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 have a standard spigot, there are simple winterizing steps you can take that make it unlikely you'll have a problem with freezing. You can also go a step further and replace a standard faucet with a frost-proof faucet.
What Is a Frost-Proof Faucet?
A frost-proof (also called "freezeproof" or "frost-free") faucet provides better protection against freezing and eliminates the need to winterize the faucet—other than removing the hose.
Keep reading for two ways to prevent your outdoor spigots from freezing during the wintertime.
Equipment / Tools
Winterizing a Standard Spigot
- Channel-lock pliers (if needed)
Installing a Frost-Proof Faucet
- Channel-lock pliers
- Tape measure
- Tubing cutter or hacksaw
- Caulk gun
Winterizing a Standard Spigot
- Insulated faucet cover
Installing a Frost-Proof Faucet
- Frost-proof faucet with push-fit connector
- Sandpaper or emery cloth
- Corrosion-resistant screws (if needed)
- Exterior caulk
How to Winterize a Standard Spigot
Remove the Hose
If there is still a garden hose connected to the outdoor faucet, remove it from the spigot, drain any residual water in the hose, coil it up, and store it in a dry location.
Shut off the Water
Locate the control valve on the water supply pipe leading to the outdoor spigot. If you have metal water pipes, this is usually a brass ball valve located several feet from the outside wall. Turn the handle on the control valve clockwise until it stops. If the valve has a lever-type handle, turn the lever so it is perpendicular to the pipe.
As you can see, preventing a standard (not frost-proof) spigot from freezing requires a shutoff valve on the supply pipe leading to the faucet. If your spigot does not have this kind of shutoff valve, it's best to install one to simplify annual winterizing tasks.
Drain the Spigot
Fully open the outdoor spigot and let all residual water drain out of the pipe. If the water trickles and never fully stops, the indoor shutoff valve is faulty and must be replaced. Close the spigot valve.
Hold a bucket under the shutoff valve and remove the bleeder cap on the valve, if it is equipped with one. 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.
Install an Insulated Faucet Cover
Add an insulated faucet sock or faucet cover to the faucet, if desired. Although these covers don't create any heat of their own, they do trap a small amount of heat radiating from the house, and this is usually enough to prevent the faucet from freezing and bursting—especially if you have also followed the recommended steps for draining the pipes.
How to Install a Frost-Proof Faucet
The surest way to prevent an outside faucet from freezing is to replace a standard faucet with a frost-proof one known as a sill-cock. These faucets are controlled with a long rod that extends into the home, where a cartridge or compression valve controls the flow of water. Since the valve itself is located within the safe warmth of the home, it is almost impossible for it to freeze.
A frost-proof faucet is a 6- to 20-inch unit with a hose spigot and control handle at one end and a connector on the other end of the tube for attaching to the indoor water pipe. As a further safety measure, these faucets are designed to be self-draining; when you shut off the faucet handle, any residual water in the long stem will drain out of the tube.
These faucets can be attached to the plumbing pipe with a compression, soldered, PEX, or push-fit connection. For most people, it's best to buy a faucet with a push-fit style of connector, such as the SharkBite brand. This will be the easiest install, as it requires no soldering and can be used with any type of water supply pipe.
If you have trouble finding a frost-proof faucet with a push-fit connector, you can use a standard threaded type, and then use a female threaded-to-push-fit transition fitting to join it to the water pipe. If you have PEX tubing in your home, there are also frost-free faucets that are fitted with PEX-type connectors.
Shut Off and Drain the Water
Turn off the water to the supply pipe leading to the outdoor spigot. If the water pipe does not have its own control valve, you must turn off the water to the entire house, using the home's main shutoff valve.
Open the outdoor spigot and drain the remaining water from the supply pipe.
Remove the Old Spigot
To remove the outdoor faucet spout, start by removing any mounting screws, then turning the spout counterclockwise to unscrew it from the end of the pipe. You may need to use a pair of channel-lock pliers to twist the faucet spout.
Measure for the New Faucet
Follow the instructions for the frost-free faucet to measure and mark the water supply pipe for cutting. You will need to measure from the outside surface of the wall, where the faucet flange will rest, and continue indoors along the water pipe to the point where the faucet stem will connect to the water pipe. Push-fit plumbing fittings usually require 1 extra inch of length for inserting the pipe into the fitting.
Prepare the Water Supply Pipe
Because of the long valve stem on a frost-proof faucet, it is usually necessary to cut the water supply pipe where the tube of the faucet will connect to it. Use a tubing cutter (for copper pipe), a hacksaw (for galvanized steel or PVC pipe), or a PEX tubing cutter for PEX pipe. Remove and discard the cut-off section of pipe running to the outside of the house.
Debur the inside and outside of the cut end of the water supply pipe with sandpaper or emery cloth. Make sure the outside of the pipe is clean and smooth so it can accept the connection fitting on the new frost-proof faucet.
Mark the end of the pipe at the push-in distance specified by the manufacturer (usually about 1 inch from the cut end of the pipe).
Attach 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.
If you are using a standard threaded-type faucet, screw on the push-fit transition fitting to the faucet's tube first, before attaching it to the water pipe.
From the outside of the house, secure the faucet flange to the wall surface using corrosion-resistant screws, which are usually provided with the faucet.
Test the Faucet
Open the valve on the faucet, then turn the water back on at the shutoff valve and allow water to run freely out of the faucet spigot. Open and close the faucet spigot several times to confirm that it is working properly and that there is no leaking where the faucet tube connects to the water pipe.
When satisfied that the faucet works correctly, seal the joint between the faucet flange and the house wall with exterior caulk.