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How Does a Faucet Function?

We rely on our faucets to deliver hot and cold water on-demand and when we don’t have that convenience it can make life very difficult until the problem is fixed. But, how does a faucet function?

This is a tricky question to answer because there are five different types of faucets installed in most homes. So, it’s important to understand how these faucets work, but there are commonalities between each type.

A faucet is essentially a valve that can be used to turn the flow of water on and off at a specific plumbing fixture. The most likely locations for a faucet are the kitchen sink, the bathrooms, the laundry room, utility rooms, and any outdoor taps. Let’s take a look at the five different faucet types in more detail:

1.  The Compression or Reverse Compression Faucet

This is usually a double-handed sink faucet that has a washer installed at a seat located at the bottom of the faucet stem. When a compression faucet is turned, the washer rises and this allows the flow of water to fill the faucet spout. When the reverse compression faucet handle is turned, the stem is lowered to increase the gap between the seat and washer which causes the water to rise. If the faucet spout is dripping, a simple stem washer change will usually correct the problem. But, if you have an older compression or reverse compression faucet, it may be necessary to replace the seat too. If the handle is leaking, it can usually be stopped by replacing the packing in the stem or the O-ring.

2.  The Disc Faucet

The disc faucet may have a single level or two handles to turn the water supply on. Inside the faucet, there are a pair of ceramic or plastic discs that move in an up or down direction. The movement of these discs regulates the flow of water to that fixture. The discs also rotate in place to control the temperature from hot to cold or usually somewhere in-between those two extremes. A disc faucet is pretty robust and it’s rare that the entire assembly needs replacing if something goes wrong. But, the inlet ports in a disc faucet can become clogged and like any faucet, the seals will wear out over time.

3.  The Diaphragm Faucet

A diaphragm faucet is a two-handled fixture that is easier to fix than many other faucet types. The valve is fixed in the closed position until a sensor detects a hand or other object in close proximity. At this point, a solenoid pulls the valve into an open position and water can flow out of the spout. When the hand or object is removed, the sensor causes the valve to be forced down into the closed position and the flow of water stops. If the diaphragm faucet handle leaks, an O-ring replacement should fix the problem. If the leak occurs at the water flow control system, it may be necessary to replace the rubber diaphragm. If you’re not sure about fixing this yourself, contact your local certified plumber and they can fix it quickly.

4.  The Cartridge Faucet

The cartridge faucet has a replaceable water valve that is used to control the flow of water to that plumbing fixture. There are inner-flow valves located inside and outer-flow valves on the outer surface. When you turn the cartridge faucet on, the valve moves and the flow of water moves through the faucet and out of the spout. The cartridge is usually a plastic part with a metal retaining nut to keep it in place. The faucet is operated with a single lever and the most common problems are solvable with an O-ring or cartridge replacement.

5.  The Rotating-Ball Faucet

The rotating-ball faucet is usually known as a ball faucet and it’s commonly found in kitchen sinks. This faucet is operated with a single lever that in turn controls a slotted ball that is aligned with the hot and cold water supply. The water pressure is regulated by raising the faucet lever to lift the ball and the water can then flow. Changes in the temperature are made by moving the lever in a lateral arc from hot to cold or somewhere in-between. The slotted ball is made from brass or plastic and sits above a spring-loaded rubber seat. When a ball faucet leaks at the spout, it’s time to replace the seat and springs. If a water leak occurs at the handle, you need to adjust a loose O-ring or replace a worn unit entirely.

Some Final Thoughts

Now that you understand the five main types of faucets found in your home, it will be easier to make repairs. Many DIY enthusiasts have a basic plumbing toolkit to deal with clogged sinks and to repair small water leaks. But, for many people, this is not possible and certain faucet types can be harder to understand. For this reason, it’s important to hire a local professional plumber if you’re unsure about a repair or replacement.

There are two common signs that there is a problem with a faucet in your home. These are water leaks from one of two locations, either the spout or the handle/collar of the faucet. The approach to fix these two problems will vary depending on the type of faucet you have. We have briefly covered these differences throughout the article to help you make informed choices. But, covering each type of repair is well beyond the scope of this piece and further research will be needed to avoid making the problem worse.

It’s also worth noting that the modern market for faucets has led to an increase in the uptake of customized faucets. This is typically seen in kitchen remodeling projects where the design ethos can determine many of the choices. Some of these faucet assemblies contain proprietary mechanisms that can be tricky to replace. For this reason, we urge our clients to think carefully about the availability of replacement parts before they make a final commitment.

If you’re experiencing a problem with a faucet, contact your local certified and licensed plumber today.