Worrying about outdoor spigots freezing every winter is something that most homeowners can relate to. But this doesn't have to be such a perennial problem. If you take the time to winterize an outdoor faucet (also called a hose bib or sillcock), chances are you'll never have a problem with freezing. You can also go a step further and replace a standard faucet with a frost-proof (also called freezeproof or frost-free) faucet. A frost-proof faucet provides better protection against freezing and eliminates the need to winterize the faucet—other than removing the hose.
Winterizing a Standard Spigot
Preventing a standard (not frost-proof) spigot from freezing requires a shutoff valve on the supply pipe leading to the faucet. Many older homes have these in place. If you have a standard spigot but not shutoff valve, your best bet is to replace the spigot with a frost-proof faucet (see section below).
- Remove the hose from the outdoor spigot, if there is a hose connected.
- Locate the shutoff valve on the water supply pipe leading to the outdoor spigot. Usually, these are located several feet from the outside wall.
- Turn the handle on the shutoff valve clockwise until it stops. If the valve has a lever-type handle, turn the lever so it is perpendicular to the pipe.
- Open the outdoor spigot all the way and let all residual water drain out of the pipe. If the water trickles and never fully stops, the shutoff valve is faulty and must be replaced. Close the spigot valve.
- Hold a small bucket under the shutoff valve and remove the bleeder cap on the shutoff valve, if applicable. You may need pliers to loosen the cap. Let all residual water in the line drain into the bucket. Reinstall the bleeder cap, and tighten it snugly.
- Add an insulated faucet sock or faucet cover to the faucet, if desired. Faucet socks can trap a small amount of heat radiating along the pipe from indoors, but they don't keep the faucet significantly warmer because they don't create any heat. However, they can provide a modest level of extra protection from freezing.
Installing a Frost-Proof Faucet
The surest way to prevent your outside faucet from freezing is to replace your exterior faucet with a frost-proof sill-cock. These faucets feature "remote control" of the water supply faucet valve located inside the home, which then allows water to flow to the exterior faucet spout. The faucet head is attached to a long tube usually 6 to 20 inches in length. At the end of this tube is a fitting for connecting a threaded, soldered, PEX, or push-in connection to the water supply line.
The exterior faucet handle of the faucet turns a long rod inside this tube, which is connected to a disc, compression, or cartridge faucet valve located 6 to 20 inches away (depending on the tube length). The faucet valve is located inside the tube just before the connector fitting. With this design, the faucet valve and water supply pipe are always kept remote from the cold faucet head, unlike standard sill-cocks where the water supply valve is in the head of the exterior faucet on the outside of the house.
The easiest way to install a frost-proof faucet is to use a faucet with a built-in push-in fitting (SharkBite is one brand of these faucets). This type of faucet requires no soldering, and the pipe does not need to be threaded.
Turn Off the Water to the Supply Pipe Leading to the Outdoor Spigot
If the pipe does not have its own shutoff valve, you must turn off the water to the entire house, using the home's main shutoff valve.
Open the Outdoor Spigot
Drain the remaining water from the supply pipe.
Remove the Outdoor Faucet Spout
Start by removing any mounting screws, then turning the spot counterclockwise to remove it from the end of the pipe.
Measure From the Outside Surface of the Wall
(Where the new faucet flange will rest) and mark the pipe indoors, following the faucet manufacturer's instructions. Push-in fittings usually need 1 inch of extra pipe length for inserting into the fitting.
Cut the Pipe
Use a tubing cutter (for copper pipe) or a hacksaw (for galvanized steel or PVC pipe. Remove and discard the cut-off section of pipe.
Debur the Pipe
Debur the inside and outside of the cut end of the pipe with sandpaper or emery cloth. Make sure the outside of the pipe is clean and smooth.
Mark the Pipe
Mark the end of the pipe at the push-in distance specified by the manufacturer (usually about 1 inch from the cut end).
Insert the Frost-Proof Faucet
Insert the frost-proof faucet through the wall from the outside and position the spout so it is right-side-up. Go inside and push the faucet's fitting end straight onto the pipe, pushing as far as the fitting will go. It should reach the push-in mark on the pipe, indicating the pipe is fully inserted into the fitting.
Secure the Faucet Flange
Secure the faucet flange to the outside wall surface with corrosion-resistant screws.
Open the Valve on the Faucet
Open the valve on the faucet, then turn the water back on at the shutoff valve. Close the faucet valve. Confirm that the faucet works properly and there is no leaking at the faucet connection.
Caulk around the flange with exterior caulk to seal the joint between the flange and the wall.