Why Is The Cold Water Faucet Not Working?

It can be annoying when you only have hot water but no cold water coming out of a faucet. It’s easy to tell what the issue is when hot water fails since it’s more than likely the water heater but when it comes to cold water, it’s not so simple. Whether it's a kitchen faucet, shower faucet or other faucets, there are a few possible reasons why the cold water might not be working and some are more easy to fix than others. If you have trouble getting cold water coming out of your faucet, here are some reasons and steps you can follow to get it fixed up and running properly.

no cold water

Cold Water Pipe Burst

When the cold water faucet doesn't work, the biggest concern is that the cold water pipe might have burst. First, locate your main water shutoff valve. In a basement it’s on the street side of the home and usually waist-down on the foundation wall.  If you don’t have a basement, there might be an access panel in the garage or by your water heater.  Find the water meter and look at its face — it looks like an analog clock. If the dial is spinning, that means water is going through it, and you should shut it off until you can figure things out. Broken water pipes can completely stop all water from coming out of the faucet.

Why would a pipe burst? Freezing is one of the most common reasons, and often the frozen pipe doesn’t burst until the weather warms up and it starts to thaw out.  When you have frozen pipes, it’s typically due to insufficient heat in the home or poor insulation.  The heat should not fall below 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to prevent freezing. It’s worth calling an insulation company to find out where you lack insulation and how to fix the problem.  

If you have a burst pipe, shut the main water shutoff valve off, try to locate the source of the burst, and call a plumber immediately. If you have a burst, but the weather isn’t cold, it might be the cold water line or pipe that reached the end of its life, defective fitting, or a nail hammered into a pipe. It can also cause low water pressure in other areas of your home, like the bathroom

Water Valve Is Turned Off

If you're water pipes are in good condition, then perhaps a cold water valve has been turned off.  If you live in a multi-unit building, plumbing work might be occurring. Check with your building management and neighbors to make sure that isn’t the issue.  Ball valves look like a level, and when they run parallel to the pipe, they’re on.  If they’re perpendicular, they’re off.  Older type valves called gate valves are prevalent, and the handle looks like a ferris wheel. Gate valves turn clockwise to turn off and counterclockwise turn them on.  

Someone or you might have accidentally turned off the valve by mistake. Check under the sink for a pair of stops in case someone turned them off inadvertently. Run them back and forth, on and off, and see if that does anything since it might just be a stop that’s failing. It's also worth checking if you have any plumbing leaks around the area.

Defective Cartridge Or Stem

If everything looks in good order, it can be the fixture itself. Check your other sinks and faucets for cold water. If cold water works in other places, you’ve got a local issue with the fixture in question. A fixture that runs hot but not cold is typically due to a defective cartridge or a stem that needs repairing.

faucet cartridge

Older faucets had stems that twisted in and out of the way of the water, and sometimes the stem itself would snap, or the seat that it sits on could be loose or damaged. This can cause both the cold water or hot water to stop working. Modern faucets use a cartridge that is quarter-turn, similar to the four quadrants of the BMW logo, and when the cartridge rotates 90 degrees, it allows water through. When you rotate it back, it shuts off the flow. 

Cartridges are not repaired but replaced, and stems are most often rebuilt. Take photos of your faucet and go to a plumbing supplier to help you find the parts you need. If you know your faucet’s brand or manufacturer, they can help you find the parts faster!

Before removing anything, get latex or nitrile gloves, plumber’s grease, and hand tools like a handle puller, an Allen-Key set, a Crescent Wrench, and a 6-in-1 screwdriver, as well as a tube of clear caulking. Before touching anything, make sure that the main water supply is completely shut off.

Once you have the water off, drain the lines by opening all the taps in the home — no need to flush the toilets.  Put a cap or rag over the drain, so you don’t lose any screws down it!  Most faucet handles have a small Allen-key screw holding the handle to the stem, find it and loosen it.  Some brands conceal the screw with a small cap, which you can usually use a fingernail to pop off the faucet and reveal the screw.  

Once you have the screw out, pull the handle and use the handle puller if needed.  Have a rag handy to set these items down on.  Then use a crescent wrench to unscrew the bonnet nut, and usually after this, the stem or cartridge can be pulled right out.  Sometimes it is best to take progress photos to remember how things came apart.  Lightly grease the new parts, and reinstall them in the reverse order.

Once you are in good shape, turn the water back on, and voila — you’re in business!  If your water supply is a good distance from the fixture you’re working on, have someone on the other end with a phone in case anything leaks. If that still doesn't fix it, it's a good idea to call a plumber. 

About the author 

Joseph Wood is the founder and president of Boston Standard Company. He was trained vocationally and also holds a college degree in telecommunications. He brought this hybrid experience to creating a dynamic plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical company in the heart of Boston. The business has grown to be the leading residential plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical company based in the City of Boston.

Holding Master Plumbing, Gasfitting & Pipefitting licenses, Joseph Wood started his Dorchester-based business, Boston Standard Company in the midst of The Great Recession of 2008. Boston Standard has received Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston Award and the Boston Globe named Joseph and Laura Wood as Hometown Heroes in 2021 for their professional and philanthropic efforts.

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