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I have read that National Code requires you to use copper for 18 inches from your water heater. How can I do this when everything existing is PEX?

I need to replace my existing low boy water heater next to my kitchen sink. It was installed by the builder ten years ago. All the pipe in the house is PEX. The existing water heater is connected using PEX as well.

The supply line comes directly thru the wall to the HW Heater. There is no space to run 18 inches of copper! The heater is under the kitchen counter, and the countertop is directly over it. Only about an inch clearance.

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  • I hope you have checked out the authenticity of this report of a requirement of 18" of copper at the water heater. If it proves to be correct, note that modern water heaters should not have the immediate fittings heated in place on the heater. – Jim Stewart Sep 20 '18 at 18:45
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    As @JimStewart said, check with your AHJ about whether that's actually a requirement. I'm a bit skeptical... – Hari Ganti Sep 20 '18 at 22:30
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Although copper may not be required, it is possible that PEX is prohibited.

One reason for this would be building codes / regulations. For instance, the UPC states:

604.11.2 Water Heater Connections. PEX shall not be installed within the first 18 inches (457 mm) of piping connected to a water heater.

The specifics of what your local regulations state can vary widely, so you should inquire with your local officials.


Another potential restriction could come from piping manufacturer's rules or recommendations. For example:

Install a minimum 18 inches of metallic or other approved material piping between water heater and PEX tubing.

from the TUBING INSTALLATION PRACTICES section of INSTALLATION HANDBOOK: Cross-linked Polyethylene (PEX) Hot and Cold Water-Distribution Systems of the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association.

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Pre-assembled copper right angle extensions do exist. If you can't get your hands on one, a plumber could assemble one for you. It's just a 3/4 FIP to a short piece of copper pipe, to an eblow, to 18 inches of copper pipe. It might even end up being SHORTER than what you have now.

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Did it explicitly say copper? I have used flex line from PEX to the water heater. They come in 18” or 24” length some with a shut off valve. I assumed it met that requirement.

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