Pick up key parts at the hardware store before you start
Chances are, you’ll need to make more than one trip to the hardware store for parts, but to give yourself a fighting shot at completing the job with one-stop shopping, consult this list.
- Shutoff valves: Before you shop for your new faucet (see “Selecting a Faucet” at the end of this article), take a look under the sink and make sure that there are shutoff valves feeding the faucet. If you don’t have shutoff valves, add them. If you have them, confirm that they’re in working order by turning on the hot and cold water at the faucet and shutting off the valves. If the faucet still drips, install new ones. Most likely you have 1/2-in. copper supply pipes. If so, add easy-to-install solderless “compression fitting” valves (Photos 9 and 10) to your shopping list. But if not, buy whichever valve type is compatible with your pipes.
- Supply tubes: Next, measure the existing supply tubes and buy new stainless steel–sleeved supply tubes (Photo 9). They’re designed to give rupture-free service for years and can be routed around obstacles without kinking.
- Basin wrench: Also buy a basin wrench ($15; Photo 4). This weird little wrench is made specifically for removing and installing those hard-to-reach fasteners that clamp older faucet assemblies to the sink. (Newer faucets have plastic Wing-Nuts that can usually be loosened and tightened by hand.) A basin wrench’s spring-loaded jaws pivot so you can either loosen or tighten nuts in tight spaces.
If you need to remove drain lines to access the faucet, get a pipe wrench or slip-joint pliers (Photo 1). For cutting copper tubes, buy a conventional tubing cutter. But if your copper supply lines are within a few inches of the back of the cabinet, buy a special mini tube cutter (Photo 3). You’ll also need a set of open-end wrenches for disconnecting and hooking up the water lines.
Before disconnecting the drain lines, take a Polaroid snapshot or make a sketch of the layout to help you put it all back together.
Plan on replacing your faucet during store hours. Chances are better than 50/50 you'll need at least one more part.
Prop up a scrap of plywood on some 1-qt. paint cans in front of the cabinet. You’ll be much more comfortable lying under the sink. Otherwise, the edge of the cabinet would be digging into your back
Gain access and remove the old faucet
Photo 2: Disconnect the garbage disposer
Unplug the garbage disposer, or shut off the circuit breaker in the main service panel if the disposer is directly wired. Disconnect the dishwasher discharge line and place a 1-gal. paint can under the garbage disposer with some rags on top to cushion the disposer when it drops free. Release the disposer by tapping the retaining ring with a hammer in a counterclockwise direction.
Photo 3: Cut the water supply lines, if you're replacing the valves
Shut off the water below the sink if you have valves, or shut off the main water supply valve if your old faucet is plumbed directly without valves. Open the kitchen faucet and another lower faucet to bleed off any pressure and to drain the water. If you’re installing or replacing valves, cut the water lines directly below the fittings with a tube cutter or hacksaw.
After you pull out all of the cleansers, buckets and old vases from under the sink, go ahead and lie under there and see if you can easily access the faucet. If so, go right to Photo 3. If not, it’s time to start dismantling the things blocking your path.
Most likely, the main obstacles will be the pipes and P-traps that drain the sinks. Don’t be afraid to pull them out, but more important, don’t be afraid to replace them with new ones. If you have older, chrome-plated drain lines, the pipe walls may be so corroded that they’ll crush in the jaws of a pipe wrench or slip-joint pliers. After you remove them, throw all the parts in a box for matching them exactly at the store later. If you have plastic drain parts, be careful during removal—you’ll probably be able to reuse them.
Sometimes a garbage disposer can be a 20-lb. roadblock. Don’t be discouraged—it’s easier than you think to remove it and then reinstall it after the faucet is in (Photo 2). Unplug it and pull it out of the cabinet to get it out of the way. If it’s hard-wired, shut off the circuit breaker that controls the disposer, disconnect the disposer from the sink and set it aside inside the cabinet with the electrical cable still attached.
The first step in removing the old faucet is to disconnect the water supply lines (Photo 3). If there are no shutoff valves and the water pipes are hooked up directly to the faucet supply lines, or if you’re replacing defective valves, turn off the main water supply valve to the house and cut off the pipes (Photo 3) below the connections with a hacksaw or tube cutter.
Make sure new valves are closed before turning the water back on to the house. Once the water lines are disconnected, use the basin wrench to loosen the old faucet and remove it (Photo 4).
Sometimes, in spite of all your best efforts, it’s simply impossible to loosen the old faucet nuts. Calm down! Try soaking the threads with penetrating oil and try again. If that doesn’t do it, it’s time to pull out all the stops and pull the sink so you can get at the nuts. It’s not that tough to do. Loosen the screws on the bottom of the sink rim for a clamp-down sink, or cut the caulk between a drop-in sink and countertop with a utility knife and lift out the sink. Then you’ll be able to go after those nuts with a locking pliers or a pipe wrench to free the old faucet.
If you're replacing the kitchen sink along with a new faucet, install the faucet before setting the sink into the countertop.
Now install the new faucet
Photo 6: Tighten the faucet mounting nut.
Check the operation of the faucet and handle to confirm you’re not putting it in backward, and thread the feeder lines through the flange and sink holes. Then slip on the faucet washer, and thread on and tighten the faucet-mounting nut from below, gently spreading the faucet supply tubes if necessary to gain tool clearance (sometimes manufacturers provide a special tool for this).
Photo 8: Attach the spray hose to the faucet supply tube.
Thread the spray nozzle line through the faucet body, then thread the spray hose fitting onto the faucet supply tube and tighten it. Pull the nozzle out of the faucet to make sure the hose under the sink operates freely, then attach the counterweight following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Photo 10: Connect the supply tube to the supply lines.
Clean the copper tubing with fine sandpaper, then slip the nut, compression ring and valve body over the pipe and tighten. Close the valve, turn on the main water valve and check for leaks. Place a bucket under the faucet and turn the faucet on to check for leaks. Reassemble the garbage disposer, P-traps and drain lines.
Follow the manufacturer's directions to mount the new faucet, then remount the sink (with the new faucet) and hook up the water lines as we show
With most faucets, only three of the four holes are covered, so you'll either need to get a blank insert or use the extra hole for a liquid soap or instant hot water dispenser. Plan to do the installation while you're under the sink with everything torn apart.
Selecting a faucet
When you’re buying a faucet (as with most other things), you get what you pay for. Faucets that cost less than $100 may be made of chrome-plated plastic arts with seals and valves that wear. They’re okay for light-duty use but won’t stand up long in a frequently used kitchen sink. Faucets that cost more than $100 generally have solid brass bodies with durable plating and washerless controls that’ll give leak-free service for many, many years. Some even come with a lifetime warranty. Quality continues to improve up to about $200. Spend more than $200 and you’re mostly paying for style and finish. Stick with brand name projects so replacement parts will be easier to find—in the unlikely event you’ll ever need them.