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Leak-Free Plumbing

Fool-proof plumbing tips to prevent leaks

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Leaking Faucet

Leaking Faucet

If your outdoor faucet leaks around the handle when you turn it on, you either have a loose packing nut or a bad packing washer. First try tightening the nut with a wrench or pliers. (The size and type of nut varies a bit with faucet styles.) If the nut is tight but the leak persists, shut off the water to the faucet inside the house, remove the faucet handle from the outside faucet and unscrew the nut. You should be able to pull off the old packing washer and take it to a hardware store to find an exact replacement.

Older faucets may have a wad of string, called valve packing, instead of a packing washer. If so, pick up new packing (graphite-coated string) at the hardware store, unwind the old packing and wind on the new clockwise. The packing nut should compress it tightly. You may have to wind on one layer, tighten the nut and then repeat the process to fill the space around the stem completely with packing string.

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Better Pipe Cutting

Better Pipe Cutting

It's difficult to cut a thin metal pipe, such as a P-trap, with a hacksaw without squashing the pipe or mangling the cut. To make a nice cut, insert a section of wood closet rod or handrail into the end of the pipe to be cut. Wrap one end of the rod with tape to fill out the rod to the pipe's inner size. Clamp the wood in a vise and cut through both the pipe and the wood.

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Transitions to Other Types of Pipe

Transitions to Other Types of Pipe

If you're adding a guest bath or finally getting to that laundry tub you've been promising for the past five years, you'll have to join PEX to the existing system. Make sure you shut off the main water supply, then drain the lines. Use the special transition fittings shown to transition from copper, CPVC or steel. Solder, glue or thread on the transition fitting, then crimp PEX line on the barbed fitting.

Note: Plumbing codes vary on allowing brass/steel connections. If they're allowed, be sure to apply liberal amounts of both Teflon tape and pipe joint compound to prevent reaction between the two metals.

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Choose Flexible Supply TubesFamily Handyman

Choose Flexible Supply Tubes

The skinny copper or chrome supply tubes used to connect faucets and toilets are tricky to cut, bend and align. But you don't have to put up with them. When you're replacing a faucet or toilet, use flexible supply hoses with a braided covering instead. They have rubber gaskets at each end and don't require much force to seal. They're available in many lengths and are flexible enough to fit almost any configuration. The only trick is buying a connector with the correct size nuts on the ends. Take your old tubing and the nuts on each end along with you to the store to be sure of an exact match. Start the nuts carefully and hand-tighten. Then tighten an additional half turn. Avoid overtightening. It's easy to tighten the nuts a little more if the joint leaks.

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Use ABS Plastic Pipe Instead of PVCFamily Handyman

Use ABS Plastic Pipe Instead of PVC

Most plumbing pros use ABS black pipe instead of white PVC because of the glue. Gluing ABS is a one-step process, which makes it faster to work with than PVC. Purple PVC primer is messy and emits noxious fumes. ABS cement lasts longer in the can and dries clear, making it more forgiving if you get a drip or two on the floor. ABS cement also dries faster, which reduces the risk of connections pushing apart before they set up. The labor saved by using ABS more than makes up for the extra money spent on pipe and fittings. ABS is also lighter and more flexible, which makes it easier to flex for bending it into tight spaces. The only downside is that retailers don't always carry ABS.

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Use Dull Blades for Bigger or Tighter CutsFamily Handyman

Use Dull Blades for Bigger or Tighter Cuts

When you're cutting larger pipe or having trouble getting the tubing cutter into tight spaces, use a reciprocating saw fitted with an older, dull wood blade. A new wood blade with aggressive teeth tends to grab on to the pipe and rattle the whole works, and a metal blade melts the plastic rather than cuts it. Dull wood blades cut ABS cleanly without chatter or melting the plastic.

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Use a Socket Saver to Reuse an Old FittingFamily Handyman

Use a Socket Saver to Reuse an Old Fitting

If you have to replace some piping but it's tough to replace the fitting, it's possible to ream out the old fitting and reuse it. This happens a lot. Let's say there's a tee coming out of the back of a cabinet with a broken pipe leading to it. Or the fitting is so buried up in the floor joists that you can't get at it. Just cut off the pipe near the knuckle and use a Socket Saver to ream out the pipe to expose the inside of the fitting. Then cement a new pipe into the old fitting and reuse it.

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Don't Glue Yourself into a CornerFamily Handyman

Don't Glue Yourself into a Corner

In many assemblies, there are pipes that move and pipes that don't. If you start gluing fittings together willy-nilly, you may end up in a situation where you're unable to attach the last fitting because one or both of the pipes don't move enough to slide the fitting on. The last fitting to be glued should be the one on a pipe that has a little wiggle room. That's usually where a vertical run meets a horizontal one so you can snug on an elbow or a tee from two directions.

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Deburr for Leak-Free ConnectionsFamily Handyman

Deburr for Leak-Free Connections

Leftover burrs on the end of a pipe will create channels in the cement when you push the fitting onto the pipe—and then stay there like little canals. That's when you'll get leaks or flunk a pressure test. Always scrape away burrs with a utility knife before joining the pipes.

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Use Plastic Straps Instead of J-HooksFamily Handyman

Use Plastic Straps Instead of J-Hooks

Changes in temperature can cause changes in the length of plastic pipes. When you hang pipe from plastic J-hooks, you'll hear a tick when the pipe slips past the J-hook. These ticks sound like water drips from a leaky pipe. Avoid the situation by using plastic straps rather than plastic J-hooks to support horizontal runs.

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Buy New Fittings Instead

Buy New Fittings Instead

Don't reuse old copper pipe fittings. Recycle them instead. It's time-consuming and difficult to take apart and clean old fittings. And there's a good chance they'll leak. Buy new fittings instead. You'll get better results in less time.

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Check Your Supply Lines

Check Your Supply Lines

Rubber or plastic lines that run from shutoff valves to appliances, faucets and toilets become brittle and crack as they age. Eventually, they burst. So grab a flashlight and inspect every supply line in your home. If you find leaks, corrosion or cracks, replace the line. A new line encased in a braided stainless steel sheath is your best choice.

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Got a Leak?

Got a Leak?

Plumbers tell us that leaks are one of the most common complaints they get. Valves are one of the main culprits because they have moving parts and seals that can wear out. The next time you see a suspicious puddle of water, look for a leaky valve before you call the plumber. Look at the valve to see if water is leaking out around the valve stem. If it is, try turning the packing nut (as shown) about an eighth turn with a wrench. You'll know if you overtighten the nut because the valve will be hard to turn. If tightening the nut doesn't stop the leak, the fix is a little tougher. You'll have to shut off the main water valve, remove the handle and nut, and add to or replace the packing material—still a pretty easy fix.
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Use Metal Tubing Rather than Plastic for Ice Maker

Use Metal Tubing Rather than Plastic for Ice Maker

If you've had mice in your home, use a copper (type L) or braided stainless steel line rather than a plastic supply line for the ice maker in your refrigerator. Mice like to hang out behind refrigerators and occasionally chew holes in plastic lines, causing a leak that can ruin floors and ceilings before you detect it. Plastic tubes also can harden over time and crack. Find metal ice maker lines at home centers and wherever appliances are sold.

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Skip the Closet Flange SlotsFamily Handyman

Skip the Closet Flange Slots

Toilets are top-heavy, which stresses the closet bolts that hold a toilet to the closet flange. The plastic on the sides of the adjustable slots that receive the bolts is thin and prone to cracking. Mount the toilet flange with the notches parallel to the wall and avoid using the slots for the closet bolts. Also, don't use flanges with metal collars—metal rusts.

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Seal Pipe EndsFamily Handyman

Seal Pipe Ends

Most ABS pipes have either a cellular or a foam core that air will actually pass right through. If you don't seal the pipe ends with ABS cement, air will escape into the porous center core and find its way out of the plumbing system and you'll fail a pressure test every time.