(guest post by Linda Parker)
If the annoying sound of dripping doesn’t get you first, your next water bill might prompt you to tackle a repair sooner, rather than later. Whether it is a running toilet with a tank that won’t stop filling, or a persistently dripping faucet, homeowners are often surprised at how quickly a leak can add up to a noticeable increase in the residential water bill. Since few homes have a water flow meter, it is impossible to know exactly how much water you are losing on a daily basis.
Did you know that two drops per second, adds up to 120 drops per minute, and as much as 11 gallons of water (or 43 liters) per day? There are two reasons why homeowners let a leaking faucet persist; the first is time to make the repair, and the second reason is the expense of hiring a plumber. We will share a step-by-step way to diagnose and repair the leak yourself, and demonstrate how fast the fix can be, once you’ve identified the problem.
Finding the Location and Cause of the Leak
The first step is to find the location of the leak. This may be easy, if the leak is emanating from the handle(s) of the faucet, or from the tap (spout assembly). But sometimes, the leak can be from below the sink, on one of the hot or cold water supply hoses, t-connector, or metal or rubber washers. Follow the path of water along the assembly to determine where the problem is. In most instances of residential faucet leaks, the culprit is a worn washer or a degraded “o” ring.
Once you have found the location of the leak, shut off the water supply. This is done by locating the main water supply (hot and cold) below the sink, and turn the shut-off valves (usually clockwise) to eliminate the water while you are making your repair. If the valve has become seized or broken off, use a pair of pliers to turn the bolt. Remember to turn on both hot and cold water taps to release the pressure and remove water from the lines.
Replacing Rubber Seals
Despite the industry reputation for durability, plumbers know that over time, rubber seals can crack, chip or wear down, particularly if they are in a static, high-pressure location. The cracks and gaps provide an opportunity for water to leak out when rubber seals become worn.
Before you head to the local hardware supply store to purchase some new seals, take a picture of the model number of the faucet and of the area that you are repairing. Finding the brand name or mark on your faucet can take a little time, but the main manufacturers of residential faucets in the U.S.A. are:
- Price Pfister
- American Standard
If the sink is new, you can contact the manufacturer online to check if it is still under warranty; many manufacturers will send free parts by mail, or a rebate coupon to purchase replacement parts at a local home improvement center. If the faucet is not covered by a warranty, replacement parts, including seals, supply hoses and stem unit assemblies (the mechanism for mounting the hot or cold water handle) are inexpensive, and come in standard kits to replace the fiber washer, the “o” ring and the rubber washer.
Dismantling a Faucet to Replace a Rubber Seal
- Loosen the coupling nuts first, and then remove both the lock nuts and the coupling nut hardware, and set aside.
- Remove the spout bonnet (common for kitchen model faucets) and t-connector (depending on model) if the washer that requires replacement is below the tap assembly.
- If the water leak is originating from the faucet handles, remove the hot and cold water handles. If the handle has become corroded and difficult to remove, hardware stores sell a “tap puller” or “tap handle remover”. Also remove the flange (housing or base around the faucet handle).
- Unscrew the valve to release the tension on the rubber washer. If it is corroded, this may require the use of a wrench. Remove the fiber washer (may vary according to model) from the valve, and expose the “o” rings. Remove the “o” rings, and check the tap washer for wear.
- Apply thread lubricant to the valve where washers will be replaced. This will help prevent corrosion and make reassembly easier.
- Install the new “o” ring, fiber washer and rubber washer. Remember, if one or more of the washers seem to be in good shape, replace them all at the same time to prevent the leak, and avoid having to disassemble the sink when the other used washers become worn. Washers can be pushed or snapped into place. *Note: Replace with a new O-ring of the exact same size/diameter as the original.
- Re-tighten the valve and install the assembly. Ensure that you tighten the valve to allow the threads to cut into the new rubber washer, setting and sealing the joint. Install your handle, and use pliers to tighten and secure the handle, and lock/coupling nuts.
- Turn the water back on.
One question that many homeowners ask, is how they can tell if they have securely reinstalled their faucet or handle with the new washers. When the water is turned back on, if there is no leak, you have a successful washer replacement. However, if you failed to adequately tighten any part of the valve, washer or housing, it will be apparent. And you’ll need a towel or two.
Using Plumber’s Tape to Seal the Deal
Restoration faucets and sinks may have issues with connections and threading on pipes and fittings. Something that any DIY homeowner should have in their toolbox is a self-fusing silicone tape, or plumber’s tape. The sticky tape can be used over leaky drain pipes that are not under pressure, and there are many different brands to choose from. The highly tensile tape is corrosion and chemical resistant, strong (generally between 500-700 PSI), and can withstand temperatures up to 400°F or more.
To apply self-fusing silicone tape, extend the tape with hand pressure tension, and stretch it over the area you would like to seal. A good amount of overlap (usually at least 1/2 inch or more) is recommended to fuse the tape, and secure the fitting against additional leaks.