Monday, February 14, 2011

Helpful Household Hints: faucets

It's the classic cartoon gag: a dripping faucet that quietly, patiently, drives the main character nuts all night.  There's a few things you can do to silence the drip for the night - tying a string to the faucet so the drip runs down that, rather than falling free to hit with a soft plop that you can hear - but that's a stopgap measure.  You need to make the drip stop, and not just for the sake of your sleep.  That persistent little drip is costing you money.  Let's do a little math:

30 drips per minute = 900 drips per hour; (edit 10/12/2013 - Oops, that's 1800 drips per hour, all subsequent results are off by half)
60 drops = 1 teaspoon, 48 teaspoons = 1 cup
So: every 96 minutes, that's a cup of water down the drain.  That's not much...yet.
But a gallon is 16 cups, and you're losing 15 cups in a day.  Every day, nearly a gallon of water goes down the drain. (edit 10/12/2013 - nearly two gallons)

Big deal.  One gallon, that's not much.
Maybe not to you, but there are states in this country so aware of their water use, homeowners aren't even permitted to capture the rain that falls on their own roofs for personal use.  It has to go to the ground, hopefully to replenish the water table.  And that's free water from the sky - this gallon of water in your home, you paid for.  Then you paid for it again.

Again?  Make that make sense.
Look at your utility bill.  You're billed for the water on your meter, then you have another section where you pay for wastewater treatment - based on what is on your meter!  It's just a gallon per day, but you're paying twice.  And if it's a hot water leak, you're paying for the electricity to heat water that you never even used.

Okay, I'm sold - it's worth fixing.  And I'll be able to sleep.  Now what?
First, turn the faucet's water off.

I can't.  It drips, remember?
Not the faucet, the faucet's supply.  Look under the sink and you should find a couple of valves coming out of the wall, which send a couple of hoses up to the underside of the faucet.  Turn off the valves - BOTH of them - clockwise for off (righty tighty, lefty loosy) and then we can get started.

Now we're back on top of the sink.  What do you have: single handle, or dual handle?

Single handle.  It's been acting a little stiff, lately.
No problem.  Lift the handle all the way up, like you're turning the water on full blast.  Look for a screw head that holds it on.

None there.  And water is still coming out. Now what?
 That means your stop valves aren't getting the job done.  Try turning the water off at your meter.  Go find your water meter, and find the big lever that operates the valve to turn off the entire house's water.  NOTE: if you do this, be smart and turn your water heater off.  If you stop for a bathroom break in the middle of this project, each toilet gets ONE flush, and then everything stops. 
I'm going to assume that finally got the water to stop coming out of your faucet.  It will continue to run, draining any lines above it, but let's assume that's all the water that's left in the system.

No set screw underneath?  Okay, that screw's probably hidden under the cap on top of the handle.  Carefully pop that cap loose with a screwdriver blade, and you should see a screw head.  Remove the screw, and you should be able to remove the handle.  It may require some gentle wiggling to break any corrosion that's holding it down.

From here you may have to get on the Internet and look up your specific faucet.  Some have screwed-down bonnets, which themselves have screw-down retainers holding a valve body in place.  Moen faucets (my personal favorite) have a retainer clip that slides out.  Your mileage may vary.  If you're mechanically inclined, you may be able to just look at this and puzzle it out, but if you're wrong you might damage something.  Read up a bit and see what you're up against.

Remove the malfunctioning valve body.  Assuming you don't have a new one on hand, take the old one with you to the store to find a replacement.  Install the new one.  Be certain to get it in the right way!  These single-handle faucets' valve bodies have to go in a certain way, or else your water comes out hot from cold, or the handle won't go on right, or something similarly peculiar.  They're a little finicky.  But it isn't difficult to get it right.

If the new one is sold with included lubricant, smear the lube where the package indicates.  It helps the new valve last longer and operate more smoothly.  Don't skip this step.

If you have the choice between the plastic, cheap replacement valve and the more expensive, solid brass valve (I'm looking at you, Moen owners!), go with the brass.  Yeah, it costs a lot more - about $15 more - but it's worth it.  Next time you have to do this replacement, if you have the brass valve all you replace are O-rings.  So it's more money right now, and less money forever after.

I have another leaker, too, but it has two handles.
This is easier and harder at the same time.  Again, turn off both water supplies under the sink, and head back topside.  Remove the handles, and loosen the bonnet - the cap that the handle's stem pokes up through - until you can remove the valve stem.  WHILE REMOVING THE BONNET, keep adjusting the valve stem so it's in the middle of its travel.  Sometimes the threading difference between the bonnet and the valve causes them to jam against each other.  Just keep backing or advancing the valve stem as needed to keep the bonnet moving freely.  Then back the valve until it comes right out of its housing.  NOTE: the valve may be left-handed, so it would be lefty-tighty in this case.  If your handles turn toward each other to turn on or off, one of them will be left-handed.

The valve looks kind of like a fat screw with holes in it.
Bingo, that's what you're looking for. Look at its bottom and see what kind of condition the washer's in.

Washer?  No washer here, just a ragged piece of rubber.
That's the washer.  "Ragged" is the problem.  You'll need a new one.  You might need a new valve seat, too - peer down into the valve and look at the circular hole that washer rests on when the water's off.  If you can see any nicks or worns spots, you need to get that seat out of there.

It has a square hole.  Will a small socket extension work?
To be honest, I've never tried that.  Give it a shot; if it fits and applies torque without slipping, good for you.  If not, head over to your favorite hardware store and get a seat wrench.  Ask whoever's in plumbing, they know what you're looking for.  A tapered seat wrench will drop right into the seat, down to where it fits, and now you can remove it.  Try lefty-loosy first.

Now you have to go back to the store and get a replacement washer and a new seat.  Again, talk to the plumbing rep if you're new to the process; take the old valve stem with you and let him see it.  If it looks in bad shape, you might do better to replace the whole thing.  Be sure the threading and length match.

Right length and threading, but this new one has a hex hole!  Now what?
If you got the basic one-size-fits-most seat wrench, one end is for square holes, the other end is for hex.  Just turn it over and you're off to the races.

Be careful threading the new seat home - you don't want to cross those threads, and they're probably brass, so crossing them is kind of easy.  I usually turn the seat backwards with gentle downward pressure until I feel it "click" as the leading threads drop past each other.  Then I know it's lined up and ready to engage going forwards.

The washer on the end of the valve stem is usually held on with a small stainless steel screw.  Old one off, new one on, and thread the valve stem in.  Bonnet nut goes back on.  Handle goes back on.  Turn the water on.  Boom, you're done.

Still leaking, but right around the valve stem now - right under the handle.
Try torquing the bonnet nut just a little more.  Or look for the packing nut - a sort of secondary bonnet nut, that squashes the packing material around the valve stem.  It's there specifically to make the seal around the stem.  Not too tight though, or else you won't be able to turn the handle.

I have the packing nut, but by the time the leak stops, the handle's locked up tight.  Now what?
Turn the water back off, remove the handle, the packing nut if you have one, and the bonnet nut.  Leave the valve where it is but if it comes out again that's okay.  You need to remove the old packing stuffed up inside the bonnet, and put in new.  It's pretty much just a wad of impregnated string, and the hardware store will have some.  Just put the bonnet down over the stem, wind and shove the string onto the stem above the bonnet, and shove it all down with the packing nut.  Torque everything down and test again.  Repeat as needed.

Hey, that worked!  Is it always trial-and-error like that?
Sure, but after you've done it a few times, there's a lot less "error" and not as much need for "trial."

Don't forget to turn the water heater back on.  If anyone just couldn't wait, go flush that toilet that got used.  Wipe up any spills before they ruin anything, and put your tools away.  That's it, you're done.

You can sleep peacefully now, without the quiet plink plink plink of money going down the drain.

No comments:

Post a Comment