Connecting Home Appliances

History, math, and how to drive yourself nuts

Second in a two-part series on connecting home appliances such as gas ranges, dryers, and why what seems to be the real measurement is a figment of your imagination.

Last week we were talking about how to connect home appliances using adapters and flair nuts, and why such a seemingly simple thing, such as connecting the ice maker in your refrigerator to the water source, can become so confusing.

Not to veer off course, but today, in high schools, students are discouraged from cigarette smoking. Back when we were in high school there wasn’t such a concerted effort to keep anyone from smoking; as a matter of fact, it wasn’t so unusual to see a teacher or two standing outside the building, having a quick one between classes.

Anyway, many students frequently would skip class to have a cigarette. Nobody skipped stuff like social studies – slept through it anyway. If they were going to skip, they skipped something like math.

If that was you, pack it in now. Just call somebody to do whatever installation you’re working on right now, or get someone at Frentz to s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t for you, because without some working knowledge of numbers, you can’t do something like connect your icemaker.

Here’s why:
Years ago, when piping was made, it was made primarily of steel, for strength. But then a few years later alloys came along – mixtures of metals that were stronger and often lighter than steel, which meant you didn’t have to use as much of an alloy to make that same piping.

So when you use less of something, its measurements usually change -- but they didn’t change in the world of pipes. When steel was given the heave-ho in favor of alloys, the measurements used for steel stuck, even though the alloys had different dimensions.

That means in today’s world, piping – either alloy or copper – is ordered and sold according to the measurements attributed decades ago to steel. The measurements never changed along with “the evolution of hardware,” as Mike Frentz calls it. The reason: People became accustomed to a certain way of describing something and that particular way worked, so they went with it.

It took Mike and his brothers years to figure out this system and they used to feel ridiculous when, as teenagers, they’d help their dad in the store after school and on weekends. “I’d say, ‘Dad, this guy wants half-inch pipe and I can’t find it,’” Mike said, “and my dad would say ‘That’s OK, but it’s right over there.’ It took us a long time to get the system down correctly.”

Size matters
Example: All piping is measured by its inside diameter. The best way to think of this is like French class, where they gave you an absolute rule and told you the rule never changes, except when it does. If you went into Frentz Hardware to order piping, you would, for example, need to know that:

If it measures seven-sixteenths on the inside, then you’re probably looking for three-eighths inch piping.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? Let’s try again:

Nine-sixteenths piping, measured by the Inside Diameter (ID), equates to a half-inch pipe, measure by the Outside Diameter (OD).

When you get up to sizes such as three-quarters ID, you’ll find it’s the same OD, but this rule is not always true.

In English, what you’re dealing with here is called a nominal measurement. That is different from the actual measurement, which means you can trust your ruler and you don’t need a translator.

At Frentz, this stuff can get so tricky that Mike and John actually use calipers to measure the ID and OD, to make certain that when they go in the back room to cut 35 feet of pipe, they’re cutting the right size.

Copper tubing can be even more confounding, because if you look at it, hold it right there in your hand, you’ll see that the dimension is marked on the pipe. It might say half-inch. But the OD on that is five-eighths, and the ID is nine-sixteenths.

Another example: three-quarter-inch copper pipe. Says so right there. But the OD will be seven-eighths, and the ID will be thirteen-sixteenths.

This is why you need a Hardware Guy.

Even after all these years, neither Mike nor John will just take a guess at a piece of pipe someone brings in to match, although after all these years they’re pretty good at it. But that doesn’t matter -- they always measure.

And that’s what you should do. These appliance installation jobs aren’t that hard, but getting the right materials to work with is the secret. So when you’re about to swap out a gas range, or connect to an icemaker with a new refrigerator, bring a piece of the pipe in to Frentz so they can measure it for you.

Related safety tip

If you’re installing a gas dryer, you want to vent with aluminum duct work. Mike says hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homes in the Royal Oak area have vinyl duct connections on gas dryers.

Lint can collect in the creases and corrugations on the inside of the vinyl duct work and gas dryers, in many cases, can kick out enough heat to ignite the lint, which melts the vinyl and can start a home fire. Take a look at your connection. If it’s vinyl, you might want to consider moving to one of two fairly inexpensive yet infinitely safer options:

Straight aluminum duct work is smooth on the inside, so the lint has nothing to attach to, and thus, no problem.

Flexible aluminum duct work, which is a little easier to handle, but still has creases inside where lint collects. The difference, though, is that even if the lint collects and ignites, it won't burn the aluminum duct.