Jim Quattlebaum Master Plumber
With winter approaching there is that one little task that often goes undone and can cause major damage to your home if neglected. That little task has the potential of causing you to loose the use of your home for sometimes months while the water restoration crew removes and replaces the damaged parts of your home. Sometimes if the water damage is slight, you can get by with just a few days of inconvenience while the dehumidifiers and air movers are nosily doing their job. Brave are the ones that try to continue to live in their home while the rumble of the dehumidifier raises the room temperature to 85 degrees and above to super heat the air to start the condensation process, or the roar of the air movers to facilitate the dehumidifiers relentless task. Sometimes the damage is extensive and rooms have to be removed of flooring and fixtures. I’ve personally seen it to where entire floors of homes have to be re-done. Imagine walking into your home and seeing walls reduced to the studs and floors reduced bare.
The above tragedy can be mostly avoided with a routine that should happen sometime before the first heavy frost, ideally before the outside air temperature falls to freezing. Remove the garden hoses from your hose bibs, faucets, sill cocks. But wait you may say! “I thought the builder said those were freeze proof hose bibs!” Well, they can be if properly installed and you follow the rule of removing the hose before freezing. The “freeze proof” bibs are designed to drain water out of the fixture by allowing for the actual shut off of the water back up inside the fixture in the heated/insulated part of the home. Woodford Model 19 This draining feature typically works well if installed properly such that the fixture can release all the water from back in the heated/insulated area. Below is an excerpt from the Woodford Manufacturing Company a premier supplier of quality fixtures. The plumbers choice!
When I say typically I mean to say there are times when even this fails to avert failure. Improper insulation, drafty conditions, unheated area will and have lead to failure and water damage. My observations is that the drafty conditions are the predominant culprit. Make sure your crawlspace door is closed and even perhaps close the crawlspace vents on the predominantly windy side of the dwelling.
For those of us that have the old fashioned sill cocks, there are some preventive things we can do to avert the freezing of the fixture. Turn off the water to the fixture inside the heated space and open the sill cock to drain it. Take it one step further and add one of those Styrofoam covers over the fixture. Typically there will be a panel that you can remove or a ceiling tile to slide back to expose the shut off valve for the fixture. Mine is actually located in the closet ceiling across the room from the fixture! Typically the shut off valve is located within a few feet if not right at the fixture.
Some will say, and I have even been remiss in doing the above procedure to their sill cocks and have not had a lick of trouble. This must be due to the radiant heat of the dwelling keeping the fixture above freezing. Although, I think the blowing wind has a lot to do with freezing sill cocks and pipes in general for that matter. I’m reminded by a fascinating example of old man winter not choosing to freeze a water pipe. A customer of mine who has a well head out in an open field with a separate 1″ PVC water pipe coming out of the ground beside the well casing separated by 2 feet or so. He had done this so as to have water way out in the field when needed. Great idea! This pipe has never been insulated or heated and has never frozen even with the temperatures well into the teens for several days! So there can be exceptions to the rule!
But wait! Not so fast. One more task is at hand. Come spring time when we all grab our hoses and get ready to fill that pool or wash that messy car, turn on the water to the fixture and listen. Often you can immediately hear the hissing in the wall of a busted fixture. This process might require the help of someone inside the dwelling to accomplish this. I remember one time when a customer had put the hose in the pool and turned it on to fill it after winter, she subsequently left to do some shopping and returned to a flooded home!
So be sure to add to your list of home maintenance for the winter by taking the time to remove that garden hose and drain the fixture! Perhaps tie this process to the first frost or certainly Thanksgiving.