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How to Prevent Outdoor Faucets From Freezing

Faucet with icicle hanging out of it

Winter is coming, and with it, the threat of frozen outdoor faucets in Denver, CO looms large! But don’t worry because, with a bit of preparation and know-how, you can safeguard your home against the icy clutches of cold weather. Learning how to prevent outdoor faucets from freezing helps protect your home’s water system from significant damage.

Understanding the structure and function of your outdoor faucets and hose bibs is the first step. Most homes have at least one outside faucet, also known as a spigot or hose bib. These are particularly vulnerable to freezing as they are directly exposed to the freezing temperatures. Simple steps such as draining and insulating these faucets can save you a lot of hassle when the frost sets in. 

Ready? Let’s dive into the frosty world of faucet care!

Understanding the Risks of Frozen Faucets

Frozen outdoor faucets are more than just a minor annoyance. They pose a serious risk to your home’s plumbing system. When the water in an outdoor faucet freezes, it expands, which can cause both the faucet and the water supply pipe to expand as well and eventually burst. This can lead to expensive and inconvenient leaks, flooding, and water damage inside your home. 

A frozen faucet can cut off your access to outdoor water, making everyday tasks like filling your pet’s water bowl or watering your winter garden tougher than it needs to be. Preventing your faucets from freezing isn’t just about avoiding damage; it’s also about maintaining your home’s functionality during the winter months.

Why Outdoor Faucets Freeze

The main reason outdoor faucets freeze is due to insufficient insulation and direct exposure to cold weather. Most outdoor plumbing is not buried deep enough beneath the frost line, which makes them prone to freezing. The metal components of outside hose bibs and faucets rapidly lose heat and can reach freezing temperatures even if the surrounding air is slightly warmer.

Plus, drafts through cracks in the exterior walls where pipes run can also lead to a drop in temperature, speeding up the freezing process. It’s critical to address these issues before the temperature drops to keep your outdoor plumbing safe throughout the winter.

Potential Damage from Frozen Pipes

When water turns to ice, it expands by approximately 9%, and this expansion can exert tremendous pressure inside pipes and faucets. The mounting pressure can cause cracks, no matter how small, resulting in water leaks and flooding when the ice melts. The damage from a single frozen pipe can be extensive, potentially leading to mold growth, structural issues, and the need for costly repairs.

Additionally, if the main water supply line bursts, it could potentially cut off water to the entire house. This kind of emergency not only disrupts daily life but can also be incredibly expensive to fix. That’s why taking it’s essential to protect outdoor faucets, indoor faucets, and even the supply pipe leading to all the different fixtures.

Preparing Your Outdoor Faucets for Winter

Preparation is key when it comes to preventing your outdoor faucets from completely freezing. Before the first frost, make a checklist of all the outdoor faucets and ensure they are in good working order. Replace any that are leaking or showing signs of wear and tear, as these are more likely to suffer damage during the winter.

Next, shut off the interior valves that supply water to the outdoor faucets. After the water is shut off, open the outdoor faucets to allow any remaining water to drain out. This step prevents water from being trapped in the pipes, where it could freeze and cause damage.

Insulate Your Faucets

Insulating your faucets is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent freezing. You can use foam insulation covers, which are readily available at hardware stores. These covers are easy to install — just slip them over the faucets and secure them with the attached Velcro straps or duct tape. For extra protection, consider using additional fabric insulation under the foam cover.

If you’re in a pinch and can’t get to the store before a cold snap, wrapping your faucets in old towels, followed by a heavy-duty plastic bag, can provide temporary protection. Make sure to secure everything with duct tape to prevent wind from removing the makeshift insulation.

Install a Frost-Proof Faucet

For a more permanent solution, consider replacing your existing outdoor faucets with frost-free hose bibs. These specially designed faucets prevent water from remaining in the section of pipe that could be exposed to freezing temperatures by having the actual valve located further back along the supply pipe, inside the warmer environment of your home.

Installing a frost-proof faucet requires a bit of upfront cost and effort, but it pays off in the long run by providing a much more robust defense against freezing temperatures. And you won’t need to worry about wrapping or insulating these faucets, as the design itself prevents freezing.

Drain Outdoor Pipes Before Winter

Draining your outdoor pipes is an essential part of winter preparation. After shutting off the water supply to the outdoor faucets, open the faucets and also any drain valves on the supply pipe that runs to the faucets. This allows all water to be expelled from the pipes, which is crucial since water left in pipes can freeze and expand, causing the pipes to burst.

Don’t forget about other outdoor water fixtures like sprinkler systems and swimming pool supply lines. These should also be drained and shut off before the first frost of the season. Draining these systems can be more complicated, so consider consulting a professional if you’re not familiar with the process.

Daily Practices During Freezing Temperatures

Even with all the right preparations, it’s important to stay vigilant during unusually cold snaps. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and take extra precautions when temperatures are expected to plummet. 

For example, if you have cabinet doors under sinks that are on an outside wall, keep these doors cracked open to allow warm air from your home to circulate around the pipes. This can help prevent the pipes within the cabinets from freezing, especially overnight when the temperatures can drop even further. 

Disconnect Hoses

One of the simplest yet most overlooked steps in preparing for winter is to disconnect garden hoses from outside faucets. Water remaining in hoses can freeze and expand back into the spigot, leading to frozen faucets and pipes. After disconnecting, drain the hoses completely and store them in a dry area to prevent any residual water from freezing inside the hose.

Also, check the faucets for any leaks or drips after removing the hose. Even a small amount of leaking water can freeze and cause problems, so make any necessary repairs before the cold weather truly sets in.

Drip Your Faucets to Prevent Freezing

Letting your indoor faucets drip during extreme cold can prevent pressure from building up in the water supply lines. This is because the water, albeit moving slowly, is less likely to freeze. Set your faucet to drip both hot and cold water slightly. This method is especially effective overnight or when you are away from home for an extended period during a freeze.

While it may seem like this practice would waste water, the amount used is minimal compared to the gallons that could be wasted from a burst pipe. Monitor your water bill to ensure that this precaution doesn’t lead to unexpectedly high charges.

Advanced Preventative Measures

For those living in areas where winter weather is particularly harsh or where freezing pipes have been a recurrent issue, additional measures might be necessary. 

Install a Heat Tape

Heat tape is an excellent option for preventing your pipes from freezing. This electrically heated cable can be wrapped around pipes to keep them warm during cold spells. It’s particularly useful for pipes that are exposed to severe cold or that run along exterior walls.

Installing heat tape is straightforward but must be done correctly to avoid any risk of fire. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, or hire a professional Denver plumber to ensure it’s done safely. Remember, while heat tape can be a great tool, it does increase your electric bill, so use it judiciously.

Add Extra Insulation to Your Home

Adding extra insulation to your home is not only good for preventing frozen pipes but also for reducing heating costs. Pay particular attention to areas like attics, basements, and crawl spaces that may not be as well insulated as other parts of your home. Keeping these areas well insulated can help your entire home stay warmer, reducing the risk of freezing pipes.

Look into materials like spray foam, rigid foam board, and additional fiberglass batt insulation. If you’re not sure what’s best for your home, a consultation with an insulation professional can provide guidance tailored to your specific needs.

What to Do If a Faucet Freezes

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you might be dealing with a frozen pipe. First, try to locate the frozen area of the pipe. Look for sections that may be exposed to the outside elements or are in unheated areas of your home. Once located, you can begin the thawing process.

Open the faucet connected to the frozen pipe to help relieve pressure and allow water to flow once the ice begins to melt. Apply heat using a hair dryer, heating pad, or towels soaked in hot water—start from the faucet and work your way towards the colder sections of the pipe.

WARNING: Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, or other open flame device.

If you cannot access the frozen area, or if your efforts do not quickly resolve the issue, it’s best to call in a professional plumber.

When to Call a Professional

If your preventive measures fail or you’re unsure how to properly insulate and protect your plumbing, it might be time to call in a professional. This is especially true if you discover that your pipes have frozen and attempts to thaw them have not been successful. Professional plumbers can safely thaw and repair any damage to your plumbing system.

Additionally, if you’re experiencing frequent issues with frozen pipes, a professional can assess your home’s plumbing system and suggest long-term solutions that might be more effective than a DIY approach.

Avoid Frozen Pipes With Squeak’s

Preventing your outdoor faucets from freezing is an essential part of maintaining your home during the winter. By taking proactive steps, you can avoid the inconvenience and expense of dealing with frozen pipes. Insulate, prepare, and monitor your outdoor faucets to keep them running smoothly, no matter how cold it gets.

And remember, if you find yourself in over your head or if preventative measures fall short, don’t hesitate to contact Squeak’s Plumbing Heating & Air. Our team of experts is ready to help you with all your plumbing needs to ensure that your home stays safe and dry all winter long. Schedule your plumbing service in Denver, CO today to stay one step ahead of the winter weather!

Faucet with icicle hanging out of it

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