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Plumbing Faucet Types and Common Leak Culprits

Leaks are one of the most common results of plumbing equipment that’s worn down or been damaged, and one of the more frequent leak locations in some homes is various faucet areas. Faucets can wear out over time from continued use and lack of proper maintenance, and one of the first signs of this in many cases will be the faucet beginning to leak – even once you’ve turned it off.

At My Buddy the Plumber, we’re here to help with numerous general plumbing services, including everything from dealing with faucet and other component leaks to major jobs like trenchless sewer line repair or water heater replacement. If you’ve recently noticed a leaking faucet, what are some of the reasons this might be happening, and what can be done about it? Here’s a primer.

Faucet Type and Related Considerations

Firstly, leaks from your faucet may signal different things depending on which type of faucet is used in your home. There are a few different types out there, each with different build formats and internal designs – and each with varying potential issues that may come up.

Here are the three most common types of faucets found today:

  • Rotary ball: This faucet type includes a hollow ball, rotating in a socket to control both the water flow and temperature of the water. This ball will usually be made from either stainless steel or plastic, and will have an O-ring construction that seals in the water. The most common type of issue with this faucet type involves this O-ring, which we’ll go over later in this article.
  • Cartridge: Another very common faucet type is the cartridge faucet, which has a single handle that’s lifted either up or down. Cartridge faucets are more complex internally than rotary ball faucets, with a cartridge that has O-rings at both ends to control flow and water temperature. Again, in many cases, the causes of leaks in these faucets tend to trace back to these O-rings.
  • Ceramic disc: A variation to the cartridge faucet is the ceramic disc, which uses these discs instead of O-rings for sealing. These faucets are extremely durable and rarely have issues, as the discs are more durable than O-rings.

Our next several sections will go over some of the specific causes of leaks within each of these faucet types, or sometimes more than one.

Loose Faucet Parts

As we noted above, faucets have a number of important internal components. These all work together to create not only water flow in the right amounts, but also the proper temperature – and simply put, some of these parts may wear down or become loose over a period of years and regular use.

Especially if you see the faucet in question leaking from its base, this is often the culprit. Your adjusting ring or packing nut may be loose in these cases, in which case it’s easy for a plumber or even a handy homeowner to remove the handle and tighten one of these. In other cases, leaking from the base may signal a need for new springs or seals within the faucet.

O-Ring and Seal Concerns

As we noted above, the O-rings located in rotary ball and cartridge faucets are often one of the primary sources of issues for these types. The O-rings, which are rubber gaskets that seal gaps between parts, will eventually wear down and require replacement if you use the faucet for long enough.

In the case of cartridge faucets, the question at this point becomes whether you need to replace just the O-rings, or whether the entire cartridge needs to be changed out. This is one area where most homeowners will require the assistance of a licensed plumber, who can spot the signs of specific repair needs easily.

Washer Problems

In other cases, and particularly when you notice water dripping down from the faucet’s spout, you could be dealing with washer problems. The washer is the tiny item that’s pressed up against the valve seat right at the water exit location in your spout, providing basic filtration of larger particles – but like O-rings, the washer may wear down over a period of years, and allow a slow drip of water out of the spout. Luckily, replacing a washer is extremely easy and inexpensive, something even relatively inexperienced homeowners can usually do on their own (and our plumbers are happy to help if needed).

Internal Hardware Damage

There are even situations where the actual internal hardware responsible for turning water on and off will either wear down or become damaged. One such component is the valve seat, which sits at the base of the turn-on mechanism – but may deal with corrosion in some cases, or simple wear-and-tear in others. If you notice water dripping from the handle area, whether the faucet is on or off at the time, this could be the culprit.

Cartridge Issues

And finally, in cases of cartridge faucets being used, there are some situations where the cartridge itself will begin to wear down, including components other than its O-rings. The cartridge is responsible for regulating the flow of hot and cold water, but it may start to leak after a period of several years – in this case, the standard repair is to just replace the cartridge, though some may use this as an opportunity to upgrade to a ceramic disc faucet instead.

For more on why your faucet might be leaking and what can be done about it, or to learn about any of our plumbing or HVAC services, speak to the staff at My Buddy the Plumber in Salt Lake City today.

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