Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 30 seconds
This is the anatomy of a frost-proof spigot. AKA “Sillcock”. It works by shutting off the water inside your home and allowing the water to run out of the actual faucet so that there is nothing to freeze.
Years ago before these things were invented, we would just shut the water off inside the home which supplied that faucet under the house, and drain the line. Now that these things exist all of the old-style are being replaced when they fail.
Why they fail
The big problems occur when a hose is left on the spigot and prevents the thing from draining, or the frost-proof unit is installed with a slope backward, into the house.
Design flaw. Because there is never supposed to be water in the barrel, some are made of flimsy material so the moment water freezes it fractures the pipe. When the sucker thaws is when the basement or crawl space gets flooded.
Removal & Replacement
Removing them for replacement after a freezing episode can be troublesome too. This is because the loss of barrel integrity causes it to twist apart, often leaving chunks of faucet hidden or buried in the wall.
The trick is to get to the connection from domestic water to the spigot and by holding each part firmly, unscrew them from each other.
What needs to be replaced?
They come in all lengths from 4″ up to 24″ at 1″ increments and need to be replaced with the same length replacement obviously.
There are different brands and some come with inner threads and outer threads, some have both. The best bet is to replace what you have with an identical replacement.
I recently replaced one in Nampa Idaho, where the hose was left attached through the winter. They had shut the faucet off but had not removed the hose. Water left in the faucet froze and burst the inner pipe. When they turned the hose on in spring, they heard water spraying inside the crawl space through a foundation vent.
Fortunately, they had the brains to turn everything off and call for help. I brought one of each size the vendor carried because I wanted to be prepared. I discovered that the exact brand replacement was needed so I still had to run to a big box store and thankfully found the exact one.
I got called for a ceiling leak in the basement bedroom. Multiple leak sites at joints in sub-floor. I was able to track it back to a hose left on a leaky frost-proof faucet over the winter. Some of the leaks were 6 feet away from the split faucet. Don’t forget to dry things out ASAP. Mold loves these conditions!
What else can go wrong?
Like any faucet, there are several places they can fail. One is at packing nut. They get loose and Symptom: water comes out around the stem when the thing is on. The solution, tighten the packing nut; in rare cases, you may need to add some packing.
If the air gap leaks:
The built-in air gap prevents water from being siphoned into your home. When the pressure in the line drops, the flapper valve opens and the siphon is broken. This flapper valve occasionally needs to be replaced. (Not all faucets have this cool feature.) Again you will need to get the manufacturer’s parts.
If the washer fails:
Symptom: constant leak despite the thing being off; Solution: in this case you need TURN THE WATER OFF TO THE HOUSE first. Then unscrew the packing nut as you open and unscrew the faucet. Extract the long stem and you will see the washer. Replace it with an exact size replacement.
This is often found at the hardware store. The ones that come with the valve are often the cheapest you can get so a replacement should be of more solid rubber and last even longer. Hint the screw that holds the washer on is usually fairly soft brass. If it needs replacing use a brass one, other metals often dissolve over time.
If this does not fix the problem then the faucet seat may be galled or have an irregular surface which prohibits the rubber washer from forming a perfect seal. In this case, the entire thing needs to be replaced. The faucet seat, unlike many kitchen and bath faucets, is not replaceable. Repairing them is a waste of time so just replace the thing. The average cost is $25.
I found this old weird faucet that sprays wildly and seems to have several options to drain. It is slated for replacement.
Spooky failure, “Pourus abruptus”
There have been a series of strange failures reported. The most troubling and odd of all is the “who the hell keeps turning my faucet on”? It kind of makes you want go Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino and sit on the porch with a shotgun. SOLUTION: A reader stated that if he pulls on the handle it comes out 1/4″ and starts to pour water then he pushes it back in and it stops. Replace the darn thing, it is a piece of junk! Get a good quality one from a reputable dealer, not the cheapest one on the internet.
Death Rattle, like a Water Hammer
Chris from Cleaveland called to say he had a chatter that was reminiscent of a water hammer when he turned on his Zurn faucet after having recently replaced the guts with a rebuild kit. It sounded to me like something was loose or moving around down at the tip of the stem and sure enough after taking it apart carefully he noticed that two washers were stuck together so with some careful polishing of them and freeing them up the thing quieted back down. Thanks, Chris for figuring it out with me.
Bonus Round Questions?
- Who has some more war stories to share?
- Who has some more great ideas that were not mentioned in this article?
Words of caution:
Many homes are plumbed with plastic pipe now so just twisting the faucet off from the outside without holding on to both sides of the connection could end up causing a big mess.
Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly, or call 208-947-7261