How to fix a leaky outdoor faucet
Outdoor faucets are some of the most used components around your home. If you are anything like the majority of homeowners, then you have probably used your outdoor faucet to water plants, wash your car or let the kids play with the garden hose. This use is especially frequent during warm weather, as you and your family spend more time outdoors.
This heavy use — coupled with the constant exposure to the elements year-round — makes outdoor water faucets especially prone to normal wear and tear. This often results in one of the most common plumbing fixture issues: a leaky faucet. In this article, we’ll break down the main causes of a leaky faucet and share some simple outdoor faucet repair tips.
How outdoor faucets work: A brief overview
Before delving into faucet issues and how to deal with them, let’s first go over how these fixtures work. Frost-free faucets are the most common type of exterior faucet. This type of faucet connects to a long pipe that draws water from inside the home. This ensures consistent water flow during cold weather, as the water supply is drawn from the inside.
As part of the installation of a frost-proof faucet, the fixture is placed in a downward pitch. This allows the water to drain easily and prevents the tube from getting clogged with frozen water.
Potential causes of a leaky outdoor faucet
As is the case with any plumbing issue, a leaky outdoor faucet can be caused by a wide range of factors. However, there are a few causes usually responsible for this problem. The following sections will give you an in-depth look at potential causes of a leaky outdoor faucet.
A worn-out washer inside the faucet assembly
Washers play a key role in controlling the flow of the water, and any damage to them can lead to a slow drip from the fixture. In fact, worn-out washers on the end of the valve stem are one of the most likely culprits of a leaking outdoor faucet.
Due to their placement against the valve seat, washers are subject to a considerable amount of friction. Over time, this friction wears out the unit and renders it unable to halt the draining of the water out of the faucet.
A loose packing nut
In many cases, a leak can be caused by loose parts inside the fixture. The packing nut is especially prone to this issue, as it sits just beneath the faucet handle and is one of the components that gets used the most. A loose packing nut will generally lead to a water leak at the end of the faucet.
Pipe damage from freezing
While severe pipe damage rarely occurs in temperate weather, this issue is fairly common in cold weather. Low temperatures can cause the water to freeze, which might lead to small cracks in the pipe. As time goes on, these small cracks morph into larger ones, and water might end up leaking behind the wall that the faucet pipe is connected to.
Mineral deposits inside the faucet
Water contains a host of elements that can corrode plumbing parts. Examples of such elements include calcium, magnesium and dissolved oxygen. Over the years, these elements will accumulate inside the faucet, forming a mineral deposit that damages the valve seat. If the deposit is not removed, leaking will invariably occur around the spout.
Generally speaking, these mineral deposits take years before they fully form and embed themselves inside the faucet. This is the main reason this issue is mostly found with old houses.
High water pressure
In some cases, the water pressure in the home can be the reason behind a leaky outdoor faucet. While most plumbing codes recommend a pressure between 40 and 80 PSI, a maladjusted pressure regulator can cause the pressure to exceed that range.
Faucet leaks caused by water pressure are easy to identify. You will either notice the leak during different times of the day or when the handle is moved in a particular manner.
How to fix a leaky outdoor faucet
Naturally, fixing a leaky faucet is predicated on identifying the root problem that led to the leak. The section below will delve into some simple fixes for the issues listed above.
Replacing a worn-out washer in your faucet
Replacing a worn washer is a straightforward DIY process that doesn’t require the help of a handyman. Here are the steps you need to take:
- Remove the head. To get to the faucet washer, you will first have to remove the head. Use a pipe wrench or water pump pliers to rotate the head counterclockwise. Once you feel it’s loose enough, hold the body of the faucet and slowly remove the head.
- Remove the washer. After removing the head, you should be able to identify the washer with ease. It’s a round flat piece made of rubber and is connected to the outside faucet via a nut.
- Replace the washer. After removing the old rubber washer, replace it with a new one with the same dimensions. To fit the new washer, simply press it into place manually.
- Replace the head. Add some Vaseline to the thread and fit the head back in place.
Tightening the packing nut on your faucet
The packing nut is a hexagonal piece of metal that features a threaded hole in the center. The main purpose of the packing nut is to compress packing material and create a tight seal that prevents water from dripping out.
A loose packing nut is probably the easiest issue to fix. In most cases, a simple tightening of the nut using a wrench will be enough to stop the leak.
Replacing a damaged pipe on your faucet
Unlike the previous fixes, a damaged pipe can be tricky to deal with on your own. If the pipe is cracked, the leaking can be extensive and not limited to the outdoor faucet leak. In fact, when such damage occurs, it’s not unusual for water to leak on the other side of the wall and even down in the basement.
Fixing this problem requires replacing the long pipe that connects your outdoor faucet to the inside of your home. Unless you have some experience with this type of home repair, it’s highly advisable that you call a plumber to assess the extent of the damage and replace the pipe if necessary.
Cleaning mineral deposits out of your faucet
Cleaning the mineral buildup in your faucet can be done in a few minutes. Here are the steps you need to follow to clean the faucet thoroughly:
- Remove faucet aerator. To properly clean the inside of the faucet, the aerator should be removed. Dry off your hands to get a good grip and simply unscrew the aerator from the spout.
- Soak the fixtures in a cleaner. Once the aerator is removed, soak the pieces in an acidic cleaner — lemon juice or white vinegar will do the job. To clean the rest of the fixture, pour the cleaner into a plastic bag and use a rubber band to secure it around the faucet. After a few hours, remove the bag and wipe off the remaining deposits.
- Rinse the aerator in running water. After soaking the aerator for a few minutes, rinse it in running water and use a cloth to wipe off any remaining acid.
- Reassemble the faucet. After you’re done cleaning and scrubbing the components, reconnect all the pieces to the fixture.
Keep in mind that cleaning mineral deposits is not always the appropriate fix. If your faucet is so old that the mineral deposits are clogging the fixture, it might be more convenient to just unscrew the faucet head and replace it with a new one.
Adjusting the water pressure regulator
Adjusting the water pressure in your home might seem like a difficult task. However, this is far from the case since the process is rather simple. First, locate the water pressure regulator on your main water line next to the water meter and water shutoff valve — this is a bell-shaped device that features a lock nut and an adjustment screw. To lower the pressure, loosen the lock nut and turn the adjustment screw counterclockwise.
Protect your home plumbing system with Cinch
Even if you adhere to a strict maintenance routine, your plumbing system is bound to run into some issues over time. This is why you should consider getting a home warranty from Cinch Home Services. Whether you just want a home protection plan for your built-in systems — like your plumbing system — or a comprehensive plan to cover both major appliances and built-in systems, Cinch has a warranty for you. Worry less about unexpected breakdowns and focus more on enjoying your outdoor faucet.