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What comes to mind when you hear the term “faucet leaks”? Wasted water. Faucet repairs. Expensive phone calls? Yeah, me too. Out of all of the types of home repairs I’ve been through, messing with water supply lines gets me on edge. Thankfully, I’ve also learned that one of the most satisfying ways to combat that kind of anxiety and fear is to equip myself with knowledge, hands-on experience, and a screwdriver.
We’re going to call this technically a tutorial, but in all honesty, fixing my dripping outdoor faucet was one of those figure-it-out as you go things. And whenever I post about something like this, I feel like it’s only fair to remind you guys that I am not a professional plumber nor have a lot of clues on what I’m doing before I start trying to fix something in my house. And that’s also why I often screw up a couple of times before I finally figure out how to resolve the issue long-term. Got it? Good.
But anyway, my outdoor faucet no longer leaks or wastes water, which is a huge relief! And that also means I can share what I learned about fixing a dripping faucet, so you get something out of this too. :)
How to Tackle Leaky Faucet Repair
Remember how I made over my little laundry room last winter? Well, what I didn’t mention — and actually forgot about until spring — was that the outdoor faucet that sits directly on the other side of the back wall was dripping and had been turned off all winter. For obvious reasons, I had postponed this fix until the weather started to warm up, but in my haste to meet a makeover deadline, I forgot all about how quickly I would need to take the new plywood counter back out of the laundry room so I could get access to the shutoff valve behind the dryer. Sigh. Two steps forward…
Gaining access to turn the shutoff valve on and off proved to be… a bit cramped. To take the counter out, I would need to also remove the mirror on the right side. I would also need to remove the items on the counter, remove the antique washboard, and move the dryer back out of its neatly tucked-in spot. So, I basically had to deal with an unkempt, disorganized room again until I finally fixed the faucet. But, man — I got a brief taste of that sweet, sweet organized laundry room life — and I really wanted it back.
The main problem with fixing a leaky faucet like this is that it looks pretty intimidating when you aren’t an expert at plumbing (ahem, me). The hardware is clearly old and weathered, not to mention is directly embedded right into the stonework on the front entry porch. With every turn of the faucet handle, water was leaking directly out of the spout, and I could never seem to tighten it shut enough before it would slip and the connection would be leaking again (you know when you’re turning a faucet to tighten it closed, and then you feel the seal slip, and then you try to tighten it again? That.). When the hose was attached, most of the leak could be somewhat contained, but I also knew that this was wasting a lot of water. And I really, really didn’t want to have to solder on a whole new faucet, so I started researching what the likely problem could be.
I was hoping this would be quick and easy, and most videos I found online (like this one) suggested it could be as simple as needing to tighten the packing nut with a hex wrench or some locking pliers (the chunky hexagonal part), a new o-ring, or switching out a worn washer that was causing the slippage. But after trying to tighten things down, the leak remained.
According to the videos, the next least-expensive fix was to try to replace the washer. To do that, I would have to turn the water off, and that’s where I started to get frustrated. The simple math is that there are only so many times a gal can arm herself with a flat-head screwdriver and mash and contort herself between a dryer and a wall until she starts to lose her patience — especially when you think you’ve removed the right part only to realize that you basically just mashed and removed a different part of the faucet components (or if you’re a vocabulary nerd, the “hose bibb”). What I thought was a washer just wound up being another worn, rubbery part of the existing faucet. Womp, womp.
Another challenge with a “simple” fix like this is that there aren’t a lot of laymen’s terms involved with trying to find the correct replacement parts. The washers are in a totally different part of the home improvement store (or at least, in the stores near me) than the section where you’d find new outdoor faucets, so I wasn’t sure if I was buying the right thing or not. And you can go to a store all confident, telling yourself “ok, 1/2-inch washer, looks black and rubbery, I totally got this” and still find yourself staring at an entire display of lookalike rubber washers like a deer in the headlights. And that’s when your doubt starts to creep in.
Could the new ones be a different color these days? The one I’m trying to replace is like 30 years old; perhaps there’s a new standard and it looks totally different? Why can’t I find a nice variety pack like there are for wire nuts? Argggg, I’m out of here.
It’s also how a project that’s supposed to be easy can be undone as quickly as your confidence, and gets delayed with another two months of chaos in your laundry room.
In the end, I went back to the store and just bought an entirely new outdoor faucet that looked pretty much like (albeit, much shinier) the one I was trying to fix. When the difference is between the $2 bag of washers you aren’t sure is going to work versus the $6 faucet that you can take apart and just replace the entire valve stem, you go with what seems to be the path of least resistance. (They also make faucet repair kits, but that too was more expensive!). Plus, I figured that even if I did fix the washer issue, there was still a chance I would have leaks with having removed the wrong thing beforehand (so take that lesson from me: you could save a few bucks by not making a simple fix more complicated).
So, that’s what I did; I closely examined the type of faucet I had at home, snapped pictures on my phone, then went out to my local hardware store and purchased a new faucet. Then I took apart the valve’s “stem” components from the section on the bottom (since that was already attached to the stone facade, I didn’t need that). To loosen the one on the faucet, it was suggested I try some acetone to clean the mineral deposits and gunk (I used nail polish remover) and yank it off with locking pliers. That thing was really on there, and I was bleeding from my knuckle, but eventually, it finally popped off.
The new version came with all of the washers it already needed, and since it was the same size (1/2″), it went right into the old pipe without needing further modification. A quick turn in the laundry room to let the water flow once more, and voila! No leaks! No nightmares of gallons of water wasted.
Now, I just need to put the laundry room back together again, and we can call this home repair project complete!