Winter comes along and apparently tries to destroy our water lines every year. The best way to minimize the damage from cold weather on household plumbing is to do a little preventive winterizing. A good starting point is to winterize outside faucets and fixtures. These few steps will take a small amount of time but they could save you a lot of money and inconvenience.
Disconnect - First things first, no matter what kind of hose bibs you have, freeze proof or not, it is very important to remove hoses, splitters or connections from the spigot during the winter. Not removing hoses or any other connections from the hose bib can trap water and can therefore surely cause the fixture to freeze. This is always a difficult step to take because most people will want to use the outside water until the very point when freezing weather begins. It’s best to preempt the cold weather by disconnecting hoses early since even one night of freezing weather can cause a break in a the pipes.
Inspect - The next step to winterize outside faucets is leak detection and repair. Check all hose bibs, yard hydrants and other fixtures for leaks and drips. If you do find any leaks or drips repair or replace the fixture before the temperature drops to freezing. Water dripping, no matter how slowly, can block up and freeze in the pipe or fixture. Although a frozen outdoor faucet may not be apparent until the next season it may be possible to minimize the damage by repairing the leak before the winter.
Drain - Getting as much water out of the pipes is the second step to winterize outdoor faucets. If you have a hose bib that is not freeze proof the best way to do this is to shut off that line if possible and drain it down. If you cannot isolate the water supply to hose bib to shut it off be sure to use extra insulation in the next step.
For a frost free hose bib or a yard hydrant this step isn’t necessary since the fixture design keeps water well back away from the end of the spigot. Just as with regular hose bibs, however, hoses and other attachments should be removed from frost free hose bibs and yard hydrants before the winter or they may not drain down properly.
Protect - The last step to winterize outdoor faucets is to protect them with insulation. An easy way to do this is to install a hose bib cover on each outdoor fixture including frost free hose bibs. Hose bib covers are square or dome shaped to fit right over outdoor faucets. They are made of thick foam so they are quite effective at keeping most of the cold away from the valve. When covering regular hose bibs that could not be drained extra insulation can be installed inside the hose bib cover to keep it warm and dry throughout the winter. In most situations, however, the hose bib cover will provide enough insulation.
Frost free hose bibs should be covered as well because although they are resistant to freezing they are not completely frost proof in the coldest weather. There are rubber gaskets and washers inside the frost free hose bibs that will benefit from the extra protection from the cold that a hose bib cover can provide.
Hose bib covers can be found in most hardware or home improvement stores and are very inexpensive and easy to install. Covers can usually be reused for several years so they are a good long term purchase. For just a few dollars per fixture you can winterize outside faucets quickly and then move on to the other winterizing plumbing tasks that are necessary if you live in a cold climate.