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Your Guide to Troubleshooting a Leaky Faucet

The drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet is more than an irritation that keeps you awake at night. It wastes water, causing an unnecessary increase in your monthly water bill. The good news is that you can prevent that water, and your hard-earned money, from going down the drain – and you won't need the services of a licensed plumber. Often the problem can be solved by replacing a simple part, and you can make the repairs yourself by following these steps for how to fix a leaky faucet.

Your Guide to Troubleshooting a Leaky Faucet

1.Turn off the water to the faucet

The water pipe connected to your faucet will usually be beneath the faucet, perhaps behind the lower cabinet doors. It could also be above the faucet in an unfinished space. When you find the pipe, look for a twist lever somewhere along its surface. This lever controls the flow of water to the faucet. When you find it, give it a clockwise turn to shut the water off. In most homes, this lever is easy to find whether you're learning how to fix a leaky kitchen faucet or how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet.

2. Put the plug in the drain

Because you're going to be working on the faucet, it's a good idea to put the plug in to prevent any screws or washers from falling down the drain during the repair process.

3. Identify your faucet

The type of faucet you have will affect how you repair the leak. Compression faucets are common in many homes and feature two separate levers for hot and cold water. For the purposes of this article, we will assume your faucet is a compression faucet. Resources are available for repairing ball, cartridge and ceramic disk faucets as well.

4. Fix your compression faucet

Start by removing each of the faucet's handles, then use a wrench to remove the nuts beneath them. When each nut is removed, you will find the stem, O-ring and seat washer, each sitting on top of one another. The seat washer is often made of rubber and, because of this, it can become worn after a while. Most leaky faucets are caused by worn seat washers.

After you have found these pieces, remove the stem to expose the thinner O-ring and the thicker seat washer. If your faucet leaks, including water escaping through the handles, it's time to replace the O-ring. Remove your existing O-ring and bring it to your local hardware store to find a replacement.

Once the O-ring has been set aside, remove the seat washer by unfastening the brass screw that holds it in place, then replace the seat washer. Because these washers are available in a variety of sizes, you may need to bring your existing washer to the hardware store to find the proper replacement. When you have the proper replacement, make sure to coat it in plumber's grease before you install it.

When you have replaced the washer, return it, the O-ring and stem to the faucet in their proper order and then replace the nut and handles. Your faucet should now be leak-free and you'll have earned a peaceful night's sleep by having tackled this project yourself.

Think You Might Have Another Leak?

Plumbing leaks aren't always as obvious as a broken pipe or even a dripping faucet. Small, slow leaks can develop in hidden places, and over time, this can lead to both a big expense and a serious mold problem. If you have any suspicions that there's a leak within your home -- or if you just want to be sure -- try this investigative trick.

Turn off any appliances in your home that might consume water automatically, such as your freezer's ice maker. Next, go to your water meter and write down the exact reading, including dials that are between numbers. For the next few hours, don't use any water -- no sinks, showers or toilet flushing. Check the reading again. If it has moved at all, it's a surefire sign of a leak.

Once you confirm a leak, you should conduct a thorough search of your home in an attempt to find it. Start by checking all accessible pipes, faucets, fittings and water-connected appliances. Look for puddles indoors and abnormally wet soil around the outside of the house. Look for the telltale stains and odors of mold and mildew. Be as quiet as possible as you search, because you might be able to hear the flow of water.

If you can't find the source -- or if you can find it but can't repair it on your own -- it's time to call in a licensed plumber for a more thorough inspection. A plumbing leak isn't the kind of problem you can ignore; it will only get worse.

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