Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

head_left_image

How to prevent your outside faucets from freezing

Most homeowners who live in cold climates know it's important to 'winterize' the outside faucets to prevent them from freezing, which can destroy the faucet or lead to a burst pipe.  The problem is that many people don't quite get it right - winterizing the outside faucets in the fall seems like a simple thing to do, and it seems like it should be straightforward and easy, but there are a few tricks you need to know to make sure all the water is out.

Garden hoses - First and foremost, disconnect your garden hose from the outside faucet.  If you leave your garden hose attached to the faucet, you're asking for trouble.

Frost-free sillcocks with an integral vacuum breaker  If you have a properly installed frost-free sillcock with an integral vacuum breaker, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.  You should be able to leave the water on to these faucets all year 'round without them freezing.  A properly installed frost-free sillcock will have a slight downward pitch, so that when the water is turned off, the water will all drain out of the stem.

Properly installed frost-free sillcock

When frost-free sillcocks aren't installed with this downward pitch, water will sit inside the stem of the sillcock even when it's turned off.  The pitch is a little dramatic in the photo below, but you get the point.

Improperly installed frost-free sillcock

If this water freezes, it can burst the stem of the sillcock.  Most homeowners don't know this has happened until the first time they use their faucet in the spring.  Once they turn their faucet on, water starts shooting out of the burst stem inside the house, making a big mess while nobody is inside the house to see it.  This recently happened to Connecticut home inspector James Quarello while he was inspecting a home.  Better him than me, I say.

The fix for an improperly installed frost-free sillcock is to have it re-installed with a slight downward pitch.

Winterizing standard sillcocks  With a standard sillcock, the water needs to be turned off and drained out to prevent freeze damage.  To do this, you'll need to first turn off the water supply to the faucet from inside the house.  Exterior faucets should have a separate shutoff valve inside the house, but not all of them do.  On older homes, these valves are typically located at the ceiling somewhere close to the outside faucet.  On newer homes, the valves are typically located right next to the main water valve, and they're also usually labeled.

Shut off valve labeled

Once the water is turned off inside the house, the outside faucet needs to be opened up.  Next, the bleeder cap inside the house needs to be unscrewed - this will allow water to drain out of the pipes.  Depending on how the pipe is pitched, the water may drain through the bleeder cap or through the outside faucet.  Keep a small bucket handy when you do this, just in case a lot of water needs to drain out of the bleeder.  After the water drains out, you can screw the bleeder cap back on and turn off the outside faucet.

Sometimes, two wrongs really do make a right  Some older houses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul don't have a shutoff valve for the outside faucet, and the faucets never get winterized... yet they never have a problem with freezing.  How can this be?

Here's a hint:

No insulation at rim joist

On older houses with no insulation at the rim space, there can be so much heat loss occurring here that the outside faucets never get cold enough to freeze.  I call this "two wrongs making a right."  It's certainly not a reliable method of preventing freeze damage, but it does seem to work.

Vacuum Breaker 1011Vacuum breakers complicate things  The problem with external vacuum breakers (aka backflow preventers) is that they don't allow all of the water to drain out.  After the water is turned off and appears to have drained out, the rubber seal in the vacuum breaker will still trap enough water to destroy the vacuum breaker, which will cause water to spray out all over the place when the faucet is used again in the spring.

There are two possible solutions: remove the vacuum breaker in the fall, or drain the water out of the vacuum breaker.  If the vacuum breaker will just unscrew from the sillcock, go ahead and take it off in the fall.  The problem with this is that vacuum breakers are often designed to be permanently installed.  They have a little set-screw on the side that gets tightened down until it breaks off, making it so the vacuum breaker can't be removed.  If your vacuum breaker leaks every time you turn on your faucet and you need to replace it, there is still a way to remove it without destroying your faucet - I made a video showing how to do it.

If the vacuum breaker can't be removed or you don't want to hassle with removing it, no problem;  there is still a way to drain the rest of the water out.  If you look up inside the vacuum breaker, you'll notice that there is a small white plastic post.  Just push this post to the side, and the rest of the water will drain out.  The video below shows how this works.

If the vacuum breaker doesn't have that white post, it may have a plastic ring that will allow it to drain.

 

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 56 commentsReuben Saltzman • January 17 2012 06:18AM

Comments

Great tips - thanks for such a useful post!

Posted by Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl, The Last Names You'll Ever Need in Real Estate (Samsel & Associates) over 6 years ago

Wayne & Jean - thanks.  I'll be including a link to this post in most of my home inspection reports from now on.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

The pitch is the reason these sometimes fail.  I put the winterizing comment on every single inspection report.

This is a fabulous explanation of how to winterize.  Great job Reubs!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Thanks, Jay.  I used to include a diagram of the frost-free vs. standard sillcocks in my reports, along with a reminder to winterize the faucets and some basic instructions, but now I can make it a little simpler with just a link.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Interesting post with lots of information. Thanks for the post. Have a great day.

Posted by K.C. McLaughlin, Realtor, e-PRO, Homes for Sale - Cary, Raleigh NC (RE/MAX United) over 6 years ago

Rueben.  Excellent instructions.  You can imagine how cold it is here today - unbelievable - and still owners forget to winterize their faucets.  Sigh.

Posted by Valerie Zinger, Home Organizer (House Proud Ottawa-Ontario-Canada) over 6 years ago

Rueben - Great post!  I live in Texas, we don't see the extremes as our neighbors up north.  But when we receive the occasional cold spell, it's good to have this info.

Posted by Ron Cooks, Texas Real Estate, Ft Hood/Killeen Homes for Sale (The Real Estate Marketplace) over 6 years ago

WOW Reuben, I've gone through this many times on old & rehabbed houses & this is so easy to follow...even I get it.  Didn't know about the little white post inside the faucet...thanks

Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) over 6 years ago

Hi Reuben,

The manufactured housing industy is the only housing industry that requires a "frost free faucet" on all homes manufactured.

The rest of the building world needs to catch up on this concept.

Very, very good post.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 6 years ago

K.C. - thanks, you too.

Valerie - according to my sources, right now you have it 4 degrees warmer than us in Minnesota ;)

Ron - Do you guys even have frost-free sillcocks down there?

Ginny - I just learned about that little white post myself.  I was excited to share the info.

Clint - no kidding?  I didn't know this was a requirement for manufactured housing.  Good info.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Good morning Reuben, congratulations on your FEATURED post. Thanks for sharing your valuable information helping homeowners to know how to "winterize" the outside faucets.

Posted by Kwee Huset, Venice Florida Homes For Sale (Kwee Huset Realty) over 6 years ago

Excellent post Reuben.  I wish you had posted it six weeks ago.  This one is a keeper.

Posted by Howard and Susan Meyers (The Hudson Company Winnetka and North Shore) over 6 years ago

Thanks for the tip.  I never herd of a frost free faucet until now.

Posted by Keith Lawrence, ABR, CDPE, SFR, 203K Specialist (RE/MAX Properties) over 6 years ago

Reuben, some great tips here and a great reminder. Thanks.

 

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 6 years ago

Great post and I really appreciate the attention to detail you bring to your professional.  It's great to have experts like yourself involved on Active Rain.

Posted by Rob Spinosa, Vice President of Mortgage Lending, Marin County (Guaranteed Rate, Marin County, CA) over 6 years ago

WOW Reuben, what a great information. We do have big issue with winterization in our area. And it typically shows up when we are ready to sell homes in spring market.

Posted by Ritu Desai, Virginia Realtor-Fairfax/Loudoun/PW-703-625-4949 (Samson Properties) over 6 years ago

I just love it when inspectors strut their stuff...It reminds me of when I was in college taking courses and learning while having fun too. ActiveRain makes it fun and Reuben gives the education part...thank you R

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 6 years ago

Thanks for the post today, I love to get tipw on things like this.  

 

Happy New Year!

Patricia Aulson/ Seacoast NH & ME REALTOR

Posted by Patricia Aulson, Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes (BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY HOME SERVICES Verani Realty NH Real Estate ) over 6 years ago

Fantastic information Reuben. And timely too for us here in Northern California as we have experienced temps well below freezing the last few nights.

Posted by Doug Anderson, Bay Area Real Estate Views (Tucker Associates Real Estate Services) over 6 years ago

I grew up in an area where pipe bursting or freezing was normal back in the day.  Now in a milder climate I still do some winterizing but not as extensive as this.  You have given a great tutorial I would sure follow if I was in a harsh winter climate again!

Posted by Jo Olson, HOMEFRONT Realty @ LAKE Roosevelt - Stevens County (HOMEFRONT Realty) over 6 years ago

I am wondering if this is a good argument for using only the type where the vacuum breaker is on the top?  Even when completely drained---would not the tinest of leaks at the valve refill the vacuum breaker?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Glad I could provide you with a little blog fodder :) Actually the way I saw that little water episode, I discovered a problem for my client. I was in no way responsible for what happened. They should have removed their hoses from the faucets. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Reuben:

Good information.  We very rarely have freezes here, but the few times we do, we need this information.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Alain Pinel Realtors) over 6 years ago

Reuben, this is another area that many homeowners ignore or simply do not know proper maintenance.  Thank you for your good explanation and tips.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 6 years ago

Kwee - thanks.

Howard - I'll post it again in 46 weeks :)

Keith - they're great, as long as they're installed properly.

Michael - thank you.

Rob - back atcha. 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Ritu - yeah, that's when everyone turns's em back on a finds out they're broken.

Richie - as always, thank you :)

Patricia - thanks.

Doug - you guys should be fine even if you don't winterize your faucets.  28 degrees?  No big deal :)

Jo - I'm jealous. 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Charles - Sure... but if you ask me, even the tinest of leaks are unacceptable.  You're right though, the integral vacuum breakers are certainly superior.

James - I totally agree with you, you just discovered a problem.  But still... better you than me :)

Evelyn - your houses out there probably leak enough heat to make it so nothing ever freezes.

Chris - my pleasure :) 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Great info.  Most people have no idea that they need to take care of these outside faucts.

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) over 6 years ago

Thanks for putting all of the pictures to go along with this post, Reuben. Living in Colorado we certainly get our share of burst pipes, especially since it was almost sixty yesterday and last night got down to around four degrees. Many neighborhoods put up signs to remind people to turn off and winterize outside as well as in, in case the power goes out. 

Posted by Tara Skinner at Keller Williams Advantage Realty, - Connect with us! (Keller Williams Advantage Realty) over 6 years ago

This is a very detailed and informative post, Reuben! The videos are the best! Thanks for taking the time to post this!

Posted by Peggy Chirico, REALTOR® 860-748-8900, Hartford & Tolland County Real Estate (Prudential CT Realty) over 6 years ago

Very good tips. I can't believe how many people don't disconnect thier hoses in the winter and are surpriesed to heat they should.

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 6 years ago

Reuben,

Thanks for the heads up on this. I never heard of this before. Too late for this year but next year I'll try it.

Brian

Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) over 6 years ago
Great advice and excellent plumbing-tech advice. The world has changed a bit since I was a plumber's helper back in the 60's. Best way to avoid pipe freeze? Live in the South. Some day, I will be a snow bird! Maryland isn't too bad, but I do have to protect the pipes. Thanks!
Posted by Curt Hess, Luxury Home Consultant, Team Leader & CEO (ExecuHome Realty) over 6 years ago

Reuben,

Selling real estate in an area that can start freezing in late September and 90% of our residents being seasonal homeowners, we run in to this problem EVERY year.

Hope you don't mind if I send your blog to every one of our homeowners...

 

A great explanation and illustration!

Posted by John Dotson, The experience to get you to the other side! (Preferred Properties of Highlands, Inc. - Highlands, NC) over 6 years ago

The post was informative, the presentation outstanding! Congratulations.

Posted by Marshall Brown, BSEE, CHI (Mid America Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Hi Reuben

absolutely bookmark this post for future reference

great tips ther are

thanks

Posted by Anonymous over 6 years ago

Hi Reuben

absolutely bookmark this post for future reference

great tips ther are

thanks

 
 
Posted by Jimmy Phan, Phan real estate group in hickory (KELLER WILLIAMS REALTY IN MOORESVILLES, NC) over 6 years ago
Thanks for the great information. This will come in handy.
Posted by Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com, When first impressions count... (HouseTie.com) over 6 years ago

keep them coming - great information

Posted by Dale Taylor, Realtor = Chicago Illinois Homes Townhomes Condos (Re/Max 10 New Lenox Illinois) over 6 years ago

Thanks for the info.  This type of frost-free was new to me as well.

Posted by Warren Moore, CRS, GRI (Warren Moore Real Estate) over 6 years ago

Thank you, Reuben.  That was very helpful.

Posted by Raymond Denton, Simple Man (Academy Mortgage Corporation) over 6 years ago

Great tip! Not as big of an issue in CA but yesterday we did have cold front blow in. Thanks for the education.

Posted by Elisa Uribe Realtor #01427070, California Homes for Sale in the East Bay (Golden Gate Sotheby's International) over 6 years ago

Excellent, timely post! I wish more homeowners understood how it works. The majority of HUD home listings in our market have been abandoned and sit through the winter, so most all of them fail a pressure test. 

Posted by Darla Zimmerman-Pilant (Exit Real Estate) over 6 years ago

Another good way is to move to Southern California where we dont have those kind of issues

www.MarleneDietrichNewportCoastRealtor.com

Marlene Dietrich, Tony & Mike

Posted by Marlene Dietrich, Neighborhood Real Estate Specialist (Marlene Dietrich Real Estate) over 6 years ago

Very informative, thanks for the lessons.

Posted by Kimo Jarrett, Pro Lifestyle Solutions (WikiWiki Realty) over 6 years ago

I got a better solution, move to South Florida. Helpful post Reuben for the snow birds.

Posted by Winston Heverly, GRI, ABR, SFR, CDPE, CIAS, PA (Winston Realty, Inc.) over 6 years ago

There is an easier way.  Sell your home and move to Brentwood Ca and let me help you buy a home where it rarely gets to freezing.  :)  

Good post.  I am glad I do not live in the cold.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) over 6 years ago

This is very helpful, especially for those who are moving to an area that they have never been in.

Posted by Neil Tinajero (Re/Max Masters) over 6 years ago

Thanks for reading, everyone!  As for all of the suggestions of moving to different climate... solid advice :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

So that's what happened to that faucet 20 years ago.  Thanks for enlightening me!

Posted by Woody Edwards, A Realtor® Who Answers His Phone! (First Choice Realty, Inc) over 6 years ago

Way over my head (tee hee) but I've bookmarked to share with my hubby & send to my clients as our winter freeze creeps up on us! THANKS!

Posted by Samantha Smith, Sam I Am Houses, d+b Real Estate, Lake Ray Hubbard (214.422.0729 www.SamIAmHouses.com) over 6 years ago

Hi Reuben, excellent post.  You could also move to Ocala, Fl and not worry about freezes! lol

Posted by Bob Miller, The Ocala Dream Team (Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty) over 6 years ago
Very helpful information and I loved the simple how-to videos! This is great information almost everyone can use!
Posted by Sylvie Stuart, Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagsta (Realty One Group Mountain Desert 928-600-2765) over 6 years ago

I'm so grateful to live in sunny Corona, Ca. We freeze very infrequently!

Posted by Liane Thomas -Top Listing Agent, Bringing you Home! (BROKER Allison James Estates & Homes BRE 01885684) over 6 years ago

good information ... I doubt that I will ever need it in CA but ho knows

Posted by Lehel Szucs, REALTOR of choice (All Seasons Real Estate, Inc.) over 6 years ago

I for one have left my hose attached to my faucet all year long on more than one occasion, so I found this post very helpful in explaining a few things.  

I own an Antique Victorian home from 1875, so I’m not surprised all to hear that there’s no 'insulation at the rim space' around my house (my first clue was the occasional drafts) which means my interior heat loss has possibly prevented my outside faucet from freezing - wonderful :[  Then there’s the bath I get every Spring when I go to use my hose for the 1st time... now at least I know it’s because even though I shut the water off in the winter there was just enough water left in the vacuum breaker to ruin it and cause water to spray out all over me – ha ha ha :(


Another thing I gathered from this post was... I do not make a good Maintenance Man (lol)  

Posted by Bobi over 6 years ago

Participate