Friday, April 25, 2014

DIYTROS - Fixing a Leaky Outdoor Faucet

Do It Yourself...The Rest of the Story

If you know me, you know that I am a bit of a DIY guy.  Unless it's going to violate a code or put my family at risk, I will try to do it or fix it myself.   We are all accustomed to DIY resources on the Internet.  What is not readily apparent with such resources is that there are often many details and complications left out of the discussion.  That's where this post comes in to fill in the blanks.

This post is not meant to repeat what you can easily find on Google.  Rather, I try to capture the rest of the story, as I have experienced it, so that your road may be a little smoother if you take the same trip.

Fixing a Leaky Outdoor Faucet

If you search the interwebs, you will readily find discussions of how very easy it is to repair a leaky faucet and, frankly, that is true.  In a nutshell:
  1. Turn off the water to your house
  2. Empty the faucet
  3. Loosen the packing nut on your faucet and pull out the guts
  4. Go replace the worn/broken seals (gaskets and o-rings) [potentially the hard part]
  5. Replace the guts and tighten the packing nut
  6. Turn the water to your house back on
  7. Check faucet functionality
If you have everything on hand, this repair can take less than ten minutes from start to finish.  But you probably won't and you might hit a few wrinkles.

Turn Off the Water to Your House

This should be pretty straightforward, but you will likely need a "meter key".  You can get one of these at your favorite home improvement supply store.  I opted for the meter key with box lid key from Home Depot.

Note: I owned a meter *wrench* with box lid key, but the positioning of the meter prevented me from seating the wrench properly, so the tool was useless for this water meter.

Empty the Faucet

This step *should* take very little time.  However, when you turn off the water to your house, if you have a two-story house, it might take many minutes for the water to completely drain out.  In my case, it was still dribbling after an hour.  It is not crucial that the water flow *completely* stop for you to perform the repair, but it is safest to wait.  If it does not stop, you may need to have your water company come look at the valve (I did, and our valve was fine).

A slow drip will not affect your ability to repair the faucet, so you might consider tossing a bucket under the drip and getting on with it, as I did.

Loosen the Packing Nut and Pull Out the Guts

This should be simple.  This should be the first large nut you see behind your handle.  To be safe, I placed a pipe wrench on the main body of the faucet (see above) to make it easy to provide a counter torque when I was loosening the nut.

Once the packing nut is completely loose, just gently pull out the guts of the faucet.  As you can see from the picture above, the guts can be quite long.  In my case, it was about a 9" stem (23 cm).  You can find an image on the web pretty easily.  It may help to know that this type of faucet is a "frost free sillcock".  Say that ten times fast, but not at work.  You might have better luck searching for "frost free faucet", however.

My particular faucet had three seals.
  1. A gasket at the end of the stem inside the wall - this is the one that stops the flow of water when I tighten the faucet [If this is worn, the water will still drip/flow after you turn off the faucet]
  2. A gasket near the end of the stem nearest the faucet handle - this is the packing seal [If this is worn, you will probably have water leak near the handle]
  3. An o-ring in the piece the handle mounts to - this allows the faucet to turn without water shooting out of the handle [If this is worn, you will probably have water leak near the handle]

Go Replace the Worn/Broken Seals

OK, so you have faucet guts in your hand.  You are feeling very plumber-y, and if you watched a DIY video, they may have suggested that you head to your local plumber supply.  Congratulations if that works for you.  Here is my story...

I knew that I probably needed to replace seals #2 and #3 from above, because my leak was a slow leak around the handle.  So, off I went to find replacements.

"Plumber Supply"

I called all three vendors in my city that professed to be plumber supplies.  ALL THREE 1) tried to convince me that the faucet was beyond repair (without seeing it; only knowing there was a slow leak around the handle) and 2) confessed that they sold primarily complete faucet sets and very few, very specific parts for some of their brands.  I do not have a good opinion of the integrity or competence of these folks.  Moving on...

"Hardware Stores"

I hit up a local mom and pop store and although they did have parts for some faucets, they did not have mine.  But they recommended a faucet supply half an hour away that was "the king of faucet parts".

"The 'King' of Faucet Parts"

I called "the king" ahead of time.  They had me text them pictures I had taken of the faucet.  They explained, with some disdain, that my faucet was probably made in Taiwan.  I let that slide and asked if they could help.  They said they could, so...road trip!

When I arrive, they take the opportunity to once again point out that my faucet is from Taiwan and they do not sell them.  However, they do provide a replacement gasket that is the same size as my #2 seal.  I will need to modify it, but that's nothing compared to the stuff I had to do in grad school to make apparatus work.

As for the o-ring, he "eyeballs" it and grabs an o-ring from a drawer.  The charge?  25 cents.

I get back home, whip out a scalpel, crudely shape the gasket, slide on the o-ring, and prepare to feel a sense of accomplishment...

Replace the Guts and Tighten the Packing Nut

This is dead easy.  Just slide the parts back in, tighten the packing nut (I recommend providing counter torque as before), put the handle back on (if you removed it), and you are done.

Turn The Water Back On

When you use the meter key to open the valve back up, you will immediately see indications of flow as the pipes fill back up with water.

Check Faucet Functionality

Turn the knob and see what happens.

In my case, the leak was even worse than before.  So...what happened?

Standard O-Rings Are Not Quite as Standard as You Might Think

The gentleman at "the king" had given me an o-ring that was too small and skinny.  In a nutshell, there are a few key dimensions for an o-ring, inner diameter, outer diameter, and cross-section (how fat the actual material is).

The standards o-rings in the range of what I needed are #7 and #8.  One was too skinny and the other too fat. I had not bothered to question the gentleman's choice of o-ring.  It looked about right to my untrained eye, but it turns out it was about 25% too thin, and that was just enough to compromise the seal.

I spent twenty minutes with a kindly gentleman at Home Depot trying various "standard" o-rings.  No luck.

So, it dawned on me that maybe a metric o-ring could be the trick.  Sure, the Taiwanese faucet had to be adapted for US fittings, but that does not mean the inner o-ring was English measure.

So, I called an o-ring supply and asked about metric o-rings.  They could probably help, but the minimum purchase was $25.  Um.  No.  They were kind enough to recommend NAPA auto parts or a local mom and pop hardware store for options.  A quick call to NAPA confirmed that they had metric o-rings in the right size range.

After about five minutes at NAPA, using the digital micrometer they kindly loaned me, I identified the two best options, neither of which matched the old o-ring or the stem diameter properly.  Only one (the slightly too large one) would really fit.  They charged me nothing for the o-rings.  Note to self: go to NAPA when I next need auto parts.

I popped it on, assembled everything, worked beautifully!

In Closing...

So, yes, this is a very simple repair.  I probably spent 15 minutes total actually fixing the faucet, and that includes pulling it apart twice.  However, I probably spent two hours driving around, and thirty minutes calling and shopping to get the two seals.  And probably thirty minutes the day before getting the proper meter key.

But now I know...

May your repairs be smooth and effortless.

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean, Michael. I got a better understanding of plumbing by trying to fix the issues in my own home. Everything just came naturally after that. Anyway, the post was very informative, and I couldn't have done it better myself. :)

    Wilson Horton @ Capital Care Plumbing