The recent winter weather has reminded me about the many things that can happen to your home if you’re not prepared to deal with the consequences of sustained temperatures below freezing. Specifically, I would like to discuss exterior faucets. Unfortunately, I’m quite familiar with this problem, as I recently discovered that one of mine fell victim to the harshness of winter.
While you may refer to them as spigots, or hose bibs they are all considered to be exterior faucets. Regardless what you prefer to call them, there are two main types; frost- proof and standard non frost- proof. The frost proof hose bib is designed so that the water shut off valve is located on a stem, usually 6 to 12 inches long, inside of the home (crawl space or basement). This simple feature keeps the valve body away from freezing exterior temperatures. Buying the right faucet is only part of the solution. It must be installed properly and hoses must be un-attached during freezing weather. Both of these conditions alleviate the possibility of trapping water that can freeze and expand thus bursting the faucet. I fell victim to the former, as my faucet was improperly installed without a slight pitch towards the nozzle as is recommended by the manufacturer. Leaving a hose attached has the same affect, as water begins to freeze it expands and builds up pressure that will eventually relieve itself by bursting the copper stem on the faucet. You can easily determine what type you have by looking up inside the spout. On a frost-proof faucet, all you’ll be able to see is a metal stem. On a faucet that isn’t frost- proof, you’ll be able to see the valve components open and close when the handle is turned.
If you have a standard non frost-proof faucet the following procedures will be helpful to properly winterize and protect against bursting. First, the water supply to the faucet needs to be turned off and the faucet drained. Exterior faucets should have a shut off valve inside of the house (crawlspace or basement) but far too often this is not the case. These can be located anywhere but are usually near the main water shut off valve at or near the water heater or directly in front of the branch that supplies the faucet. If you don’t have one it’s very easy to install, everything you need is available at most home improvement stores and videos are everywhere online. Once the water supply from inside the house is turned off, go outside and open the faucet valve to drain any remaining water. Keep in mind here you may have a bleeder valve on the inside valve assembly. It looks like a little screw cap like a valve stem on a car wheel. Unscrew the cap to fully drain the line if so equipped and replace when finished. Don’t forget to shut the faucet valve from outside.
While I hope this helps to prevent any damage to your home or at least helps explain what happens when you discover your exterior faucet doesn’t work properly. I must warn any homeowner to check under their house when using their exterior faucet for the first time since fall and look for leaks. Sometimes it is not obvious that the faucet is not working properly until it’s too late and the crawlspace and/or basement is flooded.