Most parts of the country are well into the throes of winter, and hopefully everyone has already taken care of their outside hose faucets to protect them from freezing. It is still a good time to talk about frost-free outside faucets–or hose bibs–or sill-cocks–or whatever you call them in your neck of the woods.
This is a good time to talk about them because there is one particular defect that you may not be aware of related to frost-free type faucets.
Working on plumbing pipes when it is 10 below zero is no fun (ahhhh the flip side of hot & humid–gotta love it–is it any wonder there are so many bars and churches in New England?) but it beats working on them after they have broken and flooded your home.
A frost-free faucet works by having the part that actually shuts off the water way inside the wall where it is (theoretically) always warmer. The piece of pipe that connects the shut-off to the handle at the outside is supposed to be installed at a little angle so that it can drain out when you shut the water off. If you look at any frost-free type faucet the handle is always going to be perpendicular to the wall because it is attached to a long rod that runs through the pipe to the shut-off that is inside wall.
These things actually work very well.
Unfortunately many people are either clueless or they think the faucets are “frost-free” by some kind of magic. Leaving a hose on them during the winter essentially makes them a non-frost-free type faucets as water stays in the pipe all the way out through the hose–typically. This fact is apparently lost on most people given the number of hoses that I do not reconnect between September and March.
Another way to make one of these faucets non-functional is for the valve to be installed so that it can’t drain. I have taken the previous picture and drawn lines to show how this valve actually points upward at the outside at almost the angle it should be pointing downward–clearly trapping water against the valve deep inside the wall.
To test your frost-free type faucets, just turn them on and then turn them off. If some amount of water continues to come out after you shut it off–there is a good chance it is draining. You can also look at the valve from the side and see if the body of the valve points down–as in the red dotted line of the picture below.
If it looks like the picture above—have it fixed.
The faucets come with a little triangular shim that the installer can use to assist in keeping them sloped properly.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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