In a tight economy, we think about making do with what we already have for just a bit longer. We might have replaced a leaky clawfoot tub faucet in a thriving economy but now we look to repair it. In better times, the wear and tear on an old bathroom sink faucet might have convinced us to replace it with a shiny new antique reproduction sink faucet. In today’s economy, we budget more conservatively. We appreciate the charm and warm patina of a vintage faucet. If only it weren't for that persistent drip or broken handle, the current faucet would be just fine.
Repairing an antique faucet can be financially rewarding as well as a source of pride. Finding faucet repair parts, however, can lead to frustration and a great waste of time and money if not prepared. Faucet parts are not universal. Although they may superficially appear to be the same faucet, the internal parts aren't necessarily interchangeable. The mechanical differences can make locating parts to repair an old faucet a challenge.
The most common cause for leaks is a worn out valve. Most antique faucets employ compression valves. Gradually, manufacturers switched to lower maintenance ceramic disk valves. Some faucet manufacturers, such as Strom Plumbing, offered compression valves and ceramic disk valves simultaneously. With the exception of the valves, the faucets are identical. However, the valves are not usually interchangeable; at least not without a conversion performed by the manufacturer. To determine if a valve is a compression valve or a ceramic disk valve, uninstall it from the faucet and inspect it. Compression valves have a hard rubber washer at the bottom of a stem assembly. When the washer wears out, the valve leaks and the faucet drips. Replacing the rubber washer is frequently the only repair required for a compression valve. Ceramic disk valves rely on rotating ceramic disks inside a cartridge. Replacing the cartridge will remedy drips for a faucet with ceramic disk valves. There is no single compression valve or ceramic disk valve design however, so determining the type of valve employed is only part of the equation.
Recognizing which valve requires repair is another piece of the puzzle. The valve for the hot water handle and the valve for the cold water handle are not always the same valve so it can be important to know which valve is leaking. Determining if a faucet is dripping hot or cold water isn't always obvious. One at a time, turn off the water at the supply to determine which valve is leaking. If a clawfoot tub faucet has two outlets (i.e., tub filler and shower), it will also have a diverter valve to switch between functions. If the clawfoot tub faucet no longer switches between tub filler and shower, or if both are engaged simultaneously, replacing the diverter valve should solve the problem.
In some cases, the direction that the faucet’s handles turn can be a factor in locating a replacement valve. Generally speaking, faucet manufacturers offer a choice of handles for the same faucet. Lever handles usually turn in opposite directions but, depending on the manufacturer, cross handles sometimes turn in the same direction. If your faucet looks identical to another faucet but the handles are different, there may also be a difference in valves. Replacing a valve while ignoring the difference in handle styles could result in a handle that turns in the opposite direction after repair (e.g. counter-clockwise vs. clockwise). See "Vintage Faucet Soap Opera: As The Handle Turns".
The valve stem holds several useful bits of information that are important to locating a replacement part. Like Lucky Charms cereal, valve stems have many shapes. Square, star-shaped, and gear-shaped stems are common. The points on a star-shaped or gear-shaped stem are referred to as "splines". The number of splines can vary. The diameter of the stem can also vary so measure this as well. Often the stem is partially visible so it is finished to match the faucet. Check the size and shape of the valve stem, number of splines, and finish to help ensure a match.
Valves are the part most frequently repaired or replaced but faucet handles can also be replaced to restore a faucet. If valves aren't universal it would figure then that the faucet handles that fit it also are not universal. Installing a faucet handle with a gear-shaped opening on a square valve stem defines the old axiom of fitting a square peg in a round hole. Assuming that the handle fits the stem, there may still be an issue if you switch from cross handles to lever handles or vice versa. As described above, the handles on a faucet with lever handles turn in opposite directions but the same rule of thumb does not always apply to cross handles.
Knowing your faucet's manufacturer and model number will provide a huge advantage. It may not be enough for antique faucets but it certainly provides a great start. Faucet manufacturers don't typically print their name or model number on the faucet. If you can't recall this information, didn't record it, or can't locate the original documentation, identifying a faucet online that looks similar can help but provides no guarantee. The clues provided above can be used in addition to (or in lieu of) the manufacturer name and model number to help identify repair parts.
Shop 4 Classics offers Strom Plumbing by Sign of the Crab, Sunrise Specialty, and Elizabethan Classics clawfoot tub faucets, antique reproduction bathroom sink faucets, and parts to repair them. Visit Shop 4 Classics for discount prices and great selection that should make the tough times a little easier to take.