Will my spigots freeze?
December 23, 2008 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Do I need to wrap my outdoor spigots to prevent freezing?

We are experiencing our first few days of freezing temps. I was always told to wrap up the outdoor spigots so they wouldn't freeze. However, since the wraps will be the same temp as the air, I can't see how this would help very much. I have already disconnected the garden hoses. House is about 25 years old, on a slab (no basement/crawlspace). Is there anything I need to do?

posted by roaring beast to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
I turn off the shutoff valve to my external tap (in my basement) at the beginning of the winter. Is there any place at all where you can turn off a similar valve, given you have no basement or crawlspace? I didn't wrap the outside tap in the winter of 2006/2006, 2006/2007 or this winter, and it never froze, no matter how bitterly cold it got.
posted by maudlin at 11:34 AM on December 23, 2008

Draining the system will do a lot more to prevent freezing than covering will. If there is no water in the pipe, no matter how cold it gets, it cannot freeze.

Open the outside tap. Close the inside one. Leave the outside tap open. This will get as much water out of the system as possible. Any that's left in there has space to expand, which will lessen the chances of the pipe bursting.
posted by Solomon at 11:38 AM on December 23, 2008

My grandmother's house is built on a slab, and as far as I know, nothing special was ever done with the outdoor spigots, and she's never had a problem with them.
posted by borkencode at 11:51 AM on December 23, 2008

the wraps will be the same temp as the air

Well, the outside of the wraps will, but what you're going for here is the miracle magic of insulation.

If you have exposed pipes, wrap them with pipe wrap. If it's just an exposed spigot you're talking about, there are little styrofoam caps you can buy, but fitting one can be iffy, and I just wrap an old towel around the spigot.

Might want to read this.
posted by sageleaf at 12:38 PM on December 23, 2008

Addendum: You don't want to use the towel method if the spigot is right against the siding, as rain will soak it.
posted by sageleaf at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2008

And on further review: I'm going to completely retract the towel advice. It works under my particular setup, but I can think of many instances where it could cause more problems than it solves.
posted by sageleaf at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2008

I grew up in Duluth, MN and have never heard of anyone wrapping an external spigot. My current house has three spigots, and only one even has a shutoff inside the house. It's been substantially below freezing (10 below yesterday) for the past month and no freezing has occurred. Wrapping the spigot seems wacky to me.

That said, houses here have basements and don't run supply lines in external walls or other uninsulated voids. You'll need to assess how warm the crawlspace is and insulate the pipe accordingly. I shouldn't think you'd experience any problem from an uncovered spigot if the pipe feeding it is kept above freezing temps.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:07 PM on December 23, 2008

My house's external faucets are anti-freezing. I'm in Colorado, don't know if houses are fitted with them in VA. You may like to check whether yours are.

The way mine work are that when you switch off the faucet, water continues to drain out of the nozzle for a little while longer while it empties the front section of pipe. I had to fix one of mine during summer and discovered that the valve is about 8 inches back inside the wall although you can't see that from the outside. If you get the manufacturer's name from the faucet you could look it up on-line to see if it's anti-freezing or not. (I don't remember mine off the top of my head.)
posted by NailsTheCat at 1:08 PM on December 23, 2008

My house's external faucets are anti-freezing.

Yeah, that's what I have. When you close the external spigot, it actually turns a metal rod that closes a valve about a foot inside the house. Menard's in this part of the country sells lots of them.

Speculation: wrapping might be more workable in warmer parts of the country. It wouldn't work here in Minnesota.

I put the new exterior faucet in after coming home from work one winter day and finding out that my backyard had turned into a monster skating rink. Oops.
posted by gimonca at 1:17 PM on December 23, 2008

I live in the southern plains on a slab foundation, and the prevailing wisdom around here is to wrap outside spigots during super-cold weather, so Pogo in Duluth's comment is interesting. I guess the spigots are built differently up there. I just go by my own rule of thumb: wrapping a towel secured with tie wrap around a spigot on the first winter day we're expected to be below 24F for more than 24 hours. Never had any trouble yet.
posted by crapmatic at 1:23 PM on December 23, 2008

first winter day we're expected to be below 24F for more than 24 hours

We call that a "heat wave".

posted by gimonca at 2:06 PM on December 23, 2008

Sounds like turning off the inside shutoff is the best solution, but I have no idea where that would be or if it even exists. Sageleaf's link might be helpful since it shows the shutoff valve under the water heater. I will have to check that out.

I also am not sure if I have the anti-freeze spigots or not, but that would probably be a good thing.

crapmatic, and others, I am still not seeing the logic of wrapping the spigot, since the whole thing is exposed to the outside air, and surely the water inside the pipes will not be warm since there is no flow from the water heater. I guess the portions of pipe inside the house will be warmer, which could warm the parts outside the house, but still it seems like wrapping it wouldn't help anything. Am I missing something?

Thanks for the advice so far! Any more would be great.
posted by roaring beast at 2:58 PM on December 23, 2008

I am staying in a 100 year old house in Michigan right now. The spigots are not wrapped, I never even heard of the practice, but the shut-off valves are closed and the spigots are slightly open. The shut-off valves are about 4 feet down the pipe from the spigot.

The shut-off valve near my water heater controls the flow of water to my water heater. I would be surprised if yours did not do the same. Keep looking.

Wrapping does make some sense to me. The flow of heat from the house through the pipe and the water within it would be slowed and help increase the temperature of the water inside the pipe compared to the outside air.
posted by 517 at 5:01 PM on December 23, 2008

roaring beast writes "I am still not seeing the logic of wrapping the spigot, since the whole thing is exposed to the outside air, and surely the water inside the pipes will not be warm since there is no flow from the water heater."

Most piping is copper. Copper is a pretty good conductor of heat. So the outside of the faucet is at ambient minus what ever and the inside is at room temperature, eventually. The insulated wrap allows the copper to keep the outside part above freezing. Even a simple plastic bag wrapped tight will have an effect as it'll stop wind from stripping the still air layer away from the faucet.

Around here (where it's been getting down to -24 for a week) people either have inside shut offs (adequate) or frost proof hydrants. Just last week-end I changed out my old shut off style with a frost proof hydrant because even without any water in it the copper pipe of the shut off system got cold enough coupled with a very short run to freeze my main supply line.
posted by Mitheral at 5:12 PM on December 23, 2008

My outside tap has a drain plug inside. As a newcomer to Canada, I didn't know about this. The first -30°C night cracked the pipe open. Now, every November, I drain the line, and every May, swear at getting the drain plug to seal again.
posted by scruss at 6:26 PM on December 23, 2008

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