Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frost-Proof Faucets

A Lot Cheaper than a Frozen Pipe!

One of water's most important physical properties is surprisingly unusual: unlike most other substances, when water freezes it expands instead of contracts. Life scientists tell us that this unusual property is absolutely essential to life as we know it; without this difference Earth's oceans would be little more than somewhat salty frozen treats. Your plumber may not admit it, but this property is also essential to the payments on his yacht. If a pipe around your house has ever frozen and burst, you know what the guy with the plumber's crack means. It ain't a pretty sight (you decide which "it" I mean).

Frozen Faucets are a Hassle

An outdoor faucet, also known as a hose bib or sillcock, is likely to be the weakest link in your plumbing when the temperature drops too far below freezing. It’s not just exposed to frigid air, it's also close to the ground where the temperature is lowest. Houses that don’t have hose shutoffs with drains for the outdoor faucets (very common for houses on slabs) are often in danger of freezing along that run of pipe. A wise preemptive step for a homeowner is to install a frost-proof hydrant. With their long valves, even a faucet that must be left operating for outdoor water supply during the coldest days of winter remains protected from freezing. That’s because, when the faucet is turned off, all the water stays within the house instead of in a pipe that's out and exposed to the cold.

The Solution: A Frost-Proof Hydrant

I have such a device, a “frost-proof hydrant," on one faucet at my home. The end of the valve is several inches into an unheated basement, in a space where temperatures remain above freezing even on winter's coldest days. A house with a crawl space will also have relative warmth around the piping. These hydrants are available in several lengths, from six to fourteen inches. The different lengths allow plumbers to connect them to the water supply inside the heated space, regardless of the wall thicknesses and presence of brick or stone veneers. My faucet has never frozen, even when winter temperatures dropped below 0°F (-23°C) for several days running in mid-winter. All well-designed hydrants have a vacuum breaker that lets residual water inside the body of the valve to drain off once you close the valve. Though breakers is typically plastic parts, makers sell kits for rebuilding as needed - I've done it two or three times.


A frost-proof faucet is easy to install when a house is being built or remodeled, and can be retrofitted by a competent DIY plumber if the house has a crawl space  or basemen. If your home is on a slab, you'll probably need to hire a plumber or ask that affected faucets be retrofitted if there is an "incident." While frost-proof faucets are more expensive than ordinary faucets, the cost of a burst pipe inside the wall is far, far higher!


Plus: an simple way to guard against frozen pipes
Minus: Can be tough to retrofit if your house is built on a slab
What They're Saying: If your outdoor faucets lack shutoff valves or you need an outdoor water supply over the winter, install a frost-proof hydrant.

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