Q: I live in a second-story flat. Sometimes when I turn on a water spigot halfway after a brief period of nonuse, the flow of water stops after a second or two. Water flows again when I open the spigot farther. When I close the spigot and turn it back on, everything’s OK, until the spigot remains closed for several hours. Is this just a minor annoyance with which I must learn to deal? Or is this a sign of future problems?
A: The mystery of the disappearing water pressure. A Perry Mason moment. Very strange.
If you had this problem with just one faucet, we’d suggest that you probably have a defective washer. Or if it is a newer faucet, you might have a piece of grit that is restricting the flow. But when this happens with every faucet in your flat, it is indeed unusual.
We don’t think you necessarily have a major problem, although if you have old galvanized water pipes, they are probably corroded and are on the downhill side of their useful life. Copper water lines have been the material of choice since the 1960s because of their comparatively easy installation and long life.
Possible sources of your disappearing water pressure are grit in the lines from decaying pipes, grit in the line from another source (such as construction work on the main lines by the water company) or low water pressure to the building itself.
Sometimes, old galvanized pipes (which fail from the inside out) can release particles of corrosion into the water as it flows through the pipes. These particles can get stuck in the mechanical workings of the faucet and restrict the flow. Sometimes opening and closing the faucet can cause the particles to enter the faucet and restrict the flow. By the same token, opening the faucet to a different position can open the flow again. This may be what you are experiencing.
An easy fix may be to open the faucet to its maximum flow for 15 seconds or so to purge the lines, then turn it down to get the flow that you want. It wouldn’t hurt to do this to both the hot and cold lines, especially if you have a single-lever faucet. After several times, your problem may disappear.
If that doesn’t work, choose the faucet that is giving you the most trouble, shut off the water (that’s important if you don’t want a shower) and either replace the faucet washer or clean the washerless faucet assembly. Check to see whether any grit is trapped in the faucet. If so, remove it.
Faucet washers come in many sizes. You can buy a single washer or a small kit containing a variety of washers at your local hardware store. The cost of faucet washers, either in a kit or singly, is minimal.
Repeat this process with all your troublesome faucets. We know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But this is part of normal maintenance, especially in an older building.
If none of this is helpful, call your water company and ask what the water pressure in their system should be, then explain your problem and request a pressure test for your building. If the pressure is lower than normal at the street, this could well be the cause of your problem.
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