Oh. My. God. (Becky, look at her butt). Today was aggravating. For anyone who works with propane (or other gases/fuels) and has to install piping for it, I do not envy you or your job. Especially if you’re using black pipe.
If you didn’t already guess it, today I dove (crashed) face first into the world of installing piping for propane appliances. So, since I found it entirely too aggravating figuring this out on-the-fly, here are a few things I learned and want to point out that may help some other poor bastard out there who might attempt to do this insane task without any prior working knowledge on the subject.
Disclaimer: In case I need to point out the obvious, propane is a highly flammable gas kept under pressure in a small tank (except when it’s below -44°F, then it’s a liquid). If hooked up incorrectly, fire, explosions, or death may occur. If you’re as stupid as me and do this yourself, you do it at your own risk.
There are at least three different kinds of pipe you can use to install propane, from what I’ve gathered:
- Soft copper tubing (don’t confused this with the hard, non-pliable stuff used to run water lines)
- Advantages: It’s lightweight, easy to install, semi-rigid, cheaper than black pipe, and resistant to corrosion.
- Disadvantages: It’s only semi-rigid and I don’t think it’s legal everywhere, depending on the length. “Gas contains hydrogen sulfide, which will eat copper up. Different suppliers have different levels. Copper isn’t permitted in applications when the supplier delivers gas with more than .3 grains of hydrogen sulfide per 100 cubic feet of gas.” [Source] Also, in a fire, copper melts; if your gas is turned on, you just gave the fire a lot of fuel.
- Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST)
- Advantages: Flexible, longer lengths means fewer joints means less places to cause a leak, less time to install.
- Disadvantages: Costs more than black pipe, crimped connections can wear over time, can explode if struck by lightning.
- Black iron or galvanized pipe
- Advantages: Default standard for decades, very rigid, very durable.
- Disadvantages: Time consuming to install, not flexible, every bend requires a joint and that joint needs to be tested for leaks (more joints means more chances or places a leak can occur), rigid pipe can break during earthquakes or other natural disasters, most rigid steel pipe is made in Asia – with no quality control.
If you choose to install a propane appliance, you decide for yourself what is best for you. Personally, I went with the black pipe because it’s rigid and has been the standard for decades. I quickly learned what a pain it is to install black pipe.
Black pipe comes in a variety of sizes; 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, etc. My biggest appliance, which is the water heater, has a 1/2″ gas inlet, so I went with the 1/2″ black pipe for my install. My stove has a 1/4″ inlet (which took me a little bit to figure out), so I had to reduce the 1/2″ tubing to 1/4″ where that connected.
Why does black pipe suck? Well, everything has to be EXACT. There is no flex. There is no wiggle room. Your connections and pipe lengths better be spot on or you’ll end up doing the piping over and over until your get it right. Trust me. I spent the entire morning building my pipe connections while parked in the Home Depot parking lot because I had to keep walking back in the store to get a different length of pipe or a different fitting or adapter.
Let’s go back to the stove for a moment. My stove came with a brass fitting attached to a regulator. Until I removed that brass fitting, life was hell. I tried finding pipe to fit the brass fitting… I failed. All the pipe comes in NPT measurements… the brass fitting has NPT on one side, but SAE on the other. Once I removed the brass fitting, I was able to run 1/4″ NPT black pipe to the stove with “ease” (as easy as it got, which still wasn’t very easy). If you do this yourself, you’ll also find out that a regular propane regulator, which you’ll need in order to run a stove, also has a 3/8″ SAE fitting. SO… if you don’t have that brass adapter to go from 1/4″ NPT to 3/8″ SAE, you are sh*t out of luck. Luckily, I used the one I took out of the stove and that’s how I’m connecting to my propane tank.
Short pieces of pipe, like below, are called nipples (sometimes risers?). If you buy longer pieces of pipe from Home Depot, they will cut it to any length you want for free.
You are supposed to use the yellow PTFE gas line tape around the threads when making connections. Don’t use the regular white plumbing tape, use the special yellow stuff! Or you can use “T plus 2”, like I did, which is a jelly-like goo that you apply to the threads of a male pipe before threading into a fitting. It is approved for propane use and can withstand pressures up to 2,000 psi (for gases).
Shutoff valves. Use them. Make sure every appliance has a shutoff valve going to it.
Unions. Use them, also. Again, every appliance. Since black pipe isn’t flexible or easy to put together/take apart, unions are magical little wonders that will save your world. Unions are an easy way to disconnect an appliance from the gas line, in the event you need to service it. This is where that gas shutoff valve comes in handy, too.
Once you have all the materials, you can start to assemble things. For my build, the difference in length between hand tight and wrench tight was about 1/2″. When you’re planning things out, if you’re only making it hand-tight, just know it’s gonna be about 1/2″ longer than the end product. I didn’t realize this, but luckily I had a 5″ pipe already on hand to replace a 4 1/2″ pipe in one of my lines.
Believe it or not, that five or six feet of pipe took me about seven hours to fully assemble. The first four hours were spent in the Home Depot parking lot, making repeated trips in and out of the store. I went home when I was confident I had all the right pipe. At home, I had to make some adjustments to other things to make the pipe easier to install. Like, I ripped out all the plumbing I did the other day. I tore apart some of the kitchen cabinet I built (it screws back together easily). I cut away certain parts of my stove housing. Then I had to disassemble the pipe fittings, apply the “T plus 2” to seal the joints, and reassemble everything.
The water heater requires a special “trap” for any debris or whatnot. I learned this watching some Youtube video of a professional tankless water heater install. Apparently it’s “code” to have the trap there, so I figure better safe than sorry. It’s just a pipe that extends down past where the gas line comes in and has a cap on the end. Since I have a shelf in the way, I had to drill a hole and run mine through it.
Oh, did I mention that black pipe is very oily and grimy? It’s even more fun when you apply the sticky “T plus 2” goo! As I sat in my van building this pipe thing, sweating my butt off and being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I decided I would never want to install black pipe for a living. My entire day was filled with desires to punch things.
But I am happy to say that the pipe is installed and I think it’ll do its job just fine. I still have to test it for leaks, but I was hungry and tired and didn’t want to deal with it today. Some places say you can use a soap and water mixture to test for leaks, but I bought the actual gas leak detection liquid stuff to spray on there.
And even though I haven’t installed the tank yet, I also bought a valve that shows me the tank level and is supposed to detect a leak.
Anywho, have fun if you try this yourself. It’s about as fun as eating thumb tacks.