Dealing with a leaking tap
There are several different faucet types in residences today. This article should help you determine which of the various types you are dealing with, and get you off to a good start on your repair project.
Before you start:
Make sure you know how to turn the water off to the tap you wish to repair. If the leaking tap is on a sink, there should be two lines visible under the sink, each with a simple handle. Turn each handle clockwise to make sure they both function properly. Finding the shutoff valves for built in tubs or showers may be a bit more challenging, but installers usually provide a nearby access point. If you can't locate the local shutoff, you may need to trace the pipe work back toward the main until you find valves for both hot and cold water. Check them both to make sure they are functioning properly.
When you are sure you can shut off both hot and cold water completely, it is time to make sure you have the tools on hand you will need to complete the job. No matter which type of faucet you are repairing you will need at least the following tools:
- A Phillips-head screwdriver
- A small flat-head screw driver
- A pair of pliers
- A set of Allen wrenches
- An adjustable wrench
- A bowl, scrub brush, and supply of white vinegar, lime remover, or coca-cola.
- A bread pan to hold the pieces that will accumulate as the repair progresses.
With necessary tools in hand, it is time to move to the next step. Turn both hot and cold water off, then put a plug or secure cover over the drain to keep small items from escaping. Do not omit this step. As an added protection, you may wish to cover the bottom of the sink with a towel.
Determining the faucet type
Compression faucet: If there are separate handles for hot and cold water, and if they looks like they have been in service for a while, you are probably dealing with a traditional compression sealing system. To verify this, find the screw that holds the handle in place. You may need to use the small flat head screw driver to gently pry up a decorative cap covering the screw. Remove the screw, usually a Phillips-head, and lift the handle. You should see the end of a square or rectangular metal stem which is rotated by the handle you just removed. The stem is held in place by a packing seal which will need to be removed to complete the repair. To be absolutely certain you have a compression valve, remove the packing seal with a wrench, pull the stem straight out, and look for a rubber seal held in place by a screw at the upstream end of the mechanism.
Ball-type faucet:This is one of three types of faucets that can operate with a single handle that controls both hot and cold water. Find the set screw that keeps the handle in place, and remove it. You may need an allen wrench to loosen and remove the set screw Lift the handle. There may be an ornamental chrome collar to twist off. If you see a dome shaped metal cap through which the stem protrudes, and the stem moves like a "joy stick" you know you are looking at a ball-type faucet.
Cartridge and Ceramic Disk Faucets: Remove the faucet handle and chrome collar as above. Both cartridge and ceramic disk type faucets will have a brass or plastic mechanism to hold the cartridge or ceramic disk assembly in place. Remove the retainer, and lift the stem straight out. Traditional cartridge systems are usually metal, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Ceramic disk systems may be plastic and will have one of two flat ceramic disks visible on the end away from the handle.
Now that you know what kind of mechanism you are dealing with, it is time to undertake the actual repair. To avoid confusion and incredibly complex grammar, we will deal with repair procedures for each faucet type in separate articles.
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