How to Keep Outdoor Faucets From Freezing

Thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit is the magic temperature that puts your faucets at risk. If you and your pipes and faucets are not ready when the cold weather hits, you could end up paying the plumber a lot of money to fix the water damage. Here’s how to keep your outdoor faucets from freezing in the winter.

The Science

A burst pipe can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Credit: Thomwsulcer, CC by SA 3.0

First, let’s go back to middle school science class to understand what happens to your faucet when water freezes. Not only do freezing temperatures make the metal in your faucet more brittle, but it also changes the water too. Scientists at the International Association for the Properties of Water and Steam are the expert on what happens to water in different conditions. They explain that as water begins to cool, like most liquids, it shrinks. But when the temperature drops below freezing, that changes. “When liquid water is cooled, it contracts like one would expect until a temperature of approximately 4 degrees Celsius is reached. After that, it expands slightly until it reaches the freezing point, and then when it freezes, it expands by approximately 9%,” says the IAPWS. It’s like your water pressure on steroids.  That 9% expansion is bad news for your outside faucet, and that’s why winterizing is necessary. 

Freeze Prevention

There are two to-do lists here. 

If you live in a cold part of the country, such as New England or the Upper Midwest, you’ll want to follow both lists. 

If you live in a warmer part of the country, like Texas or Florida, you’ll need to follow only the second list because your exterior faucet will only be at risk for days, or at most, weeks, during the cold months. 

If you’re in Miami or Honolulu, you can go back to the pool and stop reading.

People in warmer areas probably need access to your faucet and water supply sooner than folks who live in the deep freeze. But be careful, many cities and counties have watering restrictions in place year-round).

7 Steps to Prevent Faucets From Freezing (Very Cold Weather Edition)

  1. Disconnect garden hoses or faucet attachments. 
  2. Find the main water shutoff valve(s). It usually has a long, flat handle, and is found in the basement or where the main water line enters the house. If you’re lucky you have a separate valve for outside spigots and a sillcock that allows outside water to drain.
  3. Shut the water off by turning the outside spigot (or main valve if a separate one is absent) clockwise.
  4. Go outside, and turn the spigot or sillcock to drain whatever water is left. Go back inside and remove the caps from the pipes leading to the faucets to drain the remaining water from the pipes. Replace the caps.
  5. Go outside and shut off the outdoor spigot. 
  6. Turn off and drain all sprinkler systems. Blow out the remaining water in the lines to prevent them from freezing.
  7. (If you shut off the main valve) Turn the water back on in the house.

6 Steps to Prevent Faucets from Freezing (Usually Mild Weather Edition) 

  1. Insulate. You can find inexpensive outdoor faucet covers at your local hardware store or home improvement store. 
  2. Cover all exterior faucets with styrofoam or insulated cloth sacks. These are easy to put on your faucets and easy to remove, and you can use them year after year.
  3. If you do not have faucet covers, grab some old towels or t-shirts and some duct tape
  4. Wrap your faucet, then tape it well. Do not leave any metal surface exposed to the air. 
  5. Any indoor faucets that are located near outside walls should also be insulated. This will protect your indoor water pipes as well. 
  6. Let any faucet that is exposed drip water. The dripping action will help prevent freezing.
Frozen pipes in a basement. Credit: Robbie Sproule, CC 2.0

If you do it correctly, you save yourself the headache of a cracked faucet or a burst pipe. 

Once you have your outdoor faucet covered, think about your pipes as well. Homes in colder climates are pretty well frost-proofed for all but the most extreme cold. Builders often place pipes inside of homes. But if you live in a warmer climate where builders aren’t as concerned about deep freezes, or you can see pipes outside the walls of your home, you’ll want to winterize those pipes and spouts as well. The same cold temperatures that can crack your faucets can damage your pipes. You can pick up pipe sleeves and other accessories a home improvement store at the same time you get the faucet covers. 

You should see the individual shutoff valves for each line leading to a faucet. If you don’t have individual shutoff valves, consider installing a hose bib, or sillcock. A frost-free sillcock runs inside the house where it’s warmer and prevents the water from freezing and causing damage. 

Whatever you do, DON’T use a hairdryer for a quick thaw! If ice is filling the pipes, the freeze damage is already done. A quick thaw will cause the pipes to burst and that’s when you’ll have water damage throughout your house. 

It doesn’t matter what part of the country you’re in when it comes to outside faucets. Most homes have at least one faucet on an exterior wall, and the physical properties of water, metal, and frigid temperatures are universal — and a good reason to cover up this winter!

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Written by Frank Naper

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

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