Frost-free faucets bring water to a residential yard without the fear of freezing. When used properly, a frost-free faucet can be drained in the winter to eliminate the water damage caused by burst pipes that once occurred with exterior faucets (also known as hose bibbs).
This article will explore the types, operation and problems associated with frost-free faucets.
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What are Frost-Free Faucets?
Frost-free faucets (otherwise known as hose bibbs) are plumbing valves that are installed on the exterior of a home. They permit a standard water hose connection so a homeowner can obtain water for various uses in his yard. Frost-free faucets are designed to eliminate the risk of water freezing in the pipe during the winter, bursting the pipe upon thawing and causing water damage in the adjacent area. Because such damage was once prevalent, frost-free faucets are now mandated by most building codes. Frost-free faucets are also referred to as anti-siphon freezeless yard hydrants in commercial applications.
How do Frost-Free Faucets Work?
Frost-free faucets work by the simple technique of removing water from the freezing air. Frost-free faucets consist of a stem that extends into the house, where an interior valve is installed to cut off water to the faucet. Once the water is cut off, the stem portion can be drained, eliminating any water from the frozen area. The old-style exterior faucet had no such protection, and water at the exterior wall of the house was subject to freezing. The bursting pipes and costly damage to homes that followed spawned the creation of the frost-free faucet. Its use is now mandated by major building codes.
What Types of Frost-Free Faucets are Available?
All frost-free faucets work on the same principle, consisting of a valved stem that extends into the building and removes the water from the freezing air. Various manufacturers have created different styles of frost-free faucets for various applications. These include commercial applications that have a lockable exterior box set flush with the wall of a building and frost-free yard hydrants that are remote pumping heads used at campsites, golf courses and other areas where water is needed well away from a building.
How are Frost-Free Faucets Installed?
Frost-free faucets are installed with an interior shuttlecock valve, which enables the homeowner to shut off the water to the exterior as winter approaches. It is imperative that the frost-free faucet be installed with a slight downward pitch to enable all water to drain from the faucet. Even a small amount of water can expand to the point where it can burst a copper water pipe.
Frost-Free Faucet Seasonal Operation
To be effective, frost-free faucets require seasonal draining by the homeowner. The procedure is to: prior to the first freeze, shut off the interior valve; disconnect hoses from the exterior faucet; open the faucet and drain all water from the frost-free stem; and shut the faucet.
Frost-Free Faucet Problems
Frost-free faucets are not problem-free. Defects happen when: they are installed with a backward slope so the water may not drain out of the stem, causing the faucet to freeze; the homeowner fails to shut off the inside valve and drain the faucet prior to the first winter freeze; and, like all valves, they are subject to leaking and deterioration.
Standard Faucets made Frost-Proof
Older homes with standard faucets face the annual risk of frozen pipes and water damage. If the exterior faucet plumbing is exposed in the basement or crawlspace, replacement of a standard faucet with a frost-free model is a relatively simple procedure. Otherwise, the homeowner's best to avoid freezing problems is to insulate the exterior of the faucet with an insulated box, available from most home improvement stores. This box, which can be wrapped around the hose bibb, will provide some protection against a hard freeze. Heat tape, wrapped around the exterior water pipe as close as possible to the outdoor faucet, is also effective in preventing the water in the pipe from freezing.
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