Q&A / 

Installing Automatic Ice Maker

DEAR TIM: My new refrigerator has an automatic ice maker. I need to run a water line to it. The salesperson at the appliance store sold me a kit that clamps onto a regular water pipe. Is this acceptable? Also, I have heard that hot water freezes faster than cold water. Should I connect the line to a hot water line? What is the best way to protect the floor beneath the refrigerator in case a leak happens? Paul S., Louisville, KY

DEAR PAUL: I'll never forget the first week I had an automatic ice maker. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The slow tightrope walks from the sink to the freezer while balancing flimsy ice cube trays will be a dim memory in just a few days my friend. To insure trouble free performance for the life of the refrigerator, there are a few important things you should do when installing an automatic ice maker.

The first thing I would do is take the clamp-on valve kit back to the store. Many plumbing codes and inspectors frown on those devices. Some refrigerator manufacturers also state in their installation instructions not to use them. It is not uncommon for those tiny valves to deliver inadequate water supply to the ice maker. This causes all sorts of problems and headaches.

In my opinion the best way to install an ice maker supply line is to treat it like any other fixture branch. Install a standard tee fitting and a ball valve that will allow you to shut off the water supply to the ice maker without disrupting water to any other fixture in the house. Ball valves are superior shut off valves. They have a stainless steel ball inside the valve body that has a one half inch hole drilled through its center. When you rotate the valve handle 90 degrees to the full open position, the water flows through the valve unobstructed. There are no washers to replace. The best part is that they only cost on average $1.75 more than a traditional valve!

Most water supply lines in a typical home are one half inch in size. The ice makers typically require a small soft copper water supply tube whose outer diameter is only one quarter inch. You can buy a brass reducing fitting that will solder onto the one half inch pipe leaving the ball valve and uses either a compression or flare fitting to adapt the smaller one quarter inch tubing to the one half inch pipe. These fittings are readily available at plumbing supply stores, hardware stores, or home centers.

I have also heard that hot water freezes faster than cold water. But I have always doubted it to be true. So I ran a controlled experiment on your behalf. I filled three identical glasses with three ounces of water. One glass had cold tap water, the other had room temperature water and the final glass had steaming hot tap water. Guess what? The cold tap water and the room temperature water froze at virtually the same time. The hot water was very cold but not yet frozen.

I received an email from Matt, the Orion Hunter, and he showed me where I made a mistake in my crude experiment:

"This is correct. However, I wanted to point out that this urban legend is indeed derived from fact. If one were to boil water and let it cool back to room temperature, and then put it in the freezer at the same time as room-temp water fresh from the tap, the boiled water would indeed freeze first. This is because in the process of boiling, you are evolving a lot of air out of the water. So, the boiled water, which has less air in it, freezes faster."

It is really a moot point. Even if you do connect the ice maker supply line to a hot water line, the hot water would never make it to the cube tray. The volume of water inside the coiled length of one quarter inch tubing behind or under the refrigerator has been at room temperature for hours. This water is often a sufficient volume to fill the tray. Even if hot water was better, just as it got to the refrigerator the automatic ice maker valve would stop the water flow.

However, according to an EPA report (EPA 810-F-93-001), it is recommended that only cold tap water be used for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. The report indicates that hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead from the plumbing in your house.

Prevention of water leaks beneath a refrigerator is important. Many a floor has been ruined by a slow water line drip. If possible, see if the connection at the refrigerator can be converted to a one quarter inch flare fitting. Flare connections are much more leak resistant than the commonly used compression type fitting that contains the small brass o-ring. If you can't use a flare fitting you must carefully install the one quarter inch tubing and inspect the refrigerator every 10 minutes or so after it has been rolled back into position. If no leak is present within an hour or two, you should be in the clear.

Be sure to completely flush out the quarter inch tubing before you connect it to the refrigerator. I would have someone turn on the ball valve to its full open position while you hold the quarter inch tube in a five gallon bucket. This high velocity water running through the small tube will remove copper pipe burrs, solder flux, small bits of solder and any other foreign material. Failure to do this critical step can damage the ice maker and cause all sorts of taste problems with your ice cubes.

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