Spotting Hidden Water Damage, Part 1

Few home disasters are worse than water in areas of the home that are supposed to be dry. Leaking roofs, windows and doors, leaking pipes, faulty appliances and condensation are all sources of water in the home. There are some water problems plumbers can’t take care of, but this post will discuss hidden water damage related to plumbing problems.

Being able to identify plumbing problems is critical to protecting your home from water damage. Quickly finding leaking plumbing joints, worn out fixtures and sources of condensation can mean the difference between a small repair and thousands of dollars worth of plumbing damage, wood rot and mold remediation.

A leaking faucet is easy to spot. If you’re lucky, the leaking water drips down into the sink and goes down the drain. If you’re not so lucky, a leaking faucet may allow water to drip down the walls or underneath the sink. Sometimes, you may find leaking water near the faucet handles or near the neck of the fixture.

If you suspect a leak, look for pooled water under the sink, seeping water around the faucet handles or neck, or signs of damage along the wall or in the sink base if your sink has one. Signs of water damage can include peeling or bubbled paint, warped or rotten wood, water stains on the walls, soft bulging plaster or drywall, mold growth, buckling floor tiles or mineral build-up around the base of the faucet.

Sometimes, replacing a washer or gasket can repair a leaking faucet. Many newer faucets are “washerless” so a $0.10 washer won’t do the trick. Some inexpensive faucets have plastic bodies that either crack with time, simple wear, over-tightening at the connections or manufacturing defects. In these cases, faucet replacement is in order.

Replacing a faucet isn’t hard, provided you have the right materials. Most faucets have standard threaded supply and drain connectors, so you may only need Teflon tape or pipe dope and a few hand tools to complete the repair. Despite the fact that federal laws require faucets and other plumbing materials to meet certain health and safety standards, plenty of low-quality parts still make it to store shelves. Choose a faucet that is made from quality material, guaranteed to be free of heavy metals and designed to work with your sink.

If your sink doesn’t have independent shut-off valves, now is a good time to add them in line with the water supply. If your sink does have shut-off valves, now is a good time to test them and verify that they’re still working! If they’re hard to move, sticky or leaky, replace those, too!

In most cases, a faucet replacement is “out with the old, in with the new.” Other leaks, such as those hidden behind walls or underneath the floors can be messy, difficult and time-consuming to locate and fix. If you’re not confident that you can complete this kind of repair, or you simply want professional assistance, contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll replace your leaking sink faucet, test your shutoff valves and install valves (or replacements) if needed. We can also replace pipes hidden in the walls and test them for additional signs of wear or damage.

Fixing a Leaking Sink Faucet

If you have plumbing, chances are good that some day, you’re going to encounter a leaking faucet in your Boston home. Faucets leak for a variety of reasons, but fixing them can be a relatively simple task. Faucets can leak due to faulty gaskets or o-rings, dirty or corroded valve seats, or threads that have not been properly sealed. You’ll need to replace a leaking faucet outright if part of the faucet housing is cracked or broken (as might be the case with a plastic fixture) but often, a simple repair will do the trick.

You’ll want to have a bucket and some old towels or rags on hand; flat and Phillip’s head screwdrivers; a pair of vice grips, or an adjustable wrench; a flashlight, steel wool and Teflon tape at the very least. You may need additional tools and supplies, depending upon the type of leak you find. If you have to replace the faucet assembly, you’ll also want to have some plumber’s putty on hand.

Turn off the water at the faucet by turning the fixture’s individual cutoff valves to the closed position. If your sink doesn’t have individual cutoff valves for the hot and cold water, you’ll need to turn the water off at another cutoff or the main shutoff for the house. Open the faucet handles to drain the remaining water.

When the faucet is drained, you’ll need to disconnect the faucet from the supply lines. Typically, these are threaded connections located under the sink. Over time, mineralization and corrosion may have built up at the connectors but a good twist with the adjustable wrench should loosen the threaded connections. Place the ends of the disconnected supply lines in the bucket to catch any additional water that may be present in the lines. If you’re working with a bathroom sink, you may also have to disconnect the sink stopper control before you can remove the faucet. The sink stopper control is often held into the faucet assembly with a clip that attaches to a lever. Simply disconnect the clip, and then remove the faucet fixture.

Check the neck and the body of the faucet fixture for obvious cracks, bends, breaks or other non-repairable failures. If you find a major problem like these, you’ll need to replace the entire faucet assembly.
Assuming you find nothing serious, you may have to disassemble the faucet handles to get a good look at moving parts of the faucet. Usually the faucet handles are held on with a hidden screw, or the handles themselves are threaded into the fixture. If you’re working with a hidden screw, you can usually pop the caps off with a screwdriver blade or other flat edge, then unscrew the faucet handle.

Check for deteriorated gaskets, corrosion or other build-up that will prevent the faucet from sealing properly. Carefully remove the old gasket(s) and clean the entire area where the gaskets are seated. Check also the gaskets that may remain seated in the supply lines. Inspect the threaded connections for debris, corrosion or other problems that might prevent a good seal. Remove old bits of rubber gasket, corrosion or mineral build-up with steel wool. Regular white vinegar will also dissolve mineralization.

You may need to take the old gasket to the store to find an exact replacement. Gaskets of all sizes are common and they’re easy to find at a home-improvement store. It’s important to use the correct gasket to ensure a good fit.

Once you have replaced the gaskets, you’ll need to wrap all threaded connections in Teflon tape. A good Teflon seal can help prevent leaks. Replace the faucet assembly and reattach the handles. Connect all threaded connectors and be sure to tighten them correctly. Don’t over-tighten threaded connectors because this can cause a poor fit and – you guessed it – leaks.

Turn the water supply to the faucet back on and check for leaks. If you can’t find the source of the leak or your repair attempts don’t work, you can call Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 and we can locate and eliminate the source of your faucet leaks.