Changing the old taps on your basin is a bright and practical way of making your bathroom more attractive. It may also be a good idea if they are old and inefficient.

Here’s what is involved.

There may be a number of reasons why you wish to replace the taps supplying your sink, basin or bath. They may continually drip or leak, where new taps would give efficient, trouble-free service. Perhaps you want the advantages that mixers have over individual taps or perhaps it is simply that the chromium plating has worn off leaving the taps looking incurably shabby.

It is more likely, however, that appearance, rather than malfunction, will be your reason for changing. There are fashions in plumbing fittings as in clothing and furniture. Taps of the 1950s or 60s are instantly recognisable as out-of-date in a bathroom or kitchen of the 1980s. Fortunately, fashions in sinks, basins and baths have changed rather less dramati-cally over the past three decades. There is probably no more cost-effective way of improving bathroom and kitchen appearance than by the provision of sparkling new taps or mixers.

Choosing taps

When you come to select your new taps you may feel that you are faced with a bewildering choice. Tap size, appearance, the material of which the tap is made, whether to choose individual taps or mixers and – for the bath -whether to provide for an over-bath shower by fitting a bath/shower mixer: all these things need to be considered.

Size is easily enough dealt with. Taps and mixers are still in imperial sizes. Bath tap tails are 3/in in diameter, and basin and sink taps Vfein in diameter. There are, however, a few suppliers who are beginning to designate taps by the metric size, not of the taps themselves, but of the copper supply pipes to which they will probably be connected. Such a supplier might refer to bath taps as 22mm and sink and basin taps as 15mm.

Most taps are made of chromium-plated brass, though there are also ranges of enamelled and even gold-plated taps and mixers. Although taps and mixers are still manufactured with conventional crutch or capstan handles, most people nowadays prefer to choose taps with ‘shrouded’ heads made of acrylic or other plastic. In effect, these combine the functions of handle and easy-clean cover, completely concealing the tap’s headgear. A still popular alternative is the functional Supatap’, nowadays provided with plastic rather than metal ‘ears’ for quick and comfortable turning on and off.

There is also a very competitively priced range of all-plastic taps. These usually give satisfactory enough service in the home, but they cannot be regarded as being as sturdy as conventional metal taps, and they can be damaged by very hot water.

So far as design is concerned the big difference is between ‘bib taps’ and ‘pillar taps’. Bib taps have a horizontal inlet and are usually wall-mounted while pillar taps have a vertical inlet and are mounted on the bath, basin or sink they serve.

Taking out old basin taps

When replacing old taps with new ones the most difficult part of the job is likely to be – as with so many plumbing operations removing the old fittings. Let’s first consider wash basin taps.

You must, of course, cut off the hot and cold water supplies to the basin. The best way of doing this will usually be to tie up the float arm of the ball valve supplying the cold water storage cistern so as to prevent water flowing in. Then run the bathroom cold taps until water ceases to flow. Only then open up the hot taps. This will conserve most of the expensively heated water in the hot water storage cylinder.

If you look under the basin you will find that the tails of the taps are connected to the water supply pipes with small, fairly accessible nuts, and that a larger – often inaccessible – back-nut secures the tap to the basin. The nuts of the swivel tap connectors joining the pipes to the taps are usually easily undone with a wrench or spanner of the appropriate size. The back-nuts can be extremely difficult even for professional plumbers!

There are special wrenches and basin or ‘crows foot’ spanners that may help, but they won’t perform miracles and ceramic basins can be very easily damaged by heavy handedness. The best course of action is to disconnect the swivel tap connectors and to disconnect the trap from the waste outlet. These are secured by nuts and are easily undone. Then lift the basin off its brackets or hanger and place it upside down on the floor. Apply some penetrating oil to the tap tails and, after allowing a few minutes for it to soak in, tackle the nuts with your wrench or crowsfoot spanner. You’ll find they are much more accessible Hold the tap while you do this to stop it swivelling and damaging the basin.

Fitting the new taps

When fitting the new taps or mixer, unscrew the back-nuts, press some plumber’s putty round the tail directly below the tap body or fit a plastic washer onto the top tail.


– to undo stubborn back-nuts, add extra leverage to the crowsfoot by hooking a wrench handle into its other end.

– if this fails, squirt penetrating oil around the back-nuts. Leave for a while and try again

– in really stubborn cases, remove the basin completely, and turn it upside down on the floor so you have more room to work

– grip the tap body with an adjustable spanner to stop it turning as you use the crowsfoot; otherwise the tap lugs could crack the basin


For replacing existing taps, you will need the following tools and equipment:

– new taps of the right type and size.

– an adjustable spanner.

– a basin wrench (’crowsfoot’).

– an adjustable wrench.

– penetrating oil.

– plastic washers.

– plumber’s putty.

– PTFE tape

You may also need tap tail adaptors (if the new taps have shorter tails than the old ones) and new tap connectors (if your new taps have metric tails instead of imperial ones).


With ceramic basins, use a plastic washer above and below the basin surface (A) so you don’t crack the basin as you tighten the back-nut. You can use plumber’s putty instead of the upper washer.

On thin basins, use a special top-hat washer between basin and back-nut (B).

The lugs at the top of the tap tail are meant to stop tap turning in square tap holes. Use special antidotation washers to stop new taps with smaller lugs from turning in old tap holes.

Push the tails through the holes in the basin. Slip flat plastic washers over the tails where they protrude from beneath the basin, screw on the back-nuts and tighten them up. Make sure that the taps or mixer are secure, but don’t overtighten them. To make tightening easier, (and undoing, if ever necessary) use top-hat washers.

All that remains to be done is to connect the swivel tap connectors to the tails of the new taps or mixer. You will see that a tap connector consists of a lining – with a flange – that is inserted into the tap tail and is then secured by the coupling nut. This nut is provided with a washer to ensure a watertight connection. When renewing taps you may well need to renew this small washer.

It is possible that when you come to connect the water supply pipes to the taps you will get an unpleasant surprise. The tails of modern taps are slightly shorter than those of older ones and the tap connectors may not reach. If the water supply pipes are of lead or of copper it is quite likely that they will have enough ‘give’ to enable you to make the connection but, if not, there are extension pieces specially made to bridge the gap.

Bib taps

If you’re replacing existing bib taps with those of a more modern design, it’s a relatively simple matter of disconnecting and unscrewing the old ones and fitting the new taps in their place. However, it’s quite possible that you’ll want to remove the bib taps altogether and fit a new sink with some pillar taps. This will involve a little more plumbing work. To start with, turn off the water supply and remove the taps and old sink. If the pipework comes up from the floor, you’ll need to uncover the run in the wall to below where the new sink will go. You should then be able to ease the pipes away from the wall and cut off the exposed sections. This will allow you to join short lengths of new pipe, bent slightly if necessary, to link the pipe ends and the tap tails. Alternatively, if the pipes come down the wall you’ll have to extend the run to below the level of the new sink and use elbow fittings to link the pipe to the tap tails. In either case it’s a good idea to fit the taps to the new sink first and to make up the pipework runs slightly overlong, so that when the new sink is offered up to the wall you can measure up accurately and avoid the risk of cutting off too much pipe. Rather than having to make difficult bends you can use lengths of corrugated copper pipe. One end of the pipe is plain so that it can be fitted to the 15mm supply pipes with either a soldered capillary or compression fitting; the other end has a swivel tap connector.

Room and some part of the area is not less than 1.75m above the floor’. In other words, a room 3 x 4.5m (10 x 15ft) needs a window about 840mm (33in) square; and the top of the window must always be above head height.

Another point to consider is access. You’ll do well to plan the partition so that you don’t have to put a new doorway in an existing structural wall. It’s far less work and just as effective to include one in the partition.

You must also consider how the ceiling joists run. This is important because you’ll have to fix your partition to them, not just into the ceiling plaster. They’re probably spaced regularly, but you’ll have to find their exact positions by tapping and making small holes, or by removing the floorboards above. If they lie at right angles (or nearly) to the intended line of your partition, there’s no problem. If you want the partition to run in the same direction as the joists, think carefully. You’ll have to position it directly underneath a joist, fit a new joist and fix it to that, or fit 50 x 50mm (2 x 2in) bridging pieces between existing joists at regular intervals and fix the top plate to them. Moreover, an especially long and/or tall partition may be too heavy for the floorboards alone to support — so you’ll have to make similar decisions about the floor joists.

Have a look at the electricity, gas and water supplies, and see that any necessary modifi-cations to these won’t be too difficult to make.

Building a Partition Wall

Building a partition wall gives you two rooms where you only had one before. Surprisingly, you don’t have to be a skilled craftsman.

Here’s how to build a simple framework.

Sometimes, even after the most careful planning and the cleverest space-saving schemes, one room just won’t do all the jobs you want it to do. Perhaps you’ve got a combined kitchen and dining room, but you could really do with one of each. Maybe the house needs a second toilet. Or, try as you may, you can’t squeeze everyone into the available bedrooms.

In any of these situations the answer could be to build a timber-framed partition wall. That may sound daunting, but it’s not. An ordinary partition — even one that stretches from floor to ceiling and right across the room — needs only simple carpentry and easily obtainable materials. You can even incorporate a door, overhead glazing, or a serving hatch without much extra trouble.

Putting together a partition is simplicity itself. One long piece of wood (the ‘head’ or ‘top plate’) is fixed to the ceiling. A second piece (the ‘sole plate’) is fixed to the floor. Uprights run between them; these are the ‘studs’, which is why the structure is usually called a ‘stud partition’. Between the studs run short horizontal spacers called ‘noggins’. That’s the framework, and all you do after building it is to nail sheets of cladding, which are usually plasterboard, to it.

The planning stage

A partition wall will make quite a difference to your house, and it needs to be made properly. Here, as so often, thoughtful planning is the key to success.

Be careful, for example, that you do not accidentally create two narrow, gloomy cupboards. Think about lighting in particular. Only in very small rooms such as toilets can you rely solely on artificial light. Elsewhere, you may be able to ‘borrow’ light through windows in the partition itself. Existing outside windows may take care of the situation — but you should avoid, at all costs, the temptation to site the partition so that one window sheds half its light on each side. It will look terrible, and it’s against the law.

Ventilation needs similar attention. A habitable room must either have a mechanical ventilator, or one or more ventilation openings so constructed that ‘their total area is not less than one twentieth of the floor area of the


Although skew-nailing will make quite a strong framework, there is a slightly more complex and craftsmanlike alternative. This is to use a wide housing joint instead. Mark out the housings across both plates at the same time with a try-square.

And lastly ring the local council. Unless you are converting a house into flats, you don’t need planning permission. But you can’t be too careful where the Building Regulations are concerned, because they deal with things like fire hazards and proper ventilation. The council should be able to tell you whether your plans conform.

When you’ve thought about all this and worked out a likely scheme, it’s a good idea to sketch it out on paper. If there’s a hidden snag, you’ll find it staring at you in black and white, and you can deal with it before it causes any trouble.

Constructional details

Something you’ll need to decide is how far apart the studs should be. Studs set at ‘600mm (2ft) centres’ (I.e., with their centres that distance apart) give what is really the maximum spacing, and 450mm (18in) will make an even more rigid structure.

You should also measure and take into account the sizes of whatever cladding material you’ll be fixing to the wooden framework. Plasterboard, for example, is standardised at 2440 x 1220mm (8 x 4ft) and 3000 x 1220mm (10 x 4ft). You might therefore want to arrange the studs so that there’s one every 1220mm (4ft). Putting them at either 600mm (2ft) or 400mm (16in) centres would ensure this.

The door opening, of course, needs to be wider. Take its size from that of the door you plan to use, plus 3mm (Vein) clearance either side and the thickness of extra ‘lining’ pieces of, say, 100 x 25mm (4 x 1 in) wood, fixed round its inside at top and sides. These should be wide enough to cover the edges of the cladding on both sides of the partition. A window opening should be lined in the same way.

It’s unlikely, of course, that you’ll be able to fit an exact number of whole sheets of cladding from wall to wall or floor to ceiling. So you’ll need to cut some to fit. Besides, the walls and ceiling may not be dead straight or true, so you’ll need to mark and cut the edges of the sheets which adjoin them, to make them fit snugly. Luckily, plasterboard is extremely easy to cut.

Noggins need only be placed 1220mm (4ft) above the floor, and again at 2400mm (8ft) if the ceiling is higher — assuming you’ll be using 2400 x 1200mm (8 x 4ft) sheets.

Starting work

First, of course, you’ll need to buy your timber. This is made easy by the fact that all the pieces (except for door and window linings, which are added later anyway) are the same cross-sectional size. This can be as massive as 100 x 50mm (4 x 2in), but 75 x 50mm (3 x 2in) is quite big enough for most purposes, and 75 x 38mm (3 x 1 Vain) will sometimes do for the top and sole plates. Buy ordinary softwood: it needn’t even be planed smooth — just sawn.

Next, you should cut away the existing skirting board and cut or chip away the ceiling moulding, if any, so that the corners of the framework will fit closely into the angles between wall and floor wall and ceiling. Doing this will help to make the structure rigid and secure. However, for a light partition it’s often omitted. (You need only cut away to fit the partition round skirting and moulding.)

Then cut the sole and top plates to length. (Keep each as a single piece of timber if at all possible.) Screw the top plate to the ceiling joist or joists, and use a plumbline to position the sole plate directly underneath it. Then nail or screw the sole plate through the floorboards and into the floor joist(s), or screw into a solid floor with the aid of fibre or plastic plugs.

Adding the studs

Now you can start on the studs. You’ll have to measure separately for the length of each one, in case floor and ceiling aren’t quite parallel. Skew-nailing is a perfectly adequate way of fixing them for most purposes. You can also buy specially shaped metal connectors which you just nail into place. For an exceptionally sturdy job, cut housings across the plates with a tenon saw and chisel, and simply fit the ends of the studs into them.

The last stage in building the framework is to cut and fix the noggins. Skew-nailing is, once again, the usual way of attaching them. They make better braces if you stagger them slightly, positioning them alternately higher and lower. But if you’re going to fix the edges of the cladding to them, they’ll have to be in a straight line. Either way, be careful not to make them too long. If you do, you’ll probably still be able to squeeze them into position, but they’ll bend the studs out of true.

The lintel (the noggin above the door opening) should be housed in the studs at each side for stability. If you are mounting cupboards on the wall, you may find it helpful to fix bearers for them in the same way. ‘ Next, screw the door lining to its frame; the top piece is fitted to the side pieces with either rebate or barefaced housing joints.

Pipes and cables

The final job before putting on the cladding (though you can do it after cladding one side) is to bore holes in studs and perhaps noggins, and run any essential pipes and cables through them. At the same time remember to nail or screw on blocks on which to mount light switches, power points and other electrical accessories that will be needed.


– To help you align the sole plate, you can nail the end in position before moving the other end round to centre it under the plumbline.

– You’ll need at least No 10 screws for fixing to walls and ceiling; that means a 2mm (5/e4in) diameter pilot hole, and a 5mm (3/i6in) clearance hole through the timber.

• Watch out for irregular joist arrangements, e.g. in alcoves.

– Studs should always be cut slightly too long, for a really tight fit; you should have to knock them in. But noggins should be just right — any less and they’ll be loose; any more and they’ll push the studs out of true.

– Door and window linings are made of planed timber, fitted together with rebate or barefaced housing joints, and just wide enough to cover the edges of the cladding either side. The lining is screwed to the framework. You can subsequently fit doorstop or glazing beading to its faces, and architrave mouldings over its edges to cover the join with the cladding.

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