Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Changing a Kitchen Faucet

Hi everyone, and welcome back.  This week we dive into a common household plumbing task:  changing a kitchen faucet.  As we say in the handyman trade, "woodworking is fun, but plumbing pays the bills."

In general, you will want to buy your new faucet before you start this project.  When in doubt, follow the instructions that come with it.  That's right, I actually said to follow the instructions.  Seriously, though, the documentation that comes with plumbing fixtures tends to be pretty good, particularly for the major brands.

Since you will be spending much of this job lying on your back with your head in a cabinet, it pays to lay your tools out next to you where you can reach them easily. You will want to have:  a small flashlight, a pair of channel locks, a Phillips screwdriver, a small scraper or putty knife, a small adjustable wrench, and a scrap of something soft to protect your back.  You will probably also need a basin wrench, which is a specialty tool (available at any hardware store) for undoing the nuts on the bottom of a faucet. A couple of old towels will also come in handy for soaking up excess water.

Tools Needed to Change a Faucet (Not Shown: a Small Flashlight)
Another tool that is nice to have is the Rigid 2006, which is basically a plastic tube with wrenches at each end.  One end fits supply lines and the other fits the nuts that secure a faucet.  I don't actually own one, but I have borrowed them from other people on job sites and found them useful.  For old, nonstandard stuff, however, you will still want the basin wrench, which will grab nearly anything.  The rigid tool costs about $20, so only buy it if you are planning on changing several faucets in the next year. 

The general procedure for most sinks is a follows:

Step 1:  Turn Off the Water Supply


The hot and cold water should come into the cabinet through either the floor or wall as a pair of small brass valves.  Turn the handle all the way clockwise to turn off the water supply.

Step 2: Detach Garbage Disposal (Optional)

If there is a garbage disposal, and it looks like it will be in the way, you might want to temporarily remove it.  To do this, undo the slip nut connecting the disposal to the drain pipe.  Then insert your screwdriver into the quick release ring, and rotate it it until the disposal comes free of the sink.  Be sure to support the disposal as it releases so it doesn't just drop.  If you don't have much upper body strength, you might want to support the bottom of the disposal with a block of wood, toolbox, etc.  Set the disposal aside for now.

Step 3:  Disconnect Supply Lines

If you have enough room, use a small adjustable wrench (aka Crescent wrench) to disconnect the two hoses that supply water to the faucet.  Otherwise, use your basin wrench.  Some water will come out of the lines as you disconnect them, so have a towel handy to mop it up.  

The basin wrench can be a little tricky to use until you get the hang of it.  The main trick is to make sure the wrench end is folded in the right direction.

This is a good time to inspect the supply lines and make sure they are still good.  If they look really sad, this might be a good time to swap them out.  Measure them for length and replace them with braided stainless lines from the hardware store. 

Tuck the lines out of the way as you go on to the next step. 

Step 4:  Disconnect the Faucet

Most faucets are held on with a couple of large plastic nuts, which you can loosen with the basin wrench.  Although they are getting rare these days, you occasionally run into metal nuts.  These are frequently corroded, and can be a real pain to get off.  Try shooting them with some WD-40 and working on them with the basin wrench.  If this doesn't work, you may need to cut them off with a hacksaw blade or cold chisel.  You can also grind them off with a Dremel tool or angle grinder, but this is less than fun since the sparks go right in your face.  Your should definitely wear goggles if you decide to go this route. 

Step 5:  Remove the Faucet, and Clean up Underneath

You should now be able to pull the old faucet out.  If it was equipped with a sprayer, you may find that you need to cut the hose to get it out.  

The space under the faucet is usually pretty disgusting, so take a minute to scrape off any old silicone and corrosion, then clean it with rags or a sponge.

Step 6:  Set the New Faucet

While not absolutely necessary, it is a good idea to shoot a bead of silicone on the bottom of the new faucet.  This helps level any irregularities in the sink surface, keeps water from leaking though, and keeps the faucet assembly from shifting over time.   Butter up the faucet, set it in place, then go underneath and tighten down the nuts.  Hand tight should be enough (if you have strong hands). 

Step 7 :  Reattach the Supply Lines


Screw the supply lines onto the new faucet.  You will probably need the adjustable wrench or basin wrench to tighten them, but do not over-tighten.  There is a little o-ring in the end of the supply line.  You want to tighten the coupling enough that the o-ring squishes and seals, but not enough that it is deformed or damaged. 

Turn on the supply valves.


Step 8:  Reinstall the Garbage Disposal (if you Removed it Before)

When I was younger and stronger I had no trouble holding up a garbage disposal with one hand while I tightened it down with the other.  Nowadays I usually cheat.  I either cut a chunk of scrap 2x4 board to jam under the disposal and hold it or, better yet, go grab the jack out of my pickup to raise the disposal into place.

Whichever technique you choose, make sure that the rubber gasket is securely stuck to the top of the disposal, over the quick-release ring (sometimes it stays with the sink when the disposal comes away).  The idea is to line up the disposal and have it pressed against the sink.  Then, when you turn the ring, it will engage the little tabs and suck the disposal against the strainer assembly.   You can start it by hand, but will want to use a screwdriver to tighten it the last little bit.

Step 9:  Flush the New Faucet and Check for Leaks


Wipe down the sink and surrounding area with paper towels and a cleaning product like Simple Green.   Failure to clean up after yourself is the number one cause of handymen not getting called back.  When that is taken care of, unscrew the little aerator screen from the end of the faucet.  Let it run for about 30 seconds to flush out any dust or flash inside the faucet, the reinstall the aerator.

The very last thing to do is to check for leaks.  Take a dry piece of toilet or facial tissue and run it up and down everything you touch under the sink.  If something is leaking, it will immediately become damp.

Don't panic if you have a leak.  Usually, you just need to tighten the connection another half turn or so.  If you absolutely can't get something to stop leaking, then you may need to disconnect it and wrap the threads with several turns of pipe tape, which will usually fix the problem.

Some Final Notes

Between the video and this blog entry, you shouldn't have any trouble changing a kitchen faucet.  Be aware, though, that when you are under the sink you sometimes find other things that need fixing.  For example, when I changed the faucet in the video, I found that the sink drain had rusted out, and I had to change it before I put the sink back together.  In the past, I've found dry rot, wiring problems, and various kinds of pest infestation that no one had noticed before because they never put their heads under the sink.  I don't say this to scare you off.  Far from it; these kinds of maintenance problems tend to be cheaper to fix the earlier you find them.  That being said, allow yourself plenty of extra time for contingencies.  Also, don't be afraid to ask for help.  This might mean chatting up the guy at the hardware store for advice (many of them are experts on this type of repair), or calling in a specialist if you run into something too complicated.

Bathroom Sinks are very similar to kitchen sinks in terms of the tools you need and the process of changing a faucet.  There are two main differences, though.  First, most bathroom faucets also come with the drain and stopper assembly, which you will want to change at the same time.  I'm sure I will show how to change these in a later episode.  For now, though, you will probably be fine if you follow the instructions.

The other main difference, is that the space inside a bathroom lavatory cabinet is usually much smaller than in a kitchen cabinet.  Likewise, bathrooms themselves tend to be tighter; some half baths are smaller than a coat closet.  Sometimes it can be a real contortionist act just to get to where you can undo the nuts.  Actually, many bathroom lavatories (especially the kind apartment managers like to buy) have the sink and faucet installed in the cabinet shop, with the cabinet upside down on a workbench.  Sometimes, as an act of last resort, I have actually disconnected the supply lines from the wall and removed the entire cabinet so I could get to the faucet.  You do what you have to do but, since the cabinets don't always come out in one piece, you would definitely want to get your client to sign something before setting in with a crowbar.    Voice of experience talking here. 


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