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How to Replace a Faucet

December 1st, 2009

faucet-replacement.jpgJust as sinks have evolved, faucets are also now available in a profusion of styles to match them. The outward style may vary from one faucet to another, but the quality of construction should not. What matters most is what the faucet is built of on the inside, rather than what it looks like on the outside.

Although a faucet might be plated in chrome, brass, or nickel, the fittings beneath are made of another material. In every case, you should choose solid brass workings because they more durable than other materials. Anything else, especially plastic, will deteriorate quickly. One simple way to determine what a faucet is built with is to pick one up in a store. The heavier, the better — a sure sign of the presence of mighty brass. In addition, the water-stopping mechanism inside a faucet is also an important consideration. The earliest ones contained a valve fitted with a long screw called the stem. Turning the handle would grind a rubber washer into the valve’s seat and stop the flow of water. If you over tightened this kind of faucet, the washer would wear away and begin to leak.

As a remedy, manufacturers developed valves that opened and closed with a quarter-turn of the handle. These preserved the life of the rubber washer, but new technology has eliminated the rotating washers altogether. New washerless valves have a stainless steel cylinder encased in a plastic cylinder. As the handle turns, the cylinder holes line up and water flows. An even better system relies on a pair of super-smooth, super-hard ceramic disks that rotate against each other. Water streams out when the holes are uncovered, but can’t get past any spot where the pieces touch. These valves can last forever.

Worn-out faucets can be replaced as long as the tailpieces of the new faucet fit exactly through the mounting holes of the existing sink or countertop. These are the cylindrical pieces that extend below the sink and connect to the water supply lines. Typically, faucets come in three very common sizes: single-holed faucets, in which both the hot and cold supply lines come through the same opening, and those with either a 4-inch or an 8-inch spread, which is a measure of the distance between the centers of the cold water and the hot water valves. The diameter of the holes can also vary, especially on old lavatories with tiny holes that do not correspond to the dimensions of modern faucets. The way to make sure the faucet you’re buying will fit your sink is to measure the holes first, before you go to the faucet dealer. That way, you won’t have to exchange the faucet when it doesn’t fit and will not have to worry about a needless restocking fee.

The hardest part of the task is to remove the old faucet. First, turn off and disconnect the water supply lines. This is an amazingly obvious step, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who forget it and end up facing a geyser. If the nuts holding the faucet are corroded into place, spray on a penetrating oil to loosen them, or heat them delicately for a few seconds with a propane torch. Be careful, however, since some faucets may be made from chrome-plated plastic and will literally melt when hit with a blowtorch (which is one reason why I recommend avoiding them in the first place). Then use a basin wrench, which is a long-handled tool that can maneuver in tight areas, to remove the nuts that hold the faucet in place from beneath the sink. One precaution: when replacing a faucet, always add new supply tubes that connect the supply pipes to the tailpiece of the faucet. Old ones wear out, and there’s no point in going through this effort only to have them spring a leak when you’re all done. I prefer chrome-plated brass tubes to flexible plastic ones, because they have a longer track record in the industry. The plastic ones have all the structural integrity of a soda straw.

Once you have managed to get a handle on faucets you can look into other plumbing concerns such as a bathroom water heater.

This article on how to replace a faucet was obtained from a supplier on the DigitalPoint forums under the usual PLR terms. It has been modified slightly to clean up issues with typos and formatting.

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