Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
For some homeowners, the comfort level with DIY plumbing diminishes as soon as the pipe wrench gets involved. It’s one thing to repair a leaky toilet, but disconnecting and disassembling fixtures can start to feel like real household surgery. Fortunately, some of these jobs, like replacing a sink faucet, aren’t intimidating at all.
If you’re comfortable working in a tight space and have a few basic plumbing tools, you can change out a bathroom or kitchen sink faucet in an hour or less.
Choosing the Right Faucet
If you’re thinking about replacing a faucet, it’s probably because the old one has fallen into disrepair or doesn’t fit with your desired interior design. But this is also an opportunity to upgrade to a faucet with features that your old faucet doesn’t offer.
One of the most desirable faucet features is built-in water conservation technology, especially now that modern water-saving faucets can perform comparably to standard faucets while using more than 30 percent less water. Faucets that meet this standard carry the WaterSense label, a designation awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency to faucets that use a maximum of 1.5 gallons per minute.
Other available features include integrated wand attachments, adjustable spray settings and even smart technology that can track your water usage and send data to your smartphone.
But no matter what features you’re after, the most important step in choosing a faucet is ensuring that it will fit your sink. Sinks vary in the number and configuration of holes for faucet installation, and you’ll need to know how these holes are arranged on your sink before making a purchase decision.
You may be able to get a good view of the configuration just by looking at the underside of the sink. But if there’s any doubt, you might want to remove the old faucet before buying a replacement so that you can measure accurately.
Preparing Your Workspace
Most of the labor involved in replacing a faucet takes place under the sink, so begin by making as much room as possible. Remove everything from the cabinet beneath the sink and move other objects in the room as needed to accommodate your legs while you’re working on your back. If lying under the sink is really uncomfortable, try lying on a pillow or cushion.
Gather all the necessary tools and supplies before you get started. Grab a pan to catch water from the supply lines, a towel to soak up any other drips and a pair of safety goggles to protect your eyes in case you drop something while working above your head. You’ll also want a flashlight so you can see what you’re doing.
An adjustable wrench is essential, but you might find a basin wrench handy, since it’s designed for working in the hard-to-reach area beneath the faucet. Depending on the type of faucet mounting hardware and supply lines, you might also need a screwdriver or pipe wrench.
Working Below Deck
First things first: shut off the water supply to the faucet. In most cases, you’ll see two hand-crank valves at the bases of the hot and cold water supply lines leading from the wall beneath the sink. Turn them all the way to the right, loosening them with a little lubricant spray if necessary. If you don’t have shut-off valves under the sink, you’ll need to shut off the main water supply to your home.
After the supply lines are closed, turn on the faucet to drain as much water as possible from the fixture. There will probably still be a little water trapped in the lines, but you can catch this in a pan when you disconnect the lines from the faucet.
The supply lines will be connected to the bottom of the faucet with nuts that can be loosened with an adjustable wrench or basin wrench if they’re difficult to reach. Disconnect all of the lines leading to the old faucet — there could be three in total if a line is diverted to a sprayer attachment.
After the supply lines, you’ll need to remove the mounting hardware that attaches the faucet to the sink. This hardware varies quite a bit; on newer faucets, the mounting hardware may consist of plastic nuts that can be removed by hand. Others are held in place with screws, wingnuts or other fasteners. Use a flashlight to get a good look at the underside of the faucet and confirm that everything holding it to the sink has been removed.
If you’re lucky, the old faucet will lift right off the sink after the mounting hardware is removed. But it could be that the faucet is sealed in place with a little caulk or plumber’s putty, in which case a bit more work is required.
Try gently rocking and twisting the faucet and handles from front to back to break the adhesive seal. If you can slip a putty knife between the faucet and sink, you can get some extra leverage to pry it off.
Once the faucet is completely removed, you’ll want to remove any gunk left behind on the sink. There are liquid and gel products designed specifically to remove caulk, and common household cleaners should take care of any remaining dirt or grease.
Back in Business
The hard part is over and it’s finally time to install your new faucet. Most faucets come with detailed, customized installation instructions, and you should follow those through the rest of the process. The installation steps will generally be the same as the removal steps, just in reverse order.
Read all of the installation instructions carefully before you begin to verify whether they call for the use of caulk or plumber’s putty. If so, you’ll want to have those supplies handy to help seal the new faucet to the sink.
Once the faucet is in place and its mounting hardware is installed, you’ll need to reconnect the water supply lines. Even if your new faucet’s installation instructions don’t call for it, it’s a good idea to wrap a little plumber’s tape around the threads of the supply lines before reconnecting them. This helps hold the connection tight and guards against leaking.
Don’t forget to reopen the supply line valves when you’re all done!
As a final step, remove the aerator from the spout of the new faucet — these usually unscrew by hand, but refer to your faucet’s instructions to be sure — so that you can flush the faucet clean. There may be dirt or oil inside the new faucet, and those particles can get trapped in the aerator.
Run water through the faucet at full pressure for about a minute, then shut the water off and reinstall the aerator. Your new faucet is fully installed and ready to use!
But as always, if you run into trouble or discover hidden damage as you take the DIY route to faucet replacement, keep handy the number of a licensed, local plumber who can come to your aid in an emergency.