Fixing a leaking faucet isn't as painful as you might think. In fact, it's among the most "user-friendly" do-it-yourself maintenance tasks.
For most of us, when we need water, we simply turn on a faucet at one of several locations in or around our homes. It wasn't always that way. Previous generations had to gather urns of water from a nearby river or pump it from a community well. What's more, when hot water was needed, it had to be heated over an open fire.
Ironically, indoor sanitation... running water and waste disposal come about for reasons of health and not primarily for convenience, as one would think. It was due to poor household sanitation that in 1348 the first wave of Black Plague entered England. One third of the population was wiped out, as rats and fleas thrived in the filth and garbage.
The need for fresh water was not, however, something that resulted from the Dark Ages. It was over 4,000 years earlier that the ancient Egyptians invented a system for generating pure water through underground wells. Before the advent of wells, the primary source of water was rivers. Water was stored in large pottery jars, hand-carried from the river by household slaves.
In early 19th-century England, water was drawn from pumps stationed in streets throughout the city; the water was rationed, and served hundreds of people.
Now don't you feel fortunate to be merely making a faucet repair?
Not all faucets are created equal. Aside from the fact that they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and finishes, there are different valve styles that are used to turn the faucet on and off and control the flow of water. Two-handle and single-lever faucets have different valve styles.
Two-handle faucets usually have compression valves. As you turn the handle, a rubber (neoprene) washer is forced against a metal seal to stop the flow of water. Before you repair a faucet, turn off the hot-water and cold-water valves under the sink, if installed, or the main water-supply shutoff valve.
These faucets can leak in three different places:
- Internally at the valve seat
You'll see water dripping from the spout. This means the rubber washer is worn or damaged. To replace the washer, remove the decorative cap from the handle. Remove the retaining screw and pull off the handle. Remove the decorative cover, called an escutcheon, if there is one. Unscrew the packing nut counterclockwise. Unscrew the valve stem and remove it. Remove the screw that holds the rubber washer in place. Because these washers come in many shapes and sizes, you'll want to take the old one to the hardware store and buy an exact replacement. Be sure to buy two washers so you'll have one for the other valve. Replace the washer and reassemble the faucet.
- Around the handle
If you see water coming from below the handle, the packing nut is leaking. Older faucets have a string-like graphite packing material wrapped around the stem. Newer faucets use an O-ring. First try tightening the packing nut clockwise... about one-half turn. If this doesn't stop the leak, remove the packing nut and replace the packing or O-ring; then reassemble the faucet.
If the valve is using the graphite packing material, it might be a clue that you should shop for a new faucet.
- Between a pivoting spout and the body
The spout might be held in place with a packing nut, similar to the faucet stem, or it might have a nut at the top of the spout. In either case, remove the spout and replace the packing material or the O-ring seal. Then reassemble the faucet.
Single lever faucets also are known as "washerless" faucets. They are easier to repair than compression faucets after you determine what type of faucet you have. There are three types of washerless faucets: ball, ceramic disk and cartridge.
Leaks are evident in two places... dripping from the spout and seeping from around the spout where it joins the body of the faucet.
Leaks from the spout indicate that the ball, disk or cartridge is leaking. To repair, turn off the water to the faucet, then remove the handle. The handles on ball-type faucets are held in place with a setscrew that requires an Allen wrench to loosen. Ceramic disk and cartridge-type handles usually are held in place by a screw hidden beneath a cap.
On ball and ceramic disk-type faucets, remove the ball or disk and replace the seals. You can buy replacement kits for these faucets at the hardware store or home center.
On cartridge-type faucets, remove the spout and pull out the retainer clip that holds the cartridge in place. To remove the cartridge, pull on the cartridge stem with a twisting motion. If it resists, install the handle so you can a better grip on the cartridge to pull it out. Take the cartridge to the hardware store or home center and purchase an exact replacement kit.
Reassemble the faucet according to directions.
Leaks at the spout-to-body joint indicate an O-ring failure. Disassemble the faucet as described above. Remove the spout sleeve and replace the O-rings. It's a good idea to replace these seals if you have the faucet disassembled for repair of the ball, disk or cartridge.