Outdoor spigots work hard over the summer, but they also take the brunt of cold weather during the fall and winter. When temperatures drop during colder seasons, your spigots can begin to freeze. Frosty or frozen spigots can lead to burst pipes and related water damage. Ruptured pipes and ice spills can cause significant damage to your interior and exterior walls. Fortunately, the implementation of frost-proof spigots can help. Choosing the right spigots can be an important step in preparing your home for winter. Learn more about frost-free spigots and how key design features can help you avoid the negative consequences of icy faucets or frozen pipes.
What Is a Spigot?
By definition, a spigot is a device or valve that enables the flow of water. Turning a spigot “on” means leaving the valve open and allowing the water to flow. Likewise, shutting a spigot means closing the valve and stopping the water from flowing any further. In the United States, indoor valves located inside kitchens and bathrooms are called faucets. Outside valves are known as spigots. Homeowners in other English-speaking countries may refer to the inside valve as a “tap.” They may also refer to the outside valve as a plug, sillcock, hose bib, or pipe.
What Is a Frost-Free Spigot?
A frost-free spigot is an outdoor faucet designed to minimize the chances of water freezing inside the valve or pipe and damaging it. While conventional spigots work fine during the summer, they run the risk of completely freezing over once the temperature drops. In contrast, the design of a frost-free spigot can help prevent this occurrence. A frost-free spigot is a compression-style faucet with a long barrel that a professional can install onto the side or back of your house. The spigot’s long valve stem reaches inside the room where it keeps warm. This specialized spigot also features a self-draining design that prevents water from pooling in the faucet and later freezing. Other names for a frost-free spigot include freeze-proof faucet, frost-free hose bib, or frost-proof outdoor tap.
How Does a Frost-Free Spigot Work?
The design of a frost-free spigot helps ensure that water never gets trapped in the pipe. In a conventional spigot, trapped water turns into ice and can damage the pipe if the temperature drops below freezing. But when you shut off a frost-free spigot, water stops flowing from behind the valve located much further back inside the home. This means that the water will not freeze because it remains at the same interior air temperature where the air is much warmer. And since the exterior portion of a frost-free spigot features a slightly downward angle, any water left in the exterior portion of the pipeline drains outdoors with the help of gravity and fast-moving flow. This minimizes the chances that residual water can freeze and create pressure that causes ordinary pipes to rupture or burst.
The main components of a typical frost-free spigot can include the following:
Spout and Handle
A frost-free spigot has a handle and spout just like conventional outdoor faucets. The handle and spout protrude slightly from the exterior of the home. Plumbers typically install the spout at knee level so that moisture can drain to the ground.
On a frost-free spigot, the spout and handle connect to an extra-long supply pipe that extends far inside your home. This pipe is a minimum of four inches, but it is often longer to reach far enough into the home’s interior to keep the pipe water temperature nice and warm. The pipe also sits at a downward slope to ensure that any excess water flows out of the spout and drains outside instead of remaining stagnant in the pipe and freezing.
On the other end of the supply pipe is the shut-off valve. Although all outdoor spigots have a shut-off valve that controls water flow, conventional spigots place this valve outside in the cold where it can stall or freeze. In contrast, frost-free spigots position the valve inside of the home where it remains warm. This helps keep water from freezing behind the valve and creating pressure that forces pipes to burst. In addition, the valves in frost-free spigots are compression-style. This also helps control water flow. Turning the handle counterclockwise usually starts the flow. Twisting the handle clockwise turns off the faucet by shutting the valve and stopping the water flow. Either way, the supply pipe and shut-off valve remain nice and warm within the home.
Some frost-free spigot models also include an air gap. The air gap is a built-in flapper valve that prevents water from splashing back into the home. However, since many spigots rely strongly on anti-siphon valves, the air gap feature is not always necessary on all outdoor faucet types.
The stem washer is located on the back end of the supply pipe or faucet stem. Also known as a stem cartridge or compression washer, the stem washer can stop or slow down water flow whenever it is properly closed. It can also help prevent excess pressure from building up inside of the pipe.
A frost-free spigot can also include an anti-siphon device. Also known as a vacuum breaker, the anti-siphon valve helps prevent contaminated water from backing up into the pipe and potentially entering your household plumbing. Often preinstalled on the faucet spout, this anti-siphon valve is one of the best ways to prevent unsanitary hose water from mixing into your drinking water. Without the anti-siphon valve, extreme changes in weather or temperature would increase the risk of contamination. In fact, some municipalities have building codes that require homeowners to only use outdoor spigots with this anti-siphon feature.
Frost-Free Spigots Versus Traditional Spigots
Frost-free spigots often look like traditional spigots on the outside, but the components that reach into the home are different. Before the invention of frost-free spigots, many homeowners had to shut off the water supply to their homes once the cold season began to keep pipes from freezing. Traditional spigots also placed the shut-off valve right behind the handle, increasing the chance that water behind it could freeze. On a frost-free model, however, the supply pipe or rod goes much inside the house. The shut-off valve also sits further inside the house and remains warmer. Finally, the downward slope or angle of a frost-free spigot is a final preventative measure that helps water drain and keeps the pipe or faucet from freezing in cold weather.
What Are the Benefits of Installing Frost-Free Spigots?
The primary benefit of a frost-free spigot is that it can withstand freezing temperatures better than a conventional faucet. When searching for ice damage or frozen pipes in the home, you are more likely to find problems in areas exposed to the outdoor cold. These areas include basements as well as pipes or faucets located along exterior walls. Traditional outdoor spigots do not include any special protection from rapidly plummeting temperatures. The design of traditional spigots makes them more susceptible to expanding or cracking in the cold.
In contrast, each design element of a frost-free spigot makes it much better suited for cold weather. The supply pipe of a frost-free spigot extends far enough inside the home to escape the outdoor frostline. Its shut-off valve is also located far enough inside to reduce the risk of bursting from frozen water. Finally, the self-draining design even eliminates the need to bleed off water from the line after each season. Contacting a plumber to install frost-free spigots is one of the best ways to prepare your home exterior for harsh winter weather.
What Are the Best Practices for Owning Frost-Free Spigots?
The primary way to ensure the effectiveness of frost-free spigots is to obtain proper installation in the first place. Since installation often involves attaching the spigot directly to your plumbing, seeking the help of a trained professional is the best way to make sure everything goes smoothly. For example, the process can involve soldering new fittings or ensuring that openings are large enough to accommodate the new faucet. A plumber has the right professional background to make sure everything is completed correctly.
After installing frost-free spigots, you should still complete maintenance like disconnecting your house from the spigot once fall weather arrives. However, a home services company can always check the spigot’s internal components for you during a routine maintenance checkup. For example, a plumber can check to make sure there is no excess pressure in your pipe or gaskets. If you are experiencing a particularly harsh winter, a plumber may also suggest adding insulation to keep the pipe warmer to further reduce any risk of freezing.
Get Help From the Experts Today
Frost-free spigots provide an excellent way to upgrade the exterior of your home. Black-Haak offers plumbing and spigot installation for homes in Fox Valley and surrounding areas. We provide pipe inspection, troubleshooting, repairs, and upgrades for winter weather. Contact Black-Haak for all your indoor and outdoor plumbing needs.