Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fix Leaking Outdoor Faucet

We noticed that our outdoor faucet at backyard leaking during mid summer, we put a bucket under the faucet, every evening we used the accumulated full bucket of water to water Lily's tiny garden or the grass. We did nothing more until late November when the temperature at North Texas dropped the first time. Lily worried that the faucet would freeze and break water line. I told her not to worry, leaky faucet actually helps prevent waterline freezing J  But I told her I’ll fix it if she does some preparation work. So here’s my “order” of action:

1) find out what's wrong with the faucet so I know what to do: replacing the faucet or washer or seal;
2) find out if I can turn off the water main since there is no local shutoff valve to the faucet;
3) once above two steps are completed, the faucet can be fixed in the following steps:
a) turn off the main shutoff valve at curb side;
b) fix the faucet;
c) turn on the water.

I did a quick investigation. I checked the book "home improvement 1-2-3" by home depot, which I use when I need to fix something in the house. But there is no description of outdoor faucet. Concurrently Lily did some online search about fixing leaking outdoor faucet, and found plenty of information:

The structure of the standard frost free wall faucet 
How to fix a leaking outdoor faucet

Leaks in outdoor faucets usually occur in two places – the handle and the spout.

To fix a leak coming from the handle, try tightening the nut behind the handle with a wrench. If that fails to stop the leak, or if the leak is coming from the spout, you’ll have to take the faucet apart.
Start by turning off the water supply at your shutoff valve and unscrewing the screw that holds the handle in place. Behind the handle, you’ll find a packing nut. Using a wrench, turn the nut counterclockwise and slide out the valve assembly.
Older valve stem assemblies have two washers – one behind the packing nut and one at the base of the assembly. If the washer behind the packing nut is worn, use a wrench to loosen the nut and take out the washer. Take the old washer to a plumbing supply store to make sure you’re replacing it with the right one.
To replace a worn washer at the base of the valve stem, unscrew the screw that holds the washer in place, remove the worn washer, and replace it with a new, matching one.
Leaks in long frost-free valve stems are more difficult to fix, especially if the leak is inside your wall or if your valve stem is soldered onto your supply line.
We also watched online videos on fixing leaking outdoor faucets.

Fixing it!

Knowing what to do, we were half way through. This one looks especially simple. But as it turned out, shutting off the main water valve was the most difficult part of the work.

We tried to use wrenches large and small to turn the shutoff valve, we borrowed a wrench like key designed for turning the shutoff valve from a friend, we tried with all our might, it just wouldn’t budge. We called the city for help. A technician showed up with a T-bar, and turned the valve on and off multiple times like a toy. Knowing that we did not have a T bar, he tried to show us how to use a wrench to turn it on and off. He had a hard time to turn the valve as well. As it turned out, the T-bar has a much better grip on the valve and provides a much bigger torque than the smaller tools we tried.
I bought a T bar after work. It was dark after dinner, I told Lily that I would fix the faucet next day. But determined to fix the faucet quickly, Lily used her extra hour of the day in the morning to work on it.

She had no problem turnoff the water main. But she did not have enough strength to unscrew the screw that holds the handle in place. She decided to try the power drill. Proceeding with great caution and following instructions and trying to remember what I taught her before about using the drill, she finally unscrewed the screw after several tries. She took out the valve assembly, unscrewed the screw from the other side of the tube, and replaced the seal. After putting everything back in place, she turned the water back on. And there was no dripping at the faucet any more.

Satisfied with her work, she called me triumphantly to let me know that she fixed the faucet using her extra hour!

After thoughts

Handyman job should be easy, on paper at least. With proper training, almost anyone can do it. Whether we can do it or not depends on our interests, determination, resourcefulness, tools and strength. Whether we want to do it or not may depend on the amount of time needed.

For us we will let contractors do the big jobs or more dangerous jobs, such as roof repair.

We will work on smaller jobs like this one. They are more like challenging games for us, we get a kick out of completing this type of work.


  1. I’m not the handyman type of person, so it’s a good thing that you posted some photos. I was able to easily identify a wrench and a T-bar! LOL. Thanks for this thorough guideline. I can give this to my husband for future reference.
    {Bibi Karpel}

  2. This pretty much covers everything! I myself am a whiz with a screw and wrench, but I never would have thought of using a T-bar. Leaky outdoor faucets are usually the cause of higher water bills and water puddles, which can attract insects, like mosquitoes, and can also seep into your foundation. Most of the time, leaky outdoor faucets can be fixed without having to call your plumber.

    Darryl Iorio

  3. It’s a smart idea that you accumulated all the water coming from the leaky faucet. It can be a short-term solution, but it probably caused your water bill to increase. Well, good thing your faucet just needed an easy fix. You’re right; you should definitely let the professionals do the big and more dangerous jobs. Kudos to you and to Lily, though!

    +Elia Lester

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