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How to Install a Refrigerator with
Ice and Water Dispensers

by Michael Chotiner

Frigidaire side-by-side refrigeratorI once lived in a 100-year-old farmhouse on the outskirts of Washington, DC. For all intents and purposes it was my dream house -- simple, noble, roomy -- with lots of projects. The kitchen was extremely outdated when we bought the house, but I explained to my wife that I needed to underpin the foundation walls and reinforce the sagging floors before I could remodel the kitchen.

Melissa had other ideas: She wanted help with the baby. No long, loud, dusty projects, but rather weekend trips and time with friends and out-of-town family. She wanted a new refrigerator. "This one's too small and, anyway, I want a fridge with a water dispenser and automatic ice maker. Now!" I was feeling the pressure.

How to prepare for refrigerator water supply installation...

We were unable to find a side-by-side fridge model with an automatic ice maker and water dispenser that was also short enough to fit in the niche the old fridge had occupied, so I cut down the cabinet above the space and put on a new bottom. The next issue was to provide a water supply for the ice maker/water dispenser. Easy enough -- kits are available with everything you need for less than $20. See graphic below:

Typical refrigerator water supply kit

The only tools you're likely to need are:

  • an electric drill/driver (corded or cordless) with a ½-in. drill bit
  • An adjustable wrench
  • Slip-joint pliers
  • Screwdrivers (Phillips and/or straight tips)

Where to look for a cold water supply line to tap!

The first step to establishing a water supply line to the fridge is to locate a water pipe to tap into. Preferably it will be in fairly close proximity to where the refrigerator will be positioned, but you have about 25 feet of leeway, given the length of the tubing supplied in the kit.

If the ceiling beneath the kitchen floor is unfinished, look there for copper tubing amid the joists. You need to identify a cold-water supply line that runs closest to where the refrigerator will be installed above. Run hot water in the kitchen sink for a minute or two so that you can distinguish between the hot- and cold-water supplies by touch when working below.

If you can't find an accessible copper tube in the joists beneath the kitchen, look under the kitchen sink; you'll see two copper tubes leading up to the faucet. The cold line should be on the right side, but run hot water and touch the pipes just to be sure. Once you've identified the supply line that you'll tap into, turn off the water supply to the house at the main.

Plan the route for snaking the plastic supply tube provided in the kit to the refrigerator. If you're working from below, you can route the tube through ½-inch holes bored through the joists (above the mid-line) and drill a hole through the floor near the wall where the fridge will stand. If you're tapping into the cold water supply to the faucet beneath the sink, you can bore holes through the base cabinet sides near the backs and route the tubing through them to the refrigerator.

Installing the Saddle Valve

Saddle valve installed on supply pipe

Turning off the water is optional when installing saddle valves. It is unlikely any leakage will occur, but if it makes you feel better by all means turn off the water before proceeding.

Clamp the saddle valve onto the water supply line in the position you have determined is best. The valve has a pointy tap that will eventually be screwed in to pierce the copper supply tube; make sure that it's completely retracted before attempting to clamp on the saddle valve. If the point extends beyond the body of the valve, turn the handle counterclockwise till it no longer protrudes.

Fasten the valve to the copper tube using an adjustable wrench and screwdriver to tighten the bolts. Make sure to insert the rubber gasket inside the clamp at the tap. Tighten the bolts on each side of the clamp a little at a time to balance the pressure on each side. Make them tight enough to ensure the gasket is in full contact. Don't over-tighten the bolts or you may crush the pipe and even cause leakage!

With the saddle valve clamped in place, turn the valve handle clockwise to advance the tap into the tubing wall. At first you'll feel some resistance. When the valve becomes easier to turn, it means you've made a pinhole in the copper tube. Give the valve another clockwise turn or two to make sure you've made an adequate hole, then reverse direction and back the point out of the hole to open the valve.

Once the valve is fully installed, it can be treated like any other water valve... clockwise turns closes it and counter-clockwise turns opens it.

Note: It is advisable to drain a little water from the valve before attaching the supply tube... just in case there are any particles of copper or other contaminants in the line from the installation of the valve.

(Note from NH: I have another article specifically on saddle valves HERE if you'd like more information on this useful appliance!)

Time to connect the supply tube...

Compression fitting on refrigerator supply tube

The refrigerator water supply kit contains compression fittings for both ends of the tube. At one end you connect it to the saddle valve, at the other to a fitting that you'll find at the back of the fridge.

Uncoil the tube supplied with the kit, and route it through the path you've chosen between the saddle valve and the refrigerator. Don't cut off any excess tubing but rather, coil it up in the space behind the fridge; you'll need a little slack at the saddle valve end so that you can make the connection easily, and a lot of slack at the fridge end so that you can easily pull the machine away from the wall for cleaning and service.

Working at the saddle valve end, insert the straight brass sleeve into the end of the plastic tube. It prevents the tubing from collapsing when the compression fitting is tightened. Then slip the compression nut onto the tube, and add the compression sleeve, which is barrel-shaped with openings at both ends.

Thread the compression nut onto the fitting on the saddle valve and tighten it snug with an adjustable wrench.

Compression fitting connected to saddle valve

Repeat the assembly of the compression fitting at the refrigerator end of the tube. You may need to remove the back panel of the refrigerator to find the fitting to which you'll connect the tube, or the fridge may have a tube protruding from the back that already has the mating end for your compression fitting in place.

Connect supply tube to fitting on the rear of the refrigerator

The "easiest" thing!

I mentioned that my wife's demand for a new refrigerator had me feeling the pressure. That's because as a carpenter, it's easier for me to imagine how to rebuild a home's structure than to figure out how an ice maker works -- let alone how my wife's mind works, for that matter. But when I discovered the refrigerator water supply installation kit, I was able to relax and get the job done. I have to admit, installing a refrigerator with an ice maker and water dispenser may be the easiest home-improvement project I've ever done.

About the author: Michael Chotiner writes about appliances and appliance care for Home Depot. Michael's appliance installation tips for refrigerators are based on his years of experience in the construction field, and well as being a homeowner. Home Depot's selection of refrigerators can be viewed on its website.