Q: I was hoping you could help me with some plumbing problems. In my downstairs bathroom, which doesn’t get much use, the hot-water faucets on both sinks squeal when they are being turned off. The cold faucet doesn’t squeal. It doesn’t happen in the other bathroom, which is in the master suite. My neighbor in the attached townhouse has the same problem.
I have had this problem for the 10 years I’ve lived here. But now there is a new problem. When the hot faucet is turned on, the stream is dramatically reduced without anyone even touching the faucet knob. Also, I hear water going through the pipes after I’ve used the faucet.
I know it’s a mystery and I am afraid of having to pay a plumber to track down the problem.
A: It’s tough to diagnose the problem without looking at the suspect faucets. From your description, the problem might be related to a restriction in the hot-water side of the faucet. What’s puzzling, though, is that you’ve got the same problem in two fixtures and your neighbor seems to have a similar problem in a third.
The problem might not be with the faucets at all. It could be that the restriction is in the shut-off valves under the sink. Another possibility, and we hate to say this, is that there may be a problem with the pipes in the wall. We suggest you do a little detective work to try to isolate the problem.
Eliminate the easiest problem first. With the hot water running, reach under the sink and slowly turn the hot-side shutoff valve off, then on again. If the squeal is gone, great. Sometimes a change in pressure can dislodge an obstruction that might be in the faucet or the shutoff valve.
If the home is older, the fixtures might have washers. Simply replacing the washers might be the ticket. Hard rubber washers deteriorate. Occasionally a dislodged piece of washer can get caught and restrict the water flow.
If the faucets are washerless, cleaning or changing the cartridge inside of the fixture might be the fix. Another source of water restriction might be grit in the pipe left over from previous work that may have lodged in the faucet cartridge.
Either fix is simple and not costly, even if you hire a plumber.
A third alternative is to replace the fixtures. A little refurbishing after 10 years of ownership is probably a good thing.
The only reason that a defect in the piping system comes to mind is your statement that the neighbor seems to have the same problem. Of the three possible causes that come to mind, this is the least likely culprit. So play with the shutoff valves first, then we think you can feel pretty confident that calling a plumber won’t break the bank.
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