Outdoor faucets, hose bibbs, & outdoor hose connections:
This article describes outdoor faucets, hose bibbs, sillcocks, or hose hookups, how they work, where they should be installed, freeze-proofing hose hookups, and troubleshooting or repairing stuck, broken, or dripping outdoor faucets.
We describe the component parts of outdoor faucets, how water flows through the faucet, and where drips or leaks occur. Leaky outdoor faucet repair instructions address each of these faucet leak locations & types and suggest a repair sequence from easiest that may work to more challenging faucet repairs that may be necessary.
Our photo at page top shows water gushing out of the building wall just above the foundation. The owner/occupant had forgotten to turn off water to the outside hose hook-up, leaving that line full of water. The water line just inside the foundation froze and burst.
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Page top schematic of a frosst-proof hose bibb is provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates. Also see VALVES, PLUMBING for a description of the different types of plumbing valves found at buildings both inside and outdoors.
Traditional compression faucets (shown at left) allow water to flow from the building supply piping out through the faucet mouth by opening (turning) the valve handle counter-clockwise (to the left when looking at the top or face of the handle).
As you can see in our sketch at left (courtesy of Carson Dunlop), opening the faucet allows water to flow from the pipe up through a passage cast into the body of the faucet and out the faucet mouth.
When this type of faucet is closed, the stem washer presses against the faces of the valve seat to stop water flow.
This faucet, when mounted on the wall of a building in freezing climates, is not protected from frost damage and can freeze, break, and subsequently leak when freezing conditions warm up.
If you live in a freezing-climate and if your outdoor faucet is the older type that is not frost-proof (photo at left), you should be able to turn off water to that faucet and open a small screw fitting on the faucet body side to assist in draining that device when draining the building piping.
For the hose bibb shown at left, we found a water shut-off inside the building close to this device.
Watch out: notice that hose splitter attached to the sillcock at left? If those little black valves are left in the "closed" position in winter the faucet won't drain even when shut-off inside, and it may freeze and break.
Even in a building where heat and water are being left on for the winter we make sure to find and use (or install if needed) the valve to turn off water to each outdoor faucet. Then we open the faucet to let it drain, leaving it open (and making sure it's not dripping from an indoor shutoff valve that is not working well).
Never leave a garden hose attached to your outdoor faucet in winter as water in the hose may add to the risk that the faucet will be freeze damaged.
As our illustration (left) explains, the long shaft (green) of this frost-proof faucet permits the actual stem washer and valve seat to be located on the warm side of the building exterior wall.
A hose bibb faucet that includes a vacuum breaker is designed to permit water to drain out of the faucet when the faucet is closed.
The attached atmospheric vent (allowing air into the faucet) combines with a check valve to prevent back-flow of unsanitary water from a garden hose backwards into the building water supply piping.
The check-valve shown in this sketch (adapted from Woodford's frost-proof hose bibb technical data ), prevents back-flow into the building. [Click any image to see a larger, detailed version]
How might we get backflow from a garden hose into the building piping? Easy. Suppose you are filling an above-ground pool, or a fish pond, with your garden hose.
The above-ground pond in our photo at left includes three levels, at least two of which are high enough to cause water back-flow when the pond fill-hose is left connected as shown in our photo.
As long as the upper surface of water in such an outdoor water container is higher than the hose bibb location on the building, the potential for back-flow occurs.
Back-flow of water from such a source through an open hose bibb faucet would then occur if the building happened to lose water pressure.
Also see CROSS CONNECTIONS, PLUMBING.
Frost-proof or freeze-proof outdoor hose bibbs or sillcocks use longer-stem frost-proof outdoor faucet (shown at left) used in new construction in most jurisdictions.
The long faucet body of a frost-proof hose bibb is long enough to extend fully through the building exterior wall or foundation and into indoor or heated space, places the actual shut-off stem washer and valve-seat inside the building (see lower illustration in the sketch at left.
Frost-proof outdoor faucets are installed with the faucet body sloping down from its connection inside the building.
This position assures that when the faucet is turned off, any water remaining inside the faucet body will drain fully.
As we explained above in describing standard compression type hose bibbs, you should never leave a garden hose attached to the outdoor faucet in winter. Even with a frost-proof faucet, water in the hose may add to the risk that the faucet will be freeze damaged by preventing the faucet from draining fully even when it is turned to the "off" position..
Sketch at left showing the two types of outdoor water faucets is provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
The repair of a dripping hose bibb of this type depends on where the leak is occurring.
This leak can usually be fixed by gently tightening the large packing nut (see sketch above). Tightening this nut will further compress the packing washer to cause it to squeeze more tightly around the valve stem and stopping the leak.
Watch out: do not so over-tighten the packing nut on the faucet that you cause it to crack or break, or it's new faucet time. Try just turning it 1/4 turn, then open the faucet again to see if the leak has been repaired. Tighten in small increments. Don't tighten more than necessary or you'll find that the faucet handle becomes very difficult to turn.
If tightening the faucet packing nut does not stop the leak you can often repair this component easily as follows:
If the dripping hose faucet still leaks we suspect that either the stem washer you installed is not the right one or that the valve seat itself has become corroded or damaged.
Disassemble the faucet spindle and handle assembly as we described above.
Inspect the valve seat inside the faucet. Often you will see a small groove in the valve seat that has been worn through the seat by dripping water. If that groove is shallow you can often smooth the faucet seat to a sealable condition by purchasing and using a faucet valve seat repair tool at any hardware store or building supplier.
The faucet valve seat repair tool includes a stem that fits inside the packing nut of your faucet, and a round "grinder" face that mounts on the end of the stem. Select a grinder face that fits inside the diameter of your valve and covers the valve seat.
By assembling the faucet seat repair grinder and stem through the packing nut, the grinder will be held in the proper position (with the grinder parallel to the valve seat). Pressing on and turning the valve stem repair resurfacing tool may suffice to "grind" the valve seat back to a smooth condition.
If not, but if the seat is almost perfect, the valve may still shut off without dripping when you install a new stem washer. If not, you will most likely need to replace the faucet entirely.
First Thank you for all your wonderful help a couple of years ago with my well and septic tank issues. All fixed now. Do you have any diagrams of what the INSIDE of an outdoor faucet (attached to the house) looks like.
I have one that is essentially never used except at the water supply for my swamp cooler in the summer. I am sure it is plugged with mud from all the times the well has been pulled out of the ground over the years and it now seems to be bad enough to be affecting the flow to the cooler.
If I knew what the inside looked like I could at least try to unclog it a little at a time. I am told that because it is almost as old as the house (39yr) that it could break if I tried to remove it to replace it.
I have tried pipe cleaners, wire, water pressure (syringe with Christmas tree adapter), all with no luck. If I just knew what it looked like inside I like to think it would help. Thanks, - S.F.
Thanks for the nice note. We are always very happy when our information proves useful, and thus much welcome questions & content suggestions such as your own. Because you live in an area where swamp cooles are used, I infer that you're not in a freezing-climate and that your hose faucet is a simple one such as we show above.
Provided you are talking really about an outdoor faucet or hose bibb, (not a water flow control valve installed in a section of water piping) the illustration provided earlier on this page and reproduced at above-left shows what a warm-climate standard hose faucet looks like. You can see from the cross sectional drawing that the bottom of the feed-pipe and faucet body could indeed accumulate mud and crud, leading to a clog that prevents water flow even when the faucet is "opened".
A simple fix for a debris-clogged faucet that usually works, though it sprays water all over the place (so is only suitable for outdoor repairs) is as follows:
Watch out: don't scratch up the valve seat face with a digging tool or the faucet may drip on reassembly.
Before reassembling the faucet, we recommend
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