I hate plumbing. I really, really hate it. Given the choice between doing a plumbing project or listening to a Miley Cyrus album, I would choose a root canal (at least a drill can stay on pitch). About the only thing I’m good at with plumbing is displaying copious amounts of hairy butt crack while working.
On the surface plumbing sounds relatively simple: pipes bring clean water in, and separate pipes take the poop water away. But with changing building codes and new developments in materials there is no standardized system, so you often don’t know if you’re going to be dealing with iron pipe, copper, pvc or cpvc, or new pex fittings, until you actually dig into a project.
There is a reason plumbers can charge $60+ per hour, and if you have more money than time or patience then I strongly recommend hiring one, particularly if you are dealing with a difficult issue. However, if you want to save a bunch of money and improve the look of your bathroom or kitchen, replacing a faucet is within the ability of most homeowners.
What You Need:
1. The first step in any plumbing project is to shut off the water to the area where you are working.
Most fixtures have shut off valves in the cabinet underneath. If yours are in good shape simply turn off the valves for both the cold and hot water, and move to step 4. If however, you have ancient shutoffs from the 1970s and need to replace them you will have to shut off the main water supply to the house. Most mainline shutoffs are located outside the house in an enclosed box underground. Beware if you live in the southwest like me; critters love the shade and moisture provided here, so look out for black widows, scorpions, and snakes. (Man aren’t you glad you decided to do this?) The other shut off should be located on top of the water heater.
2. Turn on the faucet until it runs all the water out of it to clear the lines. Now is the worst part. You will need to disconnect the supply lines from the faucet and the shutoffs from the pipes.
As you can see in the pictures these old shut offs have the supply lines built into them, and I had to break free 40 years of corrosion to get them off. I broke out my full repertoire of profanity trying to get them loose in the confined space under the sink. My system was built with copper pipe and compression fittings, so I had to remove the compression nut from the shutoff. If you have iron the whole unit should unthread from the wall, and if you are dealing with pvc you will probably have to cut it off. Now you can install the new shutoffs. I recommend 1/4 turn valves, as they are more durable and easier to work with for future projects.
With my compression fittings I just reused the old nut and ring on the pipe as they were still in good condition, otherwise you will need a special puller to get the old ones off. Always use a generous amount of Teflon tape on the threads, then install the new shutoffs and tighten them down as far as you can.
3. Now you can install new supply lines.
I always recommend using stainless steel lines as they should last a lifetime and are less likely to crimp or leak. Again, use plenty of Teflon tape to avoid leaks.
4. Once you have your supply lines and shutoffs situated you can remove the old faucet.
They are generally held in place by one or two retaining nuts depending on if it is a single or three hole mount. If your bathroom faucet has a pop up plug in the drain you can disconnect it now. If the previous faucet was installed with plumbers’ putty or silicone you may have to cut it free, then thoroughly clean the mounting surface.
5. The new faucet simply installs in reverse.
Most new faucets come with a plastic gasket that goes between the unit and the sink top to provide a tight seal. The manufacturer may recommend silicone, but I try to avoid using it unless you are having a hard time getting a good seal. Silicone tends to get dirty and gives mold a place to grow, and I find the plastic gasket to do a sufficient job.
Next, tighten down the retaining nuts, a second hand is useful here to hold the faucet steady and centered while you tighten it down. Finally, make your supply line connections, again using plenty of Teflon tape. Attach the new pop-up hardware and check for function. You can replace the pop-up assembly if the old one is worn out, but last time I did one it caused more frustration than it was worth, and the old one here was still in good condition.
6. Finally, turn the main water supply back on and check for leaks at the shutoffs.
Tighten down more if leaking, then turn the valves open and check for other leaks, correcting where needed. Then, remove the aerator and turn the faucet on for a few minutes to flush out any debris left over from manufacturing, then re-install the aerator.
7. Now that you are done with your plumbing project it is time to mend any relationships damaged by your constant stream of profanity, or fix any thing you broke while throwing tools and parts across the room.
Then grab a beer, and vow to call a professional next time.