I decided to turn the outside water tap on this weekend, and when I did I noticed the valve inside that connects to the main (in the basement) seems to be leaking a lot along the threads of the valve. It used to drip a little here and there when I first turned it on, my dad placed an old ice cream bucket over the fitting so it hangs beneath the valve and catches the odd drop. This time is different however, within 30 minutes the bucket was half full. Is there a quick fix for this issue that anyone knows about?
It sounds like the packing on a gate valve is failing. You can shutoff the water and attempt to repair these valves with new washers, cleaning the seat, and installing new packing material. However, the far more common approach now is to cut out the old valve and replace it with a 1/4 turn ball valve. These ball valves are much more reliable than the older gate valves, and the effort to install one is often less than the effort to repair a gate valve.
To replace the valve (assuming copper lines):
- Shutoff the main
- Drain the water in that pipe
- Clean the outside of the pipe on either side of the valve before you make your cut (it's easier to clean first rather than after the pipe is cut)
- Cut the pipe on each side of the valve
- Test fit the new valve
- Measure and cut a short piece of pipe to span any gap, you'll use a straight coupling between this pipe and the existing plumbing
- Remove the valve, clean all ends and fittings again
- Apply flux to the valve, pipes, and coupling
- Connect the junction, short pipe, and valve to each other and the existing plumbing
- Heat the joints with a blow torch until the flux bubbles and the opposite side melts the solder into each joint, take care not to excessively heat the valve itself
- Give the pipes a few minutes to cool, you can also wipe away excess solder with a rag while it's still hot to make the result look better
- Turn the water back on and check for leaks
If it is an old valve, especially if it has seen many summer/winter cycles or if exposed to hot sun for long periods of time, I may be possible to replace the rubber seal parts inside the unit to stop the leaks. If you can get your hands on the proper parts this fix can take place fairly quickly.
Some faucets or spigots do not lend themselves to easy parts replacements. This is particularly true for units that may have become encrusted in mineral deposits or have parts that have become corroded or rusted. In these cases it may take a bit more time to just replace the valve with a new one.
Repair of replacement of any valve will require shutting off either the main water supply or inline faucets that shut down a part of the water supply.