One of the most important areas of home winterization is your plumbing. Taking care to secure your exterior water outlets from freezing can save you thousands of dollars in water damage if they freeze and burst.
Q: What should I know about winterizing my home’s plumbing?
A: There are a few ways to determine when it is time to prepare your house for winter. You can simply look outdoors, check the weather report each day to see if there will be a freeze, or check online as to when the first and last frost average occurs in your area.
I recently checked Google, and my Zip code states the average date for the first frost is the 27th of November, with the average date for the last frost the 25th of February. Keep in mind that these are averages, so it is wise to begin the process early.
One of the most important areas of home winterization is your plumbing. Traditional outdoor faucets and hose bibs are vulnerable to freezing, even in mildly cold weather. Taking care to secure your exterior water outlets from freezing can save you thousands of dollars in water damage if they freeze and burst.
You’ll first need to determine what kind and how many faucets are on your house or garage. All modern code-approved hydrants are required to be freeze-resistant and have a vacuum breaker, which is integral for faucets. An easy way to tell if you have a “frost-free” faucet is to look for a small wedge between the hose bib and exterior wall. This keeps the faucet angled downward so it can drain and remain hollow in cold weather. If you do not see a wedge, your faucet does not have freeze protection.
The standard written barometer for “freeze resistance” is zero degrees Fahrenheit, so if temperatures drop below that, you need to consider further freeze protection. We will go into the methods for this in a moment.
Most outdoor faucets on the market are very similar, being made from either brass or other copper-base alloys. It is important to note the material and length of your hydrant to determine its level of freeze resistance. The freeze resistance comes from having a long stem that opens the valve at the far incoming (warm area) end of the hydrant. This allows water to drain out of the main body of the valve when turned off. The water is then held in the part of the valve that is within the warm interior of the house.
The material of the faucet is also important to know. Copper and brass, although resistant to corrosion, have very high thermal conductivity. This means they are good conductors of heat — not something you want during the winter. Thus, they require further protection when temperatures approaching zero degrees are expected.
Some newer house hydrants are now being made with stainless steel rather than copper or brass. With significantly lower thermal conductivity, stainless steel makes for a great insulator and provides much more effective freeze protection. Stainless steel also provides more wear resistance, meaning that your hose threads do not wear out and leak over time.
What do you do if you have a faucet that’s made of brass or susceptible to freezing? Check the crawl space to see that there are some large openings for air to pass through, and inspect the hydrant and its connection for any leaks. It is best to have any exposed water pipes in the crawl spaces — especially if they’re copper — insulated with split foam insulation.
If you are expecting extremely low temperatures, it is best to locate the shut-off valves for the exterior faucets. Turn them off and then open each hose bib so all water drains outside. Next, you can attach a foam insulator or insulating bag over the faucet portion outdoors. This is especially important on brass and copper hydrants. If you have any devices that are leaking or need repair, consider switching to a stainless steel hydrant.
Lastly, don’t forget to disconnect, drain and store your hoses.
Richard Walcome is the chief engineer of Seattle-based Aquor Water Systems, and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.