There will come a time in every person’s life when a crucial decision has to be made – take on a leaking faucet alone or call for professional backup? We put this comprehensive guide together to help you tackle a leaking faucet on your own, and to help you recognise when a situation is dire enough to warrant giving a professional plumber a call before water damage sets in.
Paying some attention to where a leak is coming from will help you to conduct a quick and effective repair: a dripping faucet may entail disassembly of the fixture to replace a defective component, while a slowly leaking pipe connection could be patched with a few rounds of plumbing tape, but persistently leaking pipe connections likely require the disassembly of piping – which should only be done by a professional plumber.
The first and most crucial phase in the management of any disaster is to limit the damage. If you are faced with a persistently dripping faucet, whether it is an intermittent drip or a torrential waterfall, the first and safest thing to do before attempting any repairs is to locate and shut off the water supply for the affected fixture. The last thing anybody wants is for that trickling leak to turn into an unplanned fountain once the fixture comes off.
Sink faucets tend to have their separate supply valves located directly beneath the countertops, so shutting off the water supply for these fixtures is often as simple as opening the cabinets under the sink and manually turning the valves clockwise (right turn to close or tighten and left turn to open or loosen). Other fixtures such as showers, tubs, commodes, and ablutions may not have independent supply valves, or their shut-off valves may not be visible, so locating them may require a familiarity with the inner workings of your property.
If the water supply valve for a specific fixture cannot be located, or if the leak in question comes from a pipe connection rather than a faucet, one can always fall back on shutting off the water supply valve located just after the water meter on a landed property, or in the cold water riser of a high-rise development.
With a leaking pipe or faucet identified and the water supply interrupted, one can begin to prepare the area for repairs. Preparations should entail wrapping the teeth of pliers or wrenches with thick packing tape to prevent scratching fixtures, blocking drain openings with a rag to prevent the accidental loss of parts, and setting out a flat surface for placing disassembled parts.
As most water-dispensing fixtures and their pipes are composed of metallic alloys, leaks may present from imperfect gaps or the worn threads of connections between metal parts, especially in old pipe connections. Slow drips coming out of these pipe connections can be temporarily resolved with a few rounds of Teflon plumbing tape around the joint, but symptoms may reappear as pipe connections continue to deteriorate over time. If you find yourself continuously patching leaking connections along the same length of piping, this would be a sign to call in the professionals to replace the pipes.
If the leak does not originate from a pipe connection but rather from a fixture itself, the most likely reason could be traced to an unassuming piece of synthetic rubber that plumbers call an ‘O-ring’. Most faucets for homes are fitted with O-rings that come in a standard range of sizes, meaning that getting a replacement is a simple matter of bringing the defective O-ring to your neighbourhood hardware store.
Replacing the O-ring is a relatively laborious task involving prying off a fixture’s decorative caps with a blunt screwdriver and removing a variety of metal and plastic components to get to the O-ring, which necessitates taping over the teeth of tools to prevent scratching a fixture’s finishes. As there are many different ways of putting water-dispensing fixtures together, the task of replacing an O-ring can be made a little easier by having the manual for the affected fixture on hand. In lieu of a generic manual, we found a couple of videos detailing the process of fixture disassembly for your reference.
Professional plumbers advise returning the water supply to a repaired fixture gradually, as the sudden change in pressure could cause another leak or even damage the internal components of your fixtures beyond repair. To check on your work, open the water supply valve slowly by turning the handle counter-clockwise, then operate the fixture as normal while observing for leaks.
Slow leaks from pipe connections should be easily resolved by following these steps – but if a fixture continues to present leaks after replacing the O-ring, careful study of the fixture’s manual would be required to determine if other components need replacing. The options after this point would entail getting replacement components from the fixture’s manufacturer, or replacing the fixture entirely if multiple components are suspected to be defective. Either way, we highly recommend consulting a professional before expending any significant sums of money on replacing fixtures.
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Article by Kevin Eichenberger