Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Ceramic tap valves

Seamus, our General Manager, was talking to me yesterday about the problems we have fixing ceramic tap valves. Most modern taps use ceramic quarter-turn valves instead of rubber washers. Ceramic quarter-turn valves last much longer than rubber washers, and the taps are much more pleasant to use as you only have to twist the handle a quarter turn to get full flow, rather than screwing it around and around like an old-fashioned tap.

But when a ceramic valve tap plays up, it is a mission to fix. The quickest (and therefore cheapest for the customer) solution is to replace the valve. But few valves are the same, so you have to identify and supply a matching valve. If you know the manufacturer's name, and even better the tap name or model number, it is easy. But how many people know who made their taps? Not many.

Plumbers merchants seem to hold only the slimmest range of replacement valves, and in our experience we can only source a matching valve from someone's stock in about 50% of jobs. How do we deal with the other 50%? Our handyman zaps a photo over to the office, and Seamus uses Google Image search to find one that looks to have the right parameters and we order a few in.

So we can usually do it, but I have to say it is never very convenient for the customer, often requiring two separate visits (just to fix a tap!). A rubber washer tap would rarely take more than half-an-hour to fix, if that. But it can easily cost £100 to source and replace a ceramic tap valve, and you can buy a very nice brand new quarter-turn tap for that.

Of course a specialist plumber with a van full of spares might be able to solve this problem more easily, if they keep a large stock of different tap valves in their van. But if plumbers merchants don't even keep a wide range, seems unlikely that a plumber would. I would be interested to know.

Our aim is to identify a set of valves which will cover 100% of replacements. For a while Seamus had thought that three particular ceramic valves would cover all eventualities, but it had just been lucky that those three worked in a long run of tap-fixing-jobs. We soon found a whole load of taps for which our magic range of three valves didn't work. He now has a range of 10 different valves which, since a renewed effort to solve this problem, have worked in all cases.

Still, having every handyman carry even just 10 different valves around is not very efficient. Each handyman probably only does one tap job every couple of weeks (I'm guessing here, haven't checked the stats), so it would take at least 6 months to turn over that stock of 10 valves, not very efficient from a stock-holding point of view.

(Astute readers will be thinking, why replace the valve at all? Why not just take it apart and service it, that should get it working again. Correct. But that also takes a lot of time, and if after cleaning it up (including leaving to soak in a descalant) it still doesn't work you've wasted a whole load of the customer's time. Our view is that it is better to replace to be on the safe side.)

100 comments:

Michael said...

It would be very helpful indeed if you would post a list of the ten inserts for those of us with a dripping tap at home. It is very wasteful of water, and there are many of us who would repair our own taps in the light of the water shortage, but who simply cannot afford £100.

Nobby Styles said...

Higher water pressure and 1/2 flow to stop works better to stop these taps dripping. They're first generation designs at present. 10 different types of ceramic washer where's the standards commities for plumbing industry.Stopping the grey market of sub standards components from the far East.Dommestic 13amp plugs are the next target.

Fedup Carer said...

The lever tap in the bathroom is dripping, and has been for over 3 weeks. It's connected to a hot water on demand system, and the water is frequently cut off here (once a month this year). Once the kitchen is refurbished, those taps will also be lever taps.

My husband can't use non-lever taps because of a disability. We can't find a single place which sells the replacement ceramic washers (or the valves), and the council doesn't fix trivial faults like this.

Are we going to have to replace the taps every 8 years (the length of time taken for this tap to start dripping)? If so, why weren't we told this when the taps were sold or fitted?

Anonymous said...

It is clear that these things are purely for manufacturer's profit. We built a new house in 2000, and 8 (yes, 8) ceramic disc valves have required replacement already, three different manufacturers. The kitchen (Atriflo - told it was high quality) has been leaking for weeks now, almost a trickle. We have a Kinetico water softener.
I wish you could still get stylish taps with washers - a few minutes, and a few pence!

Anonymous said...

I recently needed to replace the ceramic valve on my Blanco tap Borma Lux 2346. Blanco spares are obtainable from Top Brassware Ltd., Maltby, Rotherham, South Yorks on Tel.No.01709819077.
Eventually, though, I had to source my actual valve from S.A. Lunn Ltd on Tel.No.01252548711. Use Google to access their website under "Lunns" where full details and pictures of the wide range of valves they have available can be see. Orders can be submitted online. Please note that I am a householder and have no connection with either of the companies mentioned.

nancysb said...

I have been trying to source an extended Dualux cold water cartridge for almost 12 months. Ideal Standard tell me it is obsolete, but I do not want to spend several thousand pounds replacing the bathroom for the sake of £100 worth of spare part. Is here a plumber with my part hidden on a shelf somewhere?

Anonymous said...

For repairs to ceramic taps contact silver saints London handyman service - www.silversaints.com

Anonymous said...

I also needed a replacement ceramic cartridge for my blanco mixer tap which led me to this blog and the previous posters comment (2 Apr 2008).

After some detective work I identified the part on the Lunns website (http://www.lunns.net/), ordered it and all is now good.

As with the previous poster, I too am in no way related to the company.

Kevin said...

If you're stuck for valves, try www.notjusttaps.co.uk
Their replacement valves did the job on my kitchen tap and they seem to have most sizes

Company blog said...

Kevin

Thanks for that tip, appreciated.

Anonymous said...

How do I recondition / fix a valve? The tap is only around 5 years old but we do live in a very hard water area. It sounds like it will take ages to source a replacement I may as well spend some time trying to fix it!

nancysb said...

Hi Anonymous. I was recommended to remove the cartridge and soak the ceramic part in Oust or some other lime descaler. Can't guarantee that it won't damage other components e.g. rubber washers, but worth a try.
Ps Still haven't managed to find a replacement extended monolux dualux cold water cartridge. Now been looking for two years. Surely some plumbers merchant must have one gathering dust on a shelf some where!

John said...

Though the innards of different makes of valve differ this is not the problem. In my experience the difficulty is finding the right length knob spline shaft together with the right number of teeth (or splines) on it and the right thread tapping into the end of this. Having got all these right two jobs ago there was a secondary thread on the replacement which fouled the knob and had to be ground off. What a con it was when we were 'sold' these things as improvement on rubber washers. Today I fitted a wrong spline unit with the splines ground off and an amplifier knob attached to keep things going while I source a replacement. I've yet to find a problem with the ceramic plates, invariably its the rubber that has lost its spring. (Sometimes an o ring will pack it)

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Anonymous said...

Willie Scotland
I had same problem as everyone else
Bought a tap conversion kit TT17CV2
In blue & grey package for £11:78 @
B&Q Problem solved after 3wks of trying to get proper ceramic valve,
Now if I have any problem in the future I only have to change a washer.Hope this helps some of you.

Bathroom Furniture said...

Hi,

Just found your bathroom taps, facuet and mixer post today via twitter, trust you have added a bit too much and I may absorb your abbilities and skills you have for writing for Bathroom Furniture and Bathroom accessories related products. Wonderful!

Maybe this is me only but trust I often read your blog to get to know a bit more about bathroom furniture and bathroom accessories industry, I am new in this business category and specially in the UK

Anyway, I am going to use your posts and add them over our blog along-with your URLs and images

Hope that would be okay

Thank you for helping me learn a bit more about Bathroom Taps and Bathroom Facuets and Mixers.

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www.allplumbingandheating.co.uk stock ceramic valves from £13 for all taps

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pmorton said...

Ceramic valve taps, my wife says, are really nice. She means "to use", of course, and they are - with that lovely quarter turn to full-on.

But they're not without downsides, as this thread attests. One is water hammer, a destructive hydraulic phenomenon that affects hydro-electric power schemes in the same way as household plumbing. Shut the tap off too quickly and a dynamic pressure wave is generated in the pipe's water, testing your pipe joints to their limit.

Another problem is that they cannot tolerate water impurities; not just particles of a perceptible size like grit and sand - which you ought to filter out of the mains supply with a mesh filter cartridge - but the dissolved impurities in hard water as well. That's to say, water laden with abrasive salts, like calcium sulphate (gypsum) and calcium carbonate (chalk) can coat and microscopically score the ceramic surfaces.

Adding to your headache is that there are more types of ceramic cartridges than you can shake a stick at - identical in their basic engineering, but each crucially different to the next in some dimensional respect. Not like the good old days when you could cut a rubber tap washer from any old piece of rubber a few millimeters thick!

All is not lost, however. The ceramic discs CAN be refurbished, in the following manner:

Remove the cartridge from the tap body with an adjustable spanner.

Carefully remove the plastic sealing ring from the cartridge cylinder, prising it out uniformly with a small screwdriver.

The valve's seal is provided by two opposing ceramic butterfly disks. One resembles a bow-tie inside a circular rim; the other a bow-tie precisely.

If they can't be remove because they're gummed up with deposits from hard water, immerse them in vinegar, lemon juice, any other acid, or even a proprietary limescale remover to free them.

Carefully work the disks out using a small screwdriver. The first disk, because of its neat fit, may be more difficult than the second; take your time, and don't encourage it to tilt and jam.

You will need a good flat surface for what follows; the underside of a good quality ceramic plate, or the broad flat of a large steel knife, will do.

Apply a little car body paint cutting paste (available from any car parts shop) to the plate or knife. This is a very fine abrasive paste in an oil matrix. With a circular motion, rub the sealing face of the disk for a minute or so. This will remove any build-up of limescale and impurity scratching. Then do the same with the opposing disk surface.

Re-assemble the cartridge. The simple butterfly ceramic will go back easily into place, and will mate with the two lugs on the face of the cartridge stem. Next, the opposing butterfly-in-a-ring ceramic disk may be a little harder to re-install. The cut-outs on its outer rim need to mate with the protrusions on the inside face of the cartridge barrel. Insert it with care, and avoid tilting it and allowing it to jam; these elements are reasonably strong, but they are brittle, so don't force it. It will re-seat with care.

When the two ceramic elements are in intimate contact, re-insert the plastic sealing ring. Re-fit the cartridge in the tap body.

If, for any reason, the tap still leaks, it is likely that you haven't ground the surfaces enough; repeat the process.

Having completed this, you ought to get many more useful years from the tap before you need to repeat the procedure, and hopefully b

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Anonymous said...

Having read all the post, I am in a better position to tackle my problem with my Borma Lux kitchen tap. But before I actually get down to descaling/cleaning or replacing the ceramic valves within the the cartridges I need to remove the cartridge from the housing. It's jammed solid and can not unscrew it with a reasonable force. I have used WD40 and applied mild heat but it won't budge. Can anyone help me undo it so that I can actually get at the ceramic valve itself to work on.It would be very much appreciated.
By the way to undo the cartridges, I take it that I have to turn it anticlockwise as I face It. Is that correct?

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Anonymous said...

An interesting site, many thanks..
I have one set of ceramic taps in the house and yes, they're the newest and the only ones that drip and need attention!
I'll have a look to see if I can stop the drip with a quick clean up, dismantling the cartridge if necessary.

If not I have "plan b" - I'll simply go back to "proper" taps as the ceramic ones just seem to be a new-fangled con....

Adrian

Andrew Nisbet said...

I find most leaks are due to ageing of the rubber washers that prevent water seeping past the sides of the ceramic disks. Usually on the hot tap where the hot water must affect the rubber sooner.

There are, on my Blanco tap, two washers separated by a bronze/brass ring. I use LSX a plumbers seal that sets like hard jelly in air. I also use it on my central heating compression joints instead of white hawk etc. (and useful for other leaks as it is not affected by water). Use a cocktail stick or match to spread a ring of LSX on the seat of the washers and bed them in making sure the LSX gets to the edges of the washer where it meets the static ceramic disc. (more complicated to explain than to do). Make sure it does not get in between the ceramic discs! After 30 mins or so it will harden off. Reassemble the tap. It usually lasts a year or so but is easily repeatable as the old LSX just peels off. LSX comes in a tube and costs about £4 from plumbing merchants. It also smells strongly of ascetic acid (vinegar) but will last if kept sealed properly.

I have also successfully used O rings but it can be hard to find the correct size.

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Thanks for the great help.DIY saves money if you know atleast the basic fix.I had a chance to change the valve before for an emergency purpose and professional plumbers are not around.It did well and realize how big it is to know plumbing.

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Just had to leave a post to thank those who noted that it was usually the rubber seals that caused drips. Drip fixed... cost, less than 1p!

Beforehand
It's a mixer so, on the basis of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', I found out which side was actually dripping:
- Stuck a measuring jug in the sink to catch the drips for an hour or so. Noted the time and the amount.
- Turned off the supply to one side and repeated with the measuring jug.
- By now, I pretty much knew which side was dripping but, being a belt-and-braces type, I can repeated the test for the other side.
(Finding out where the supply returned off was not so easy. It was the one thing I almost needed a plummer for! I've now pinned a note in the airing cupboard for next time.)

Doing
My tap was a Franke Davos so the details may vary for other types.
- Turned off both supplies (easy now I know where.)
- Put the plug in to stop any stray bits going down the drain!
- Used a small screwdriver (I think it's all that remains of our last sewing machine) to prise the coloured button out of the tap handle. (It had a small slot at the side just made for small screwdrivers.)
- Found an old yoghurt pot to keep the bits I was taking off safe.
- Undid the screw that held the handle. (Philips cross-head, No. 2, I think.) Mine came off easily. There are other posts to help you if yours are stuck.
- Used an adjustable spanner to unscrew the mechanism from the body of the tap. (Must remember to buy a 20mm open-ended spanner for the future.) Thank you for the other posts about supporting the tap so as not to strain the point where it's fixed to the sink.
- Gave the whole thing a good rinse under running water turning the tap mechanism on and off a few times.
- Lifted off the coloured, rubber seal from the end of the mechanism (a finger nail was good enough for this) making sure nothing fell out from behind it.
- Washed the seal and dried it on some absorbent paper and put it in my yoghurt pot.
- Lifted out the brass ring (finger nail again) and the rubber O-ring came with it.
- The O-ring sits in a groove which I scrubbed out gently with an old tooth brush. Washed the O-ring and dried it and the brass ring.
- The ceramic 'butterflies' were now visible but they looked quite clean so I did not touch them. There are other posts about how to clean them if they are bunged up with lime scale.
- Begged a loan of that stuff the other half spreads on her lips every 5 minutes (Petroleum Jelly by any other name) and used some of the gloop from round the lid to grease the O-ring, brass ring and end seal.
- Put the O-ring back into the groove in the brass ring and put them both back into the mechanism (O-ring against the ceramic butterflies.)
- Eased the rubber seal back on the end of the mechanism and screwed the whole thing back into the tap.
- Turned the mechanism to 'off' so I could get the handle in the right position as I screwed it back.
- Tested it before I put the coloured button back.
- Hooray! No drips!

I'm sure there must be a grease made for this kind of job. If someone cares to post to let me know I'll get some of the 'right stuff' in for next time.

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Our Blanco mixer tap recently started trickling: following advice in my Reader's Digest DIY manual, I bought a pair of replacement cartridges for £15 from B&Q (they have a decent range). Got home, fitted the replacement - perfect fit but the tap now wouldn't turn off *at all*, even though the ceramic seals were closing properly. So I turned to Google and found this thread and a lot of helpful tips - thanks! Reading the discussion suggested that the rubber seal might be the cause of the problem. So I compared the seals on the Blanco and B&Q cartridges: although they two cartridge types look absolutely identical, the inner diameter of the Blanco seal is about 1mm less than that for the B&Q replacement!!! This *has* to be a deliberate ploy by the manufacturer to lock us into their products. However, I solved the problem by taking out the old rubber seal and dropping a 3/8" washer into the cartridge cylinder in its place. Works perfectly. I don't know if the same trick will work for all ceramic tap valves, but I now feel very smug at having defeated the manufacturers and found a new lease of life for old tap washers!

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The Scribbler said...

I too had a dripping ceramic tap valve and was about to try to buy a replacement valve (or even a whole new tap!)when I read the post by Metamer about using petroleum jelly/Vaseline to grease the O ring inside the valve. Worked like a dream!

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