Home / Maintenance  / Household plumbing 101

Household plumbing 101


Your home’s plumbing is a bit like your car’s wiring. Unless you see this as your Sunday past time, you’d rather “call a guy” when issues arise.

Thanks to these basic home plumbing tips from Mica Hardware you can now take your plumber’s number off speed dial.

Change a tap washerTap

Replacing the tap washer is one of those chores that must be done periodically. Knowing how to do it makes it easy.

When working on a cold water tap the first step is to turn off the water supply to your home. The valve is usually near the gate. If you are living in an apartment building or sectional title unit ask your caretaker where to find it. If it is a hot water tap washer, with an equal-pressure system, then you need to open the hot water tap once the mains are turned off. The flow from the tap will soon cease. It is then easy to implement these steps to replace your tap washer:

  1. Remove the tap handle. In some cases the screw is fitted on the side, and in others, it’s on top.
  2. Now remove the dome or plastic insert. To avoid damaging the chrome if the dome is tight, protect it with a cloth when using your adjustable wrench or water pump pliers.
  3. Un-screw the brass valve assembly.
  4. Remove the nut holding the washer in place, replace the washer and re-tighten the nut.
  5. Reassemble the tap in reverse order to disassembly. Make sure that the tap is closed and turn the water mains back on – test your repair.

TIP: Remember that the water flow will cease sooner as you close the tap, than before the repair as the washer has not yet been compressed. You must tighten the tap only enough to close it, if you turn it close as tight as before you will be replacing the washer sooner than you think!

Cistern maintenanceToilet cistern

Step 1: You need to turn off the supply to the cistern. The stopcock is usually mounted on the wall or inlet pipe to one side of the unit.

Step 2: If there is a cap, remove it.

Step 3: Close the ends of the split pin that acts as a pivot for the float arm and remove it.

Step 4: Manoeuvre the arm free, using it to pull the piston towards the end of the cylinder as you do so.

Step 5: Carefully remove the piston, being careful not to damage it. If you cannot grip it with a pair of pliers, push it back in, put the lid back on the cistern and then turn the tap on for a second or two. The jet of water is often enough to push the piston out far enough for you to get a good grip on it.

Step 6: While the piston is out, use a little bit of fine sandpaper on a length of dowel to remove any deposits in the cylinder. If necessary then the piston should also be cleaned if it is brass. You could also drape some cloth over the end of the cylinder and turn the water back on for a few seconds. The water doesn’t have to be turned on strongly, just enough to push any dirt out. When taking this approach the cloth will stop the water from blasting out.

Step 7: Pry the washer out of its recess in the head of the piston and insert the replacement.

Step 8: Position the washer with the slot for the float arm directly downwards and insert it into the cylinder.

Step 9: Gently manoeuvre the float arm into position. You will only be able to do this if the slot in the piston is positioned correctly.

TIP: You will find it easier to position the float arm properly if you flush the toilet beforehand – if it’s still full of water, the float will tend to make things difficult.

Step 10: Re-insert the split pin and spread the ends slightly with a screwdriver blade to prevent it from falling out.

Step 11: Turn the water back on and raise the float arm. Check that the water coming into the cistern stops flowing.

TIP: If you find that the water in the cistern does not come up to the same level as before, it’s because the new washer is a little thicker than the old one where it meets the nozzle. In this case you can bend the float arm up a little, so that the float can rise higher and fill the cistern to its required level. Later on you may need to bend the arm down again as the washer is indented where it meets the nozzle.

Shopping list

In addition to the washers you will be replacing, you need the following basics to enable you to do this basic plumbing maintenance yourself.

  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Cloth
  • Fine sandpaper

Email mariette@hometimes.co.za if you have any home maintenance issues you want us to explore


Review overview