This weekend I replaced the shut off valve to my outdoor water line. And if you have a dripping outdoor tap, you might want to think about doing this too.
My name's Karen and I can fix stuff. Now I want you to say that sentence out loud but replace my name with your name. Good. Now that I've convinced you that you can fix stuff too we can move on.
Just because something is scary (like eating a spider or taking apart your plumbing pipes) it doesn't mean it's hard. So yes, you TOO can replace something like your outdoor shut off valve if you can get past the worries.
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DIY Plumbing Worry #1
"Holy shit, nononononono, what if I break it and my whole house fills with water and people drive past for entertainment because they can see me swimming from floor to floor through the windows, like an aquarium?"
That's not going to happen. You will definitely drown before you become a spectacle. So don't worry about that.
Although while you're in the basement you might want to take a second to make sure your condensate pump is clean and working if you're the sort to worry about your house flooding.
DIY Plumbing Worry #2
To absolutely and definitely prevent flooding, drowning or dog paddling out the front door just turn off the main water supply to your house. If you do that then no matter what you do you're not going to get a flooded house.
DIY Plumbing Worry #3
I don't own a blowtorch, flux or solder and wouldn't know what to do with them even if I did.
It's alright, with the invention of compression fittings you don't need any of that. You just screw things together instead of soldering them.
Great. I've convinced you all to become weekend plumbers so let's get to work on your leaky tap.
Fixing a Leaky Tap
A couple of years ago I replaced my outdoor tap with with long copper tubing and new fittings to raise everything up off the ground to make it easier to attach water timers, diverters etc. You can learn how to move your outdoor tap using compression fittings in this post here.
Last fall I noticed that even when the outdoor tap was shut off it was still dripping. No matter how hard I turned the knob (which you should never have to do) the outdoor faucet kept dripping.
I figured I'd be replacing the faucet handle this spring.
It didn't occur to me that the problem wasn't with the shutoff valve outside. But when my connection burst apart at the end of winter it was made pretty clear. Water still had to be making its way into the outdoor pipe which meant:
My outdoor dripping tap was caused by a defective indoor shutoff valve.
Even though I shut off the water to outside in the fall, water was still getting through to the outside tap. That then froze and exploded my pipes outside. The expansion from the water freezing to ice blew the compression fitting right apart.
I have NO idea what was wrong with the shut off valve to my outdoor line, I just knew it wasn't working so it would need to be replaced. I've done bits of plumbing work before but not this particular job so it was exciting to try it.
I understand you may not be as excited about the prospect of doing this, but you'll understand the elation once you're done the job and are cruising on a 100% natural plumbing high.
How to Replace a Shut Off Valve
- Take photos of both sides of the part you are replacing. Your part will probably have the size of it stamped right on it. Chances are also good that your part will be for ½ pipe, because that's the standard size for plumbing branches in your house unless you live in a McMansion in which case it *might* be larger.
2. Go to the hardware store and buy the exact same replacement part. In this case I was looking for - a ½" shutoff valve with compression fittings and a drain.
If your shut off valve is for controlling water to your outdoor tap make sure you get a shut off valve that has a little drain knob on the side of it. Like this ...
That knob in the centre is where you can drain the outside line after shutting the water off so your pipe outside has NO water in it at all to freeze during the winter.
If you're replacing a shut off valve on a line within your house, not one that goes to the outside you don't need the drain on it.
If you're at all unsure of what you're buying, find someone in the store with PLUMBING EXPERIENCE to double check what you're buying with the photo of your original part.
3. Once home, get your tools out. You'll need 2 wrenches, a bucket, the new shut off, and a hacksaw or a compression fitting remover tool.
4. Shut off the main water supply to your house and test it by turning on a tap to make sure it's all the way off.
5. Place a bucket under where you're working and unscrew the drain knob to allow water left in the pipes to drain out.
6. Once the water has drained you can remove the old shut off valve. You need to remove it by loosening the compression fittings. Do this by securing a wrench to each nut on either side of the valve. Hold one wrench tight so the pipe and fitting don't move while you use the other wrench to loosen a nut.
Do this for both nuts on either side of the valve. Once they're loosened enough you can unscrew them completely by hand and push them aside on the copper pipe.
HOW TO LOOSEN A STUCK PLUMBING NUT
Water deposits and time can cause a nut to seize up and you think you'll never be able to undo it without breaking something like the pipe or your hand.
- Try tightening the nut instead of loosening it a tiny bit if you can. This will help break whatever is causing it to seize up. Then gently rock the nut back and forth, loosening and then tightening until it frees completely.
- If that doesn't work use a hairdryer or a heat gun to heat the stuck nut up. This causes it to expand and break its own seal. Apply the heat directly on the nut from all angles then using a wrench (while the nut is still hot) try removing it again.
One of my nuts came off with no problem at all. The other one I didn't think was ever going to come off, but the heat gun trick worked on the second try.
- If it STILL won't budge, you can try applying WD-40 and letting it sit for a couple of hours. Try again. If it still won't loosen, you can WD-40 one more time and leave it for another hour. If at this point the nut won't come off you'll either have to cut the copper pipe or call in an actual plumber.
7. With the fittings undone you can now remove your old shutoff valve.
8. Remove the old compression fittings.
Compression fittings work with 2 main pieces - a nut and a ferrule, also called an olive. The ferrule is a brass ring that fits under the nut. When the nut is tightened it squishes the ferrule tight against the pipe making a watertight seal.
HOW TO REMOVE A FERRULE (OLIVE)
The problem with compression fittings is that the ferrules are a bit of a pain to remove. You can either use the a compression pulling tool which screws into the nut and uses it to push out the old ferrule or you can use a hacksaw to carefully cut through the ferrule so you can pull it off. CAREFULLY. You don't want to cut into the pipe below.
Insert the ferrule removing tool into the copper pipe. Screw the loose nut onto the end, and then turn the handle on the end of the tool until it pulls both the nut and the ferrule off the pipe with it.
Using a hacksaw cut through the brass ferrule. It's brass, which is soft, so it isn't hard to cut through. Be careful not to cut the pipe beneath. Using a screwdriver or chisel just pry the ring apart and pull lit off.
9. With the compression fittings off you can now prep the pipe for its new shut off valve. With fine grit sandpaper, lightly sand the pipe so it has no burrs or bumps.
Make sure to feel around the cut end to make sure it's smooth.
10. Slip the new compression fittings over each pipe end; first the nut then the ferrule.
11. Add your new shut off valve MAKING SURE YOU PUT IT ON THE RIGHT WAY. There will be an arrow on it somewhere indicating the direction of the water flow. Make sure the faucet is running the right way.
You can see the arrow pointing to the left because that's the way the water flows through the pipe.
12. Finger tighten the nuts on either side then give ½ a turn with your wrench. DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN. If you overtighten you'll ruin your seal and it will leak.
13. Make sure the drain cap is on and the new knob turned to off.
14. Time to test it. Turn your water supply back on slowly and check for leaks. If you have a leak and you're absolutely sure you didn't overtighten your fittings, you can turn the main water supply off again, and give the leaking connection another ¼ turn.
15. You should now be good and have a perfectly working, brand spanking new outdoor water shutoff valve ALL without once having to swim past your neighbours.
Compression fittings are prone to leaking if you touch, move, or wiggle them after installation so only use these in areas where there isn't going to be any movement to the pipe. And once you fix it DON'T wiggle it "just to make sure it's working". Leave it.