My neighbor just had a basement leak caused by her outside tap freezing, which busted a pipe. I’m concerned this might happen to us. Is there a proper way to winterize our outside water faucets?
A: This is a really good question, but the answer may depend on the age of the home or the type of exterior faucet in use. On older homes the exterior faucet is a simple compression faucet that has a type of inline shutoff valve on the inside of the home, which should also have a small brass drain cap located on the side of this valve. As well, the copper pipes for this older configuration should slope toward the exterior faucet. The proper procedure to winterize this older exterior faucet is to first shut off the inside valve by turning the handle clockwise, then proceed to the exterior faucet and open the faucet by turning that handle counter-clockwise. The homeowner should then proceed back to the inside shut off valve and open up the small brass bleeder drain cap, which would then allow all of the water to drain out of that section of copper pipe. The reason the water needs to be drained out of the exterior faucet is the risk that any water left inside the exterior faucet may cause damage to the water pipe if the temperature outside were to go below the point that water freezes.
The newer type of exterior faucet is called a frost-proof faucet or freeze-proof faucet. As the name implies, these are designed to minimize the risk of water freezing inside the unit and possibly rupturing the water pipe. However, just like the older configuration, these units need to be installed with the pipe sloping towards the exterior of the home. This unit is also a type of compression faucet, but the physical shut-off valve is actually up to 12” away from the exterior tap and located inside an insulated wall or rim joist area.
If you’re not sure if your exterior faucet is an older style or a frost-proof type, the general rule of thumb is the handle for the frost-proof faucets tend to be perpendicular to the home. Unfortunately, although most homeowners may be familiar with this quick overview of a winterizing process, some may not understand that the garden hose “must” be disconnected before winter or there is a very real risk the garden hose would keep water inside the faucet, which would put it at risk of freezing and possibly rupturing the water pipe.
Lawrence Englehart (Global Property Inspections) is a Registered Home Inspector and be reached at email@example.com or www.gpiweb.ca/englehart or www.facebook.com/GPI.HRM