Leaky faucets may not seem like a big deal, but their costs add up. A faucet that drips once a second wastes a gallon of water every four hours. That’s five gallons a day and 2,000 gallons a year. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, leaky faucets and fixtures waste over a trillion gallons of water a year in the United States. Despite this, few homeowners know what causes a faucet to drip or what to do about it. Don’t let a bad faucet run up your bills. Once you know what causes leaks, you’ll be in a better position to fix them.
Also known as packing or toric joints, O-rings are mechanical gaskets that seal the gap around the faucet handles and stem valves. O-rings are made from elastomer, a strong, rubbery material that forms a watertight seal when squeezed between two surfaces and retains its shape even after heavy and sustained pressure. Despite this, O-rings are not indestructible. Friction from repeated use eventually wears them out or loosens them to the point they can no longer maintain an effective seal. Old rings can also become dry, brittle, and prone to cracking.
Cartridges connect the faucet handles to the faucet valves, allowing you to control the water flow in your sink. Like all faucet components, constant water flow gradually wears them down over time. In some instances, it can even cause corrosion or leave them coated in sediment, preventing them from closing tightly when the faucet is shut off. Older cartridges are typically made of brass, which can be cleaned and polished to remove rust or mineral buildup. Modern cartridges, on the other hand, are typically made of plastic and must be replaced entirely.
Corroded Valve Seat
The valve seat connects the stem and the faucet. Water flows through it from your pipes and out of the spout. Though it’s immobile, the valve seat is an important part of the compression valve, which consists of a screw stem with a rubber washer on the end. Turning on the faucet raises the stem, allowing water to flow through the valve seat. Turning it off lowers the stem, forcing the washer against the seat to create an impenetrable seal. However, if the seat becomes corroded, the washer won’t fit tightly and water will begin to trickle through.
Washers are a vital part of the compression valve, responsible for sealing the pipes when your faucet is turned off. Unfortunately, the friction from being pressed repeatedly against the valve seat can wear it down and create a leak.
As water flows through your faucets, it can leave behind trace amounts of sediment. These sediments tend to build up over time, eroding the seal to the point where it can no longer function. Excessive water pressure can also erode the seal’s mechanical components, wearing them down until they fail.
Inordinate Water Pressure
The harder water pushes against your pipes, the harder your valves and seals have to push back to keep it in check. At a certain point, if your water pressure isn’t set correctly, the force may be too much to bear. Though excessive water pressure rarely leads to catastrophic failure, it can force a thin trickle of water through the valve or seal. While other leaks drip at a constant rate, leaks caused by water pressure tend to fluctuate throughout the day, becoming weaker or stronger depending on your water usage.
Loose parts are normally the result of poor installation, but water pressure and friction can cause them as well, given enough time. Rings and packing nuts are the parts that come loose most often, but the stream screw in the compression valve is also susceptible.
Protecting Your Home
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