Q&A / 

Water Heater Problems

DEAR TIM: My sister recently purchased an older home and the home inspector she hired before buying it recommended that she replace the aluminum tubing supplying natural gas to the water heater in her basement. The tubing is ½ inch diameter and about 30 feet long. Is it acceptable to replace the aluminum tubing with type k or l soft copper tubing? I know that black iron pipe and corrugated stainless steel tubing are commonly used for natural gas, but I would like to use copper if it won't cause problems. Also, why does the aluminum tubing currently in place, and seems to be in good condition, need to be replaced? Kevin H. Erie, PA

DEAR KEVIN: The flexible aluminum tubing is usually intended for appliances that are intended to be moved into place such as a gas range or a gas clothes dryer. While these pipes are safe, some code officials don't like to see them used to connect fixed appliances such as a water heater or a furnace.

That's not to say it's illegal where your sister's new house is. You'd have to talk with a local building inspector to get the final word on whether the pipe can stay.

In many localities, soft copper is an acceptable pipe to use to connect the water heater to the gas line. If this is legal is your area, be sure to use flare fittings for the connections. Don't use slip compression fittings. A flared fitting is much stronger and it's virtually impossible to pull the copper tubing out from behind the brass nut once it's tightened.

I prefer to use black iron myself to connect water heaters. It takes a little more time, but the black iron pipe is so much more durable in case something heavy falls near the water heater and hits the pipe.

If that happens now with that thin-wall flexible pipe, a hole could form, gas leak and KABOOM!

Click here to get my Hot Water Installation Checklist. This Checklist tells you the top five important things that must be done during the water heater installation. The Checklist also contains videos that show you exactly how to find the right contractors to call.

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