Most of us take precautions to ensure we don’t get into trouble when freeze warnings are issues. However, sometimes those precautions aren’t enough, or we forget to take them. That means, sooner or later, you may have to deal with a frozen outside faucet.
So, knowing what to do if your outside faucet freezes is important. Here are some tips and steps to take to fix the problem and prevent your faucet from freezing in the first place, without causing additional damage.
How to Tell if Outside Faucet is Frozen?
Several signs can alert you that your outside faucet is frozen. First, ice around the faucet or faucet cover could be a clue to a frozen faucet. More importantly, water likely won’t come out when you turn the spigot – if it will turn (which it may not if it’s frozen). It may drip but won’t flow.
It’s important to note that the outdoor faucet not running could be symptomatic of something else, such as an interior pipe having frozen, burst, or sprung a leak. You should check any pipes in the house for damage if there are no exterior signs of a freeze on your faucet.
How to Unfreeze an Outside Faucet?
Because you could risk causing greater damage to your pipes, it’s recommended to call a plumber, especially if you aren’t experienced with DIY projects. However, following these steps can help if you take precautions and don’t get in a hurry.
1. Keep your outdoor faucet open. It’s crucial that, as the faucet and pipes thaw out, the water and steam that you create during the process have a point of release. Otherwise, you’ll cause one of your pipes to burst. In addition, having a flow of water as the ice melts will also help to expedite the entire process. As you can see in mountain streams, running water melts snow and ice faster than heat alone.
2. Apply heat. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. You can take an electric heating pad and wrap it around the frozen pipe or the frozen faucet itself. This requires careful attention, as leaving the heating pad on for extended periods of time can lead to fires.
Another option is to use a hair dryer. Be certain not to get too close and protect all cords from water as the frozen faucet begins to defrost. If you don’t have either of these items, you can take towels that have been soaked in hot water and wrap them around the frozen area to unfreeze an outside faucet.
3. Know what not to do. Just like it’s important to know what to do if your outside faucet freezes, you should take note of what not to do. Anything that produces fire should be avoided, as well as anything that uses accelerants or flammable substances.
That includes blowtorches, heaters fueled by kerosene, butane, or gasoline. Space heaters aren’t recommended, as they can ignite anything flammable and cannot be left unattended.
4. Apply heat until you get a normal water flow. To know for sure, you should have the spigot fully opened while you’re working on defrosting the frozen outdoor faucet.
When this happens, it’s important to check all faucets in your house for water flow to ensure you don’t have additional frozen pipes within your home. If the temperature is still freezing, you should drip your interior faucets to keep water running until the freeze is over.
5. Take quick action if a broken, leaky, or burst pipe is in an interior wall. Knowing what to do if your outside faucet freezes is crucial but knowing the emergency situation created by these pipes malfunctioning is vital to your home. Call for an emergency plumber immediately and turn off all water to the home at the exterior water supply to avoid excess damage.
6. If all is well, be sure to put a faucet cover over the outside faucet after turning it off to prevent another problem.
How to Prevent Your Faucet from Freezing?
The best way to handle a freeze is to prevent any damage from happening to your outdoor faucet in the first place. These are steps you can take to keep your outside faucet in good working order.
An outdoor faucet cover is paramount in protecting your outside faucet from elements. That includes dust and debris but most importantly, from freezing. These covers literally fit over the faucet and seal around it, insulating your faucet against the elements.
Not all faucet covers are the same, so make sure you determine your needs. You’ll need one that protects against the temperatures you’re seeing outside. You should also be aware that, if not sealed properly, there are no guarantees that the faucet cover will keep your faucet protected. Also, once temperatures drop to a certain level, you’ll need to take further precautions.
Another way to prevent your outdoor faucet from freezing is to install a freeze-proof faucet. Like most outdoor faucets, you’ll find multiple types, the spigot or hose bib being the most common (where you attach a standard garden hose). A wall hydrant is more complex and costs more.
Most freeze-proof outdoor faucets are like the typical hose bib but have another internal piece that acts as a buffer to the cold weather. It keeps the water deeper inside, where the temperature doesn’t drop as far as it does outdoors. While you may find the price tag slightly higher, it’s still an affordable solution, especially in comparison to the costly damages freezing can cause.
If you’ve never heard of a Freeze Miser, you should strongly consider one, especially if you have harsh winters with very cold temperatures that last for more than a couple of days at a time. These unique parts act as a replacement for your faucet cover, with built-in technology to not only save your faucet and your pipes but to conserve water.
An internal mechanism senses the water temperature, allowing only the water necessary to keep everything from freezing to drip. Its cut-off point is 37 degrees, so you can assure nothing happens to your home. All you have to do is turn the water source on.
What Temperature Will My Outdoor Faucet Freeze?
While water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), your outdoor faucet freezes at various temperatures, depending on the type of freeze. If there is precipitation, it may freeze at a higher temperature.
If the weather has been warmer and this is the first freeze, it might survive slightly colder weather. It’s best to presume that temperatures approaching freezing mean you should take the proper precautions.
Can a Frozen Outdoor Faucet Cause Pipes to Burst?
Water behaves oddly in cold temperatures, but in the end, it swells as it reaches the point of freezing. Therefore, ice takes up more room than water. The metal of outdoor faucets and pipes is unforgiving, with no real flexibility.
That means that swelling ice can cause an expansion of the faucet or pipes. This leads to bursting when the volume of the ice can no longer be contained. It’s especially problematic if the pipes or the outside faucet are already old or weakened in some way.
Can a Frozen Outdoor Faucet Become Damaged?
While thawing out an outdoor faucet can save it, every time it freezes, the device is weakened. As mentioned above, ice in the faucet expands beyond water volume, stretching the metal to its limits. It’s important to not only try to prevent freezing but to know what to do when your outside faucet freezes to prevent as much damage as possible.
Checking the integrity of your outdoor faucet on a regular basis is essential to preventing costly damages in your home, including burst pipes and leaks. You have options of what to do when your outside faucet freezes to thaw it out, but preventative measures go a long way in assuring that your faucet lasts many years and that interior pipes don’t burst and flood your home.
Some of your best options are freeze-proof faucets, faucet covers that are well-sealed over the outdoor faucet, and Freeze Misers that also help save you money on your water bill. Take steps to keep your outside faucet performing at its best and save yourself a tone of money and heartache in the end.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.