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Do it yourself: Fixing your own leaky faucets

IN a climate as humid and rainy as Cambodia's, no one wants more water to deal with because of faulty plumbing. Here are some simple repairs you can make to alleviate a leaky faucet.

The first thing you need to do is determine what kind of faucet you have. There are four types: compression, cartridge, ball and disk. A compression faucet, by far the most common, has one or two handles that turn, opening a valve that controls the water pressure. Cartridge and ball faucets have single levers. Cartridge faucets turn on and off by raising and lowering a cartridge mechanism that allows water to flow. Ball faucets have a ball valve that rotates open or closed, while disk faucets work by using two disks, one moveable and one fixed. When the discs are aligned, the water is on. When they are misaligned, the water is off.

If you have anything but a compression faucet, I would seriously consider buying a new one, as the internal parts are complicated and vary considerably. There are also a number of specialised tools required when working on these types of faucets. Compression faucets, on the other hand, are fairly straightforward and a little bit of TLC can go a long way.

Taking it apart

There are two basic reasons compression faucets leak. Either the rubber washers are worn or dirty, or the stem is worn or dirty. Because the water filtration here is minimal, build-up on the washer and stem is common, so leaks can often be taken care of by simply cleaning the pieces.

The most important thing to remember when doing any sort of plumbing is to turn the water off. There should be a shut-off valve beneath the sink. If not, then shut it off at the main.

Before you shut off the valve, fill a large bowl or bucket with water. You will use this to clean the faucet parts. You will need a thin knife (a paring knife will do), a Phillips-head screwdriver, a medium size adjustable wrench and a can of WD-40 or some other type of spray lubricant.

After you have turned off the water, either at the main or the shut-off valve, use the paring knife to pry off the cap on top on the faucet handle. Hiding beneath is a Phillips-head screw holding the handle to the stem. Unscrew this and remove the handle. The top of the stem is now exposed.

The stem is the part of the faucet that raises and lowers the washer onto the valve below, allowing water to flow or stop. It will be about five to 10 centimetres long.

To remove the stem, first locate the nut. The nut is the part of the stem that your wrench goes around and will usually be located at the base; however, it is sometimes in the middle or at the top. Carefully fit the adjustable wrench around the nut and unscrew. If it is stuck, spray with lubricant.

Cleaning your unit

Once the stem is removed, gently wash it off in the bowl of water using an old toothbrush. There may be removable parts such as metal washers. Remember where they were on the unit and which direction they fit onto it so they can be replaced exactly as they were after the unit is clean. Look at the bottom of the unit and locate the black rubber washer. If it is corroded, you may have to replace it. Sometimes, the washer is screwed to the bottom of the stem and can be unscrewed and replaced easily. However, it is often affixed to the stem itself, in which case the entire stem unit will need to be replaced.

Go through these steps in reverse order to reassemble your faucet. It is important to note that when screwing the stem back on, do not over-tighten. The stem should be snug, but not wrenched tight. If there are signs of corrosion or if the threads are stripped, the stem unit will have to be replaced.

There are hardware stores all around the city, usually near any sizeable market. There are also a number of them along Street 110 east of Norodom Boulevard. Take the broken piece with you to show the shop owners. It may be difficult for you to persuade them to sell you a new piece, so taking some local back-up is a good idea.



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