The Delusional Homeowner’s Guide to Faucet Repair

My house was built in 1926, but I’m pretty sure the plumbing is older than that — the former owners appear to have found some ancient water pipes made of hollowed-out mastodon tusks and built a house around them. Some parts have been upgraded since then, but others haven’t, and the older ones have an unfortunate tendency to develop leaks whenever you sneeze on them, or breathe on them, or glance in their general direction.

What could be simpler?
What could be simpler?

The kitchen faucet developed some problems recently, and since it’s only seven years old, I decided I could probably fix it myself. The nice thing about modern faucets is that, according to approximately twenty thousand Internet sites, the solution to every faucet-related problem is the same: replace the cartridge (the cartridge is the heart of the faucet, or possibly the liver; whatever it is, it seems to be the only part that matters). And it’s easy! You just turn off the water supply, remove any non-cartridge faucet parts that are in the way, pop out the old cartridge, slide in the new cartridge, and then put back all the other parts and turn on the water supply. There are tons of instructional videos available; I watched one guy do the exact repair I needed to in six and a half minutes, and it only took that long because he kept stopping to explain things. Of course, I’m not a skilled plumber, so I estimated that it might take me as long as fifteen minutes.

I went out and bought a shiny new cartridge and then cleverly ate dinner and washed the dishes before starting on the repair. (I mean, it was clever that I did these things before dismantling the faucet, not that I ate dinner in a particularly clever way or came up with some new ingenious method for washing dishes). Then I took a picture of the new cartridge and posted it to my blog because, hey, I have a blog. Then I ran out of ways to procrastinate.

When I went to turn off the water valves under the sink, I noticed the hot water valve (or maybe one of the water supply pipes attached to it) was leaking. These are all old, original, mastodon-tusk parts. I considered giving up and calling a plumber at that point, but I decided against it because a) I’d already bought the replacement cartridge, so I was committed, b) I’d already posted on my blog about it, so I was even more committed, and c) the leak would probably fix itself, by magic.

I managed to remove all the parts in the way of the cartridge without too much difficulty. Then it was time to remove the cartridge. All the instructional videos say this is a two-step process: loosen the cartridge using the cartridge removal tool included with the new cartridge (this was actually pretty easy) and then pull the old cartridge straight out (this was impossible). So I googled some more, found out that there is such a thing as a “cartridge puller,” and rushed off to Home Depot to buy one (I got there literally 5 minutes before they closed). The cartridge puller works kind of like a corkscrew, except at the end, instead of getting wine, you get a corroded piece of faucet guts. But the important thing is that it worked, and I was able to pop in the new cartridge and reassemble the faucet.

Note that I didn’t say that I reassembled the faucet correctly. That took about half a dozen tries. Then I turned the water back on to verify that the faucet worked; I think it did, except that the hot/cold sides were reversed. But remember that leak I mentioned earlier? Somehow, it failed to magically fix itself (and I think I may have made it worse by jostling things during the faucet repair). So right now the water is off in the kitchen sink, and a plumber is coming to the house tomorrow. If he asks how the sink got into this state, I think I’m going to say that vandals did it.

28 thoughts on “The Delusional Homeowner’s Guide to Faucet Repair

  1. It’s going to be so frustrating for you yet delightful for me when you report back that the plumber says, “Well, ma’am, the trouble is you need a mastodon tusk cartridge and a little magic. Both are on back-order.”

    I’m with Lisa — I’m impressed that you tried.

    1. I hope that doesn’t happen. I’d feel kind of conflicted about supporting, even indirectly, the mastodon ivory trade.

  2. Hi,
    Good on you for having a go, I know I would not of even tried, just looking at the picture you put in your blog would of had me ringing the plumber. Well Done.

    1. Thanks! The problem went deeper than I thought — the plumber’s been out twice and will probably come a third time.

  3. I’m having a very unpleasant flashback to when I thought I’d replace the faucet- what could be easier? We had the water off to the entire house for a weekend. Had to go to McDonalds to use the toilet. Shudder, shudder.

    1. The supply hose for my refrigerator’s icemaker developed a massive leak on a Friday years ago, so I turned off the water to the house for the weekend. The first thing the plumber said when he arrived was “you know you could have just turned off the shutoff valve under the sink, right?”

  4. This is exactly why I am building my own house. This is also exactly why I have been asking myself questions, such as when this breaks, how will I get to it to fix it? Because it will break. Oh yes it will.

    1. He actually wears clothes that cover everything they’re supposed to. Which is nice, because he’s been spending a lot of time under my sink lately.

  5. Now see, I do just the opposite: I change out a faucet cartridge every time I want to procrastinate on making dinner, doing dishes, or blogging. Too bad we’re not neighbors!

    1. That would be really convenient — I’ll try to arrange a house swap between you and the people who live next door to me.

  6. Congratulations on finally getting the faucet fixed (which I deduce from the lack of subsequent faucet-related posts) and not getting killed in the process (which I deduce from the presence of subsequent non-faucet related post). I’m not sure I would dare to try such a dangerous activity, so I’m planning to keep having my landlord do that for me.

    1. You have excellent powers of deduction. The faucet is fixed (well, replaced) along with the valves under the sink. So that’s two visits to the hardware store and two visits from the plumber — but there are some pipes inside the walls that probably need to be replaced.

      1. My excellent powers of deduction are telling me that I could expect more plumbing-related posts from you in the future.
        P.S., those same powers of deduction have finally discovered (with a slight 6 month delay) that if I check a tiny box below the comment, I would find out when you’ve replied to my comment.

        1. I’m not sure that box has been there for six months — I’ve messed with the mail-related settings several times on this blog (I’ll probably never be completely happy with them).

  7. When the top of the tap pops off, and the resulting stream of water drills a hole right into the ceiling and the wet ceiling collapses and the water soaks everything in the cupboards and… well, that is another good reason to call the plumber.

    1. And also the ceiling repair guy. Which of course requires finding a ceiling repair guy, which involves spending a couple hours at least on the Internet trying to find the technical term for “ceiling repair guy” so you can search for reviews on Yelp or Angie’s List.

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