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Ideas from Ed: Quit dribbling

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

“Ideas from Ed” (September 2020)

Ed is a do-it-yourselfer who is happy to share some of his ideas and experiences in this monthly column.

This month: Quit dribbling

Last month’s article was on replacing a frost-free yard hydrant. Most folks will likely only have a more typical attached-to-the-house “hose bib” faucet for outside water. This month’s article covers the steps to repair a leaking, dribbling faucet. While this is an extremely basic repair, it’s still one that many homeowners are afraid to tackle. Don’t be!

As with 99% of water repairs (or is it 100%?), you need to shut off the flow of water before doing anything. Here’s the shutoff valve on my basement ceiling. Note that it’s appropriately labeled. You should do that even if you know exactly what controls what, because someday it may be someone other than you needing to make repairs. Note also that it’s a “gate valve” and not a “ball valve” which is SO much more desirable. (When I become king (!), all valves will be ball valves.)

Now, let’s check out the dribbling faucet. As you can see, it’s mounted on a small post, with a braided stainless steel supply line from the “real” faucet. That’s a neat trick we use, and locates the faucet in a position closer to the driveway, over my wife’s flowers, and away from the knuckle-scraping brick wall.

Most faucets with this basic design have 2 places where they can be unthreaded. If the faucet is leaking around the stem, it may be necessary to remove the smaller collar nut, wherein there’s a graphite-covered string of packing. I removed that collar to demonstrate it, using a small wrench, but our faucet was leaking from the main hookup. It couldn’t be fully “shut off” and continually dripped. Note in this photo that the wrench is positioned in the correct jaw orientation for counter-clockwise turning. That’s a basic wrench-usage tip that many folks just don’t know. (If the collar was to be turned clockwise, as to tighten it, flip the wrench over to use it properly. You can see that in the last photo in this article.)

Below that collar nut is the main stem body nut, normally much larger and more stubborn. When faced with that removal challenge, you’ll need a larger wrench.

Your goal is to remove the stem section from the main body, as this picture shows, so that the washer can be accessed.

The next step is probably optional in most instances, but I’m showing it for this demonstration. Obviously you’ll be replacing the washer, but sometimes the issue is a worn or damaged seat in the faucet body. This special tool, available at most hardware stores, can remove any burrs or irregularities. It is inserted and GENTLY rotated against the seat, hopefully letting the new washer make a good seal against a newly-smoothed surface.

The screw holding the washer is usually brass or stainless steel, so (hopefully) it won’t be too corroded. If you damage the screw head getting it out (for example, by using pliers instead of a screwdriver because the head is worn) it’s best to replace it with a new one so that “next time” removal will be easy. I keep a small box of replacement screws handy, as well as a bagful of washers of various sizes and shapes. It’s rare that I’ll need to make a run to the hardware store for replacement parts. They are inexpensive, so I suggest stocking up as I do so that some will always be at the ready.

It’s usually possible to replace a flat washer with a conical one and vice-versa, but try to get the replacement to be the closest you can to what was there before.

Once the washer is in place, screw it down tightly, and re-insert the stem into the body. At this point, it’s important that the handle be turned to the fully “open” position so that everything will fit into the faucet body without jamming. Turn the water back on, check for leaks, and move on to the next project!

I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!


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