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Flexible water heater connections

Gordan Member Posts: 891
I've been seeing more and more water heaters connected with flexible lines to the home piping. Any impressions on whether this is just a bad day waiting to happen? Also, which ones are sturdier - armored braided hose type, or flexible corrugated copper?


  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I worry about that.

    I am not a professional, but I worry about flexible hoses. When my kitchen was remodeled, they urged me to throw away the rubber hoses that came with my washing machine and use the steel armored ones. The reason is that the washer has the dryer on top of it, and they are both enclosed with cabinetry. So to change the hoses, I would have a carpenter in here to remove (and later replace) some woodwork, a strong guy or two to get the dryer off and out of the way, replace the hoses, and reassemble everything. Well, I got those stainless steel hoses, but what they really are is rubber hoses surrounded by steel wire braid. So if the rubber perishes, I have a leak anyway. The hoses may be protected against exploding from over pressure, but if the rubber rots out, they are no protection at all.

    My guess is that whoever installs those water heaters is too lazy to do a bit of copper pipefititng. I wonder if code permits that? Or worse, I wonder if code not requires that -- earthquake protection or something?
  • Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,839
    So typical today....

    Velcro, bailing wire and bubble gum.

    The builders don't want to pay top dollar for a top dollar installation. They just want "heat" and "hot water". Forget about comfort, and efficiency. Most don't understand that concept.

    THe manufacturers, in their effort to get more of their product placed, make it easier and simpler for any Thomas, Ricardo and Julio to install their products. They've taken the skill out of the skilled trades. Tools required; Oklahoma Socket Set (Crescent wrench and or channel lock pliers).

    And the products are required to undergo testing and approval from a franchised organization that answer to the franchised code authority. Follow the bouncing money signs. The HBA is at the root of all of these inventions. And they are also responsible for the defeat of worthwhile propositions.

    Dave Yates and I attempted to push through legislation outlawing the use of potable water heating systems as space heating systems. In the questionairre that you are required to fill out, one of the questions is "Will this modification increase the cost of construction?" Who do you think got THAT question put in place....? And what does cost have to do with saving peoples lives?

    Personally, I am not interested in too much speed, at the compromise of quality. Oh sure, I will use certain tools that make me MUCH faster and efficient, but the use of flexible copper connectors doesn't fall into that category.

    I also don't prescribe to the codes required use of unions, because the weekend warrior views them as Velcro for piping. If you don't know how to work pipe, maybe you shouldn't be doing the work.

    Sorry for the rant. The soap box is now free....

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • Gordan
    Gordan Member Posts: 891
    Well, you sure worked up quite a lather on that soapbox. :-)

    The corrugated copper actually looks pretty sturdy but, of course, the weak point is the gasketed connection. I wonder what the perceived advantage would be over, say, soft temper copper with a compression fitting. Same tools, probably at least as much flexibility, and it's not corrugated so no issues with turbulent flow. Hmmm.

    I have no aesthetic or philosophical beef with the notion that installation or replacement should be quick and easy - I mean, I don't know of too many people who still make sweated copper tube radiant panels, and I know of absolutely no one who fusion-welds pex tubing to manifolds. So, we've already abandoned the idea of permanent connections in some contexts, though we seem to hang on to them in others. But there's progress, and then there's just planned obsolescence disguised as progress, and sometimes it takes experience to tell the two apart, and better it be someone else's experience than your own. :-)

    Is it bad form if I bug you to, whenever you've got a minute to spare, check out my query in the radiant heating forum - the followup to our reverse indirect discussion in that replacement boiler thread? I'm really curious about your take on it. Thanks in advance!
  • rlaggren
    rlaggren Member Posts: 160
    Corrugated connectors don't kink as easy

    as soft L.  The gasket is the weak spot but same is true of the "dialectric" unions (ech!). On the whole I find them worthwhile; just line them up right so they're not what's holding the pipe straight. We never discouraged people from doing their own plumbing anyway... More work for us from motivated customers! Course there's fewer fatalities consequent on a water pipe leaking.

    Never found any use for copper unions unless something was dripping like mad and I couldn't get the last fitting dry. A singular pain even then, but glad to have them.

    Soft risers fixtures seem hold up OK in general (they've been installed routinely since about 1985); in 30 odd years plumbing I've never seen one burst and the occasional leak is about the same occurrence you'd find on a rigid riser 15+ years old that somebody knocked around.

    JDB, you could consider going through the back (or side) wall, depending on what's in there, to get at your hoses; sheet rock is pretty easy. Hate those brain dead installations; somebody should just shoot architects that draw them up that way. If you do open a wall, you can probably frame the access and make it easier next time. If your connections are dry for the first month, they should be dry for a long, long time unless they get moved. The "flexible" connectors do take a set in the first year and get progressively stiffer thereafter; they're not designed to flex except for the first installation.

    disclaimer - I'm a plumber, not a heating pro.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666

    "JDB, you could consider going through the back (or side) wall, depending

    on what's in there, to get at your hoses; sheet rock is pretty easy. ... somebody should just shoot architects that draw them up that way."

    Out of the question. First of all, not sheet rock, but real plaster. On the other side is wash basin, toilet. Nothing clear until hallway outside of bathroom. Too far away to access the hoses. Hoses go from  shoulder high where the valves are, down to floor where they screw onto washing machine. I just hope the hoses outlast me. I am 72. None of the pipes in the bathroom are accessable either. Would have to pull out all the cabinets on the wall in the kitchen to get at them. Too bad. I would like to replace the 3-knob shower valves with a temperature regulator type. But this would involve re-tiling the entire bathroom wall. I cannot afford to do this anyway. Hot water heater set to 120F coming out nearest faucet to hot water heater.

    As far as architects, I doubt the contractor had an architect. He just knew how a building should be built and built the whole development that way. Some of the houses are mirror images of the others, but that is about it. All these houses were built in about 1950. They cost $10,000 at the time. I do not know if that included the appliances that were there. My reg\frigerator and stove looked original when I bought the place in 1973. Luckily, they were not mustard or avocado colored. But the refrigerator had to be replaced. All the water pipes, and the (unused) gas pipe to the kitchen are in the slab under the house. The water pipes are copper; I do not know what the gas pipe is, but would not dare use it now (about 60 years old).
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,244
    I put the washer valve on the side of the

    units and run the hoses around. right side or left side depending on the unit. If you can not allow enough room to do it properly I hand over the phone book other people will be happy to do it as you like.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    Too late for changes...

    I do not see what side of the washer you mean. The plumbing is in the wall behind the washer. There is no wall on either side of the washer to run plumbing in. There is no space between the washer and the next things to get an arm through to even turn off the valve. The drain goes there too. I could never reach the bottom of the washer where the water goes in. I do not remember where the drain comes out,  but it must be somewhere near there. The water and drain assembly were located so the drain hose could reach it. If the kitchen were designed to make changing hoses a top priority, I would never have put the dryer on top of the washer. But then I could not have had a dryer at all, because there is no floor space for it. I do not believe people had dryers when this house was designed, if it was designed (1950). The refrigerator, that I believe was original, did not even have a freezer in it.

    To make washer valves accessable, I would have to redesign the entire kitchen, and replace everything on the wall where the washer & dryer are. Inclucing a granite counter top and many cabinets. Probably $5000 labor and materials. As it is, it was all I could do to come up with a floor plan that would work at all. And I lost one of the doors to the kitchen. Only a little over a foot wide, had to go through it sideways.

    If, instead, I wanted to go at the back of that wall, I would have to remodel the entire bathroom, ripping up the slab underneath (and risk damaging the radiant heating pipe in the slab) to move the wash basin and toilet. And there is no place to move them. I actually though about re-doing that bathroom, but it is impossible. It is too small to do anything.The width of the room is one bathtub wide. The length is just enough for a toilet and a small washbasin. The only floor space left is just enough to open the door. The entire room is only 75 inches by 56 inches. How would you do a bathroom like that leaving enough space for access to the inside of one wall to access plumbing? And even if all that were done, I still could not get at the plumbing for the bathtub.
  • rlaggren
    rlaggren Member Posts: 160
    JDB, clearly not smart say anything without

    seeing your whole layout. There are definitely some things you _can't_ do, and maybe that's all she wrote. But it sounds like everything functions good right now and in plumbing that's the A1 most important thing.  I advise people not to touch their plumbing unless they have a real good reason to do so because often as not it lasts a darn long time; what I was suggesting was just for if/when you found you had a problem.

    Just FYI, all the laundry installations I've seen (when not drained into a wash tub), the supplies and the standpipe (wall drain) get mounted more or less waist high. Washer inlets vary some but most I've seen are about 24-30" above the floor. For sure when the plumbing is behind the washer the easiest access is usually to pull the washer out. Sounds like if you have to butcher some wood to do that  and maybe you should just leave some of it off when you put the washer back so it'll be easier next time. But w/any luck you won't need to deal with it anyway.

    disclaimer - I'm a plumber, not a heating pro.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666

    Perhaps you are right about the water and drain assembly for the washer. It is about the height of the front-loading washer, possibly slightly higher.

    Some plumbing lasts quite a while, as you said.. I sure hope the copper tube in the slab lasts. It has made it about 60 years so far. The first big plumbinng failure, in terms of nuisance, was a piece of copper tube in the heating system that was soldered into a 90 degree elbow and disapeared into the wall to upstairs baseboard. The knucklehead plumber who put it in only pushed the pipe about 1/16" into the elbow and soldered it. The solder supported the tube and the water in it and the valve on it for 30 years and it came apart, spraying water all over the garage where the boiler was located in the middle of winter. Besides that, I was at work all day and did not get home until late that night. Water all over the boiler, water running out from the garage door. I had to turn everything off and drain the entire upstairs heating system. And there are about 70 feet of horizontal 1/2-inch tubing to drain to get it dry enough to clean and solder the thing back together. It took several hours for enough water to drip out. Did not get to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning.

    Another simple (?) one was when I went to change the washer in an outside hose bib. I touched a screw driver to the bolt that holds the washer and the bolt disintegrated. Zinc had all dissolved from the brass. I could not really shut off the inside valve either because it needed a new washer too. And I could not do that because the main shutoff to the house, just a globe valve, needed a washer too. I got a plumber in here at that point who had to shut off the water at the street and replace all three valves (with ball valves, fortunately). He told me only the water company was allowed to turn the water off and on at the street, but there was no point waiting for them. Doing new plumbing is way easier than fixing old.

    If those hoses leak, I will have to pull the washer out to replace them.

    Trouble is, the dryer is on top of the washer, and the whole assembly is too heavy for me to do it. It took two guys to push it in. Then they put the trim across the top and some wood pieces to accept the hinges to the doors that hide the washer-dryer. And a piece of trim across the top. So the trim across the top, the doors, and the wood pieces to accept the hinges would have to be removed, then the dryer and washer pulled out. Just to remove the hoses. I hope they are actually neoprene or something, not just rubber, inside the metal braid. I do not imagine I will live past 100, and I was about 70 when the kitchen was redone. So the hoses only have to last 30 years. I hope.

    As I said earlier, I strongly suspect there was no architect on the job of building this house. I would never put the water pipes, the gas pipe, or the drain pipes in the slab, especially one with copper tubing in it for radiant heat. The bathroom is too small to do anything with it. No room for even a small waste basket in there. At least there are now shut-off valves to the sink underneath; there were not originally. Similarly for the kitchen sink. The main power service panel now has about 2 dozen circuit breakers in it. Originally, I had four fuses for the entire house, two fuses for the hot water heater, and two cartridge fuses for the stove. Aluminum wire for the stove. 8-(

    I guess it is just as well there was no basement as the water table is only about six feet down.
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