How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

  • faucet repair
  • Transcript

    LESLIE: The drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet doesn’t have to drive you crazy. You’ve got options.

    TOM: And we’re not talking about ear plugs. Here to tell us how to diagnose and fix a leaky faucet is This Old House heating-and-plumbing contractor Richard Trethewey.

    Welcome, Richard.

    RICHARD: Hey, guys. And don’t call me a “drip,” please.

    TOM: Certainly not that. But we do waste a lot of water in this country because of leaking faucets and fixtures. What’s the main cause of a leak with those faucets and fixtures? Where do they break down?

    RICHARD: Well, they wear out over time. The old-style faucets that you might try to keep repairing have a rubber or neoprene washer in it. And every time you turn that handle, it’s compressing the washer. And over time, it starts to wear, it starts to wear, it starts to wear. Sometimes, you can get impurities up into the water that can add to the wear, as well. Excessively hot water can make a washer wear out sooner.

    People don’t realize how hard these faucets work. A family of four, that faucet – hot and cold – goes on and off in that lavatory a lot every day, never mind the kitchen sink. The kitchen sink takes a beating.

    And a little drip on a faucet is not inconsequential when you start thinking about it. A drip of one drip per second – drip, drip, drip – can use 3,000 gallons a year. Alright. What’s 3,000 gallons a year? That’s the same water you might use for 180 showers. It adds up and it shouldn’t be ignored.

    TOM: Wow. So, there are obviously a lot of moving parts when it comes to a faucet. Is it possible to repair it and stop that leak?

    RICHARD: It’s almost always possible to rebuild any faucet, even the ones that go inside the wall. On the old-style faucet, there’s a stem – a thing with these threads on it – that has a washer at the end that goes up and down. And that washer goes down against a seat. Well, you could replace the seat that’s inside the faucet; you know, that’s a part that you can get. You can replace the washer. You can replace the stem. So, fundamentally, you could rebuild any faucet and make it like new. But it still is that old-style faucet that still will be given the chance to wear because it’s sort of primitive the way it goes up and down and works against that washer. That washer takes a bit of a beating.

    LESLIE: So, Richard, it seems like this year is the 50th anniversary of the single-handle faucet. And you mentioned that these rubber valves tend to leak but it seems that today you’re finding more and more ceramic valves. Is that a smarter choice? Does it help it to not leak as often?

    RICHARD: When you just talked about that single lever, that was a cartridge. And that thing would last and last; it wasn’t like the rubber washers that wear out all the time. And then that gave way – or is giving way to a thing called a “ceramic disc.” And this is – to hold the water, there’s two pieces of ceramic that are milled so beautifully that you slide them back and forth and it opens a port for the water. And it isn’t a rubber washer that wears and it’s so precise that it lasts and lasts and lasts.

    So the days of repairing a washer every year or two are really going away with this ceramic valving. And that’s really – you see this ceramic valving everywhere now and it’s really the rage because it lasts long and it’s so easy to operate.

    TOM: And the advances in technology in plumbing fixtures and faucets is really fascinating today. We have the WaterSense program, which I kind of compare to sort of the ENERGY STAR program except that it’s designed to encourage manufacturers to make fixtures and faucets that use as little water as possible. Would you agree it’s important to look for that designation when you’re thinking about making the replacement?

    RICHARD: Well, it sure is. You hear about these programs and you say, “Oh, what? Is the government going to teach me to save water?” And this year, we did this project on This Old House. We visited this beautiful water tower on the top of the hill that went back to the development of the City of Boston and with this beautiful, decorated water tower that looked like a Greek temple.

    And so we had the head guy from the Water Department for the City of Boston – for all of Massachusetts, actually – and he came out with a factoid to me that really got my attention. And that is even though the City of Boston has grown in population 10-fold, Boston still uses the same amount of water it did in 1900.

    TOM: Wow.

    RICHARD: And that’s because of the low-flow showerheads, all the legislation, the low-consumption toilets. And that got my attention. That’s saying this program works and if we didn’t have it, imagine what we’d have to do. We could have a water shortage if we weren’t smart about it. So, I’m fully in favor of this program.

    TOM: Yeah. And another great reason to, in this case, replace rather than repair. Because you do pick up all of that new water efficiency.

    Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit. Great advice.

    RICHARD: Great to be here.

Leave a Reply