How to Fix Leaky Plumbing


Repairing a leak is actually not a renovation but a maintenance project. However, sometimes just fixing the plumbing helps make the house more livable, so a few words are in order.

Fixing plumbing is a logical exercise. However, it can be dirty and messy and can take some skill, such as being able to solder. If you do it yourself, the materials-only cost is usually negligible. If you call in a plumber, the project becomes quite expensive.

Some jobs, such a handling copper pipe, are fairly easy. However, older homes may have galvanized piping that requires using large wrenches to free old joints and then cutting and threading new pipe. Unless you’ve done this before, you’re better off hiring a pro.

Leaky Plumbing

Most water leaks are caused by washers that fail or are defective. Replace the washer and the leak will vanish. Accomplishing this, however, can sometimes be surprisingly difficult and can take an amazing amount of time.

With leaky faucets, grind or replace the seat (what the washer fits into) at the same time as the washer (Hand­held grinders are available for a few dollars.) The seats get pitted and can quickly wear out a new washer. Grinding or replacing the seat (or the entire mecha­nism) can keep you from having to redo the job every few months.

If the leak is in the wall or floor, it may be caused by a rusted joint or a burst pipe (usually a delayed effect from a winter freeze). In this case, a section of wall may have to be removed. Or you may have to go into the basement or crawl space or remove a section of ceiling under the floor where the problem exists. For galvanized pipe it usually means unscrewing the pipe (using large pipe wrenches) and, working back from the outlet to the leak replacing all with new pipe. Copper pipe is much easier to handle. The troublesome section can simply be cut out and a new section soldered in.

In the case of a drain, for plastic pipe a section can likewise be cut out, and a new section glued in. For a metal drain, however, it’s eas­ier to cut out the old section and use compression fittings on both ends and then replace the damaged portion with plastic.

For toilets, a wax seal is used under the bowl. Remove the screws that hold the bowl to the floor, and lift. Scrape out the old seal using a putty knife and then press a new seal into place. Refit the bowl to the floor.

Sometimes a leak in galvanized pipe can be sealed using a metal-and-rubber compression fitting, sold at most hardware stores. The fitting is placed over the break and then screwed into place. It really provides only a temporary solution, however, because the fitting will itself rust out eventually. But for the time being, the leak is gone.

Fix Leaky Plumbing

Be wary of fixing leaks in tub or shower faucets. To get at the valve, you may have to remove a portion of the wall and accompanying tile. Try, instead, simply to replace the valve stem. The stem unscrews after the faucet handle is removed. A wide variety of replace­ments are available at most hardware stores.

When screwing fittings on, try using Teflon® tape or paste. It makes an excellent sealer and allows the fitting to be easily screwed on and, later, unscrewed.

Be aware that when working with old galvanized pipe, you are tak­ing a big risk in creating new leaks. Old steel pipe inevitably rusts inside. Every time you put a plumber’s wrench onto it you risk dis­torting and cracking the metal, causing a new leak. For this reason, I recommend that you use compression fittings when possible and, when not, that you rely on the services of a professional plumber. The headaches avoided are well worth any additional cost!

Bathrooms are not the easiest area of the house to try do-it-yourself renovation, because they are small and difficult to get into. But if done well, a bathroom renovation can make the entire house shine and make you proud of the work you did.

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  3. How to Install a Toilet
  4. How to Repair Leaky Roof
  5. How to Understand Plumbing

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About the Author: Jason Prickett loves to write about home maintenance and stuff you can do yourself instead of hiring any professional. His step by step guides will assist you in completing your home maintenance tasks.

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