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Quit Filling That Water Tank!
By David R. Stephens
So you have thought long and hard about what espresso machine you want to put on display in your kitchen. You have read the Internet forums, searched endless pages of online vendors, made your decision and tossed your hard-earned cash on the counter. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of your own espresso machine! I bet you did not consider that constantly filling that water tank would become such a pain?
It's a good bet that at some point, you will forget to fill the tank and it will run dry. While most modern machines have a low-water shutoff switch to prevent serious problems, you still end up with a ruined pitcher of milk or shot of espresso.
So what is an average Espresso Joe to do? Plumb that thing in!
Almost any machine can be plumbed into you home water supply using either a direct connection kit designed for your machine, or a float valve. You should check with your vendor to see which option is best for your machine. The beauty of a float valve is that it can be added to almost any machine (provided your reservoir is large enough), and it is relatively inexpensive and easy to do.
The list of parts is relatively short. You will need a saddle valve, water tubing (plastic or copper), pressure regulator, shut-off valve, Teflon tape and of course the float valve. I would also recommend putting an in-line water filtration system on your supply line. The float valve and pressure regulator we are using was purchased through Chris' Coffee. Chris offers an all-inclusive float kit and direct connection kit, or you can purchase the components separately from a hardware store as I did.
IMPORTANT: Before starting the installation, check your local municipality's plumbing code. Make sure that you have all of the required components and install them in accordance with their guidelines.
Start by measuring the distance from your water line to your machine, so you know how many feet of water line is needed. Next, it's off to the hardware store.
If you look in the appliance department, you should be able to find a refrigerator/ice maker hookup kit. That will usually contain ample tubing, a saddle valve, quarter-turn shutoff valve and a few compression fittings. Keep in mind that once you tighten a compression fitting it cannot be reused, so I would advise picking up a couple of extra just in case. They are usually in the plumbing department and are only a few cents apiece.
While you are over in the plumbing department, you might as well get an in-line water filter too. They make a couple different types of filters so pick the best one for your mounting location and water filtering needs.
Now that you have all of your supplies, let's get going...
Measure Twice, Cut Once...
Start by measuring the distance between the outside of the water tank to the end of your float valve fitting. Just hold the valve up against the tank and get a close measurement. Don't forget to include the angle fitting on the end. I had the nasty surprise of finding out the tank would not fit back down in my machine once the fitting was attached, I ended up having to remove the back of my machine to install it. These photos show the valve installed in my reservoir to give you an idea of the assembly length. Add approximately two inches to the width of you reservoir. Make sure everything will fit, remember the old adage, measure twice and cut once.
with straight fitting...
... and with angle fitting...
Now that you have made your measurements to confirm everything will fit, locate the centerline of your tank. Find the height you would like to mount the float valve and drill a hole just slightly larger than the threads on you float valve stem. Make sure to remove any burrs left on the tank - a little fine-grit sandpaper will do the job. You want to make sure you have a flat and smooth surface for the gasket to seal.
Now, screw in your float valve. Make sure to not over tighten the fittings, remember these are plastic. A good rule of thumb is finger tight plus one-quarter turn with a wrench.
After you have installed the float valve, wrap the end of the fitting with some Teflon tape to help seal the threads. Then screw on the angle fitting that your water line will go into. Once again, finger tight and a one-quarter turn with a wrench.
Plumbing Plumbing Everywhere and no Espresso to drink...
Now it's time to install the plumbing. Find the COLD water line that you want to tap. First attach the saddle valve. Make sure you get the valve gasket orientation correct, otherwise you may end up with a leak. Next tighten the fitting down but DO NOT pierce the supply line yet. Put your fittings on the water line and tighten everything up.
Now find where you want to mount that water filter and screw the mounting plate in, then attach the filter assembly. String out your water line, making sure to leave a bit of slack in the line and cut it with a utility knife. Insert the line running from the saddle valve into the IN side of the filter and put the other end into the OUT fitting. Check your instructions! Your unit may have different designations for the water flow direction.
The next item is your pressure regulator. Decide where you want to mount the regulator and secure it to that location. Cut your water line running from the OUT side of the filter with your utility knife. Insert the line running from the filter into the IN side of the regulator. The other piece of tubing goes into the OUT side of the regulator.
We're almost there! Continue running your water supply line to your espresso machine. I would recommend adding another shut-off valve to your supply line just behind your espresso machine. This will let you shut off the water to the tank without having to crawl under your cabinets or go down to the basement. I would also recommend turning off this valve before you go on vacation, there is no need to chance a flooded kitchen if the float valve were to stick open.
Now attach the water line to the float valve you mounted in the water tank and insert the tank into your machine.
Time For The Leak Test...
Follow the water lines back to the saddle valve and double check everything. Make sure your fittings are tight and water valves are turned off. Now it is time to tap your water line with the saddle valve. Tighten the 'T' handle until you feel some resistance. Continue tightening until the line has been pierced, you will probably feel the resistance lighten. Then screw the 'T' handle back out. You will hear the water flow into the line - check for leaks! Keep in mind that you can tighten the fittings more if needed but if you unscrew them you will need to replace the compression fitting, you did pick up a couple of spares as I suggested, right? Now go to your filter. Turn on the shut-off valve, once again, you will hear the water rush into the filter. Check for any leaks on the filter and the pressure regulator. Move to the last valve behind your espresso machine, turn on the valve and check for leaks.
And The Espresso God Said, 'Let There Be Water, And It Was Good'.
Now while your tank is filling go to your pressure regulator. Turn the pressure down until the water flow stops. Then back the adjustment out until you have a slow but steady stream flowing from the float valve. If you have too much pressure in the line, the float valve will leak. Once the tank is full and the valve has shut off, re-check everything again to make sure there are no leaks. Re-assemble your espresso machine if needed, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Never again will you have to stop pulling shots or frothing milk to fill that empty water tank.