is 1/4 inch copper pipe snaked up to the new refrigerator location.

It was not that easy.

Materials list

  • 20′ of 1/4″ flexible copper refrigerator pipe (distance from existing 1/2″ pipe in basement to new refrigerator location plus 6-10′), $20
  • Sharkbite 1/2″ tee, $10
  • Sharkbite 1/2″ to 1/4″ quarter turn stop valve, $10
  • Sharpie pen
  • A short (6″) piece of 1/2″ PEX pipe to connect the tee and stop valve, free or almost free
  • Pipe cutter with a short enough handle to fit 360 degrees around existing pipe (between nearby joists and pipes), $20
  • Compression cap and brass collar for connecting 1/4″ pipe to refrigerator intake, $2
  • Wrench

Total monies: around $60

First, basic stuffs I learned:

Water pipe 101

Most pipe in the basement is copper and most copper pipe is 1/2 inch.  Some pipe is PEX, which is a tough plastic that is slightly flexible.  Compared to PEX, copper is not flexible.  Refrigerator pipe is typically 1/4 inch outside diameter and best is flexible copper.  We have plastic pipe in our condo and it breaks and leaks annually, it is bad.

Fittings 101

For professional plumbers and large jobs, people use copper fittings that require soldering.  I have soldered me electrical boards in electronics class and lab, but the addition of water makes things more difficult.

At Home Depot, they recommended these Sharkbite fittings which have fancy o-rings that allow push-in connections without soldering.  The Sharkbite fittings cost about 10x more than copper fittings, but $10 vs. $1 is a great trade-off when you only need one or two parts and you’re saving yourself hiring a plumber (=$hundreds) and you have little skill with plumbing.  I imagine for a more complicated project and depending on one’s mechanical ability a real professional should be hired (I have a degree in engineering).

For this refrigerator water line project, I bought a Sharkbite 1/2 in tee and a 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch quarter turn valve.

Now, basic stuffs I messed up:

Cutting pipe

I should have googled this before buying anything. For one, our house already came with a pipe cutter I just didn’t know what one looked like and didn’t know we had it until after the fact. A pipe cutter looks like a rotary cutter on a clamp. Actually, that’s what it is. From scrap booking to plumbing, same deal. The rotary blade is on a clamp because you clamp the cutter around the pipe, then turn.

After buying an adjustable cutter with a long handle that looked like it would be easy for a weakling like me to apply torque, I found that that was not smart. The long handle did not fit between the joists and other pipes. I mangled the pipe ends trying to jam the cutter around existing joists and not knowing how tight to make the clamp. I ended up having to go back and buy another smaller cutter.

To use the adjustable pipe cutter, position the clamp around the pipe then tighten the clamp just so that the blade touches the pipe. Turn the knob just a quarter or half turn more. Don’t crush the pipe. Spin the whole cutter device around the pipe multiple times to cut all the way through, tighten knob slightly more as necessary.

So before cutting any pipe, I first turned off the main water supply and opened the faucets to drain as much water as possible. Then positioned a 5 gallon bucket under the pipe to be cut. You will get wet, water will come out of the pipe when you cut. Also, if you’ve never cut pipe before I suggest buying a practice pipe for a few extra dollars; we didn’t do this but in retrospect…

Prepping the cut end

The cut ends need to be smooth and round, not squished. Special deburring tools are sold, but the guy at Home Depot suggested just filing or sanding with abrasive mesh or cloth sold in the plumbing section. This step is incredibly important for the Sharkbite push system.

How much to cut, getting the tee installed

The Sharkbite tee we bought had three 1″ long fittings and a section 1.25″ intervening, so I cut 1.25″ of pipe.  Pulling apart the existing pipe to get the tee in was not easy.  I was not strong enough.

It turned out that cutting a little more, say 1.5″ or 1.75″ (1/4″-1/2″ more) made getting the two pipe ends apart enough to fit the tee much more doable.  We also had to loosen some nearby brackets to get the 1/2″ copper to give enough .

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VERY IMPORTANT: draw a mark 1″ in from the end of the pipes to indicate how far in they will go into the Sharkbite fitting before trying to attach any Sharkbite anything.  This way you will know if the pipe has been pushed in far enough or not.

Compression fittings

Compression fitting are the general way that 1/4″ pipe for refrigerators etc are connected to anything.  For copper pipe, you just need a brass collar and the screw cap with a hole in the top of the pipe to fit through.  Basically you put the 1/4″ pipe in the hole of the screw cap, then the collar around the end of the 1/4″ pipe, and screw the whole thing into wherever.

In our setup, we had two compression connections: (1) to the stop valve, and (2) to the refrigerator.

It should have been easy, but we had some combination of missing parts (you need the collar), extra parts (for PEX pipe but not copper pipe you need a little insert that goes inside the end of the pipe), and no googling (what is this compression thingy?).

Conclusion

It’s great!  It took us one stressful evening, $60, 3 trips to Home Depot, and now we have a new refrigerator with tasty water and ice!!!!