Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)

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Frost-free Hose Bibbs (Bellingham Real Estate Inspections)

Frost-free hose bibbs are nifty devices.  For the most part, they end the worry about outside faucets freezing in winter. At least they do the job here in Whatcom County's maritime climate, where it never gets too frigid.

I have seen problems with the devices but that is, usually, due to a lack of common sense on the part of a homeowner or a builder. In the case of the homeowner, if hoses are left on the faucets during the winter, expect both the hoses and the faucets to freeze.  In some instances, if a builder has run a long supply pipe to a hose bibb through an uninsulated wall, the pipe in the wall might freeze.

Clients often wonder how a frost-free hose bibb operates. It is fairly simple. When you turn the water off with the handle at the front of the hose bibb, that turns off a valve that is farther inside the assembly (back by the threads at the left side in the photo). So, as long as the device is installed properly and it tilts forward so excess water will run out the tilted spigot, then the water supply is protected since it is back in the wall in a warmer part of the house -- basement, crawl space, garage, etc.

 

Do you want to know if your hose bibbs are frost-free? There is an easy way to find out. Take the hose off. Then turn on the water for a few seconds; turn it off again.  If there is a distinctive flow of water out of the bibb (draining) when you turn the water off, then you have a frost free hose bibb. If, on the other hand, once you turn the water off, if the flow stops almost immediately, then you probably do not have a frost-free model. This video provides an example of a frost-free hose bibb draining.

In most cases, if there is a vacuum breaker (that round or octagonal button at the top) then you have a pretty modern hose bibb and it is probably frost-free. However, in fact, the vacuum breaker is a backflow preventer -- designed to keep gray water from entering the potable system. For example, let's say you fill the backyard fish pond and leave the hose down in the water. The vacuum breaker protects against that icky pond water coming back up into the dishwasher, the freezer ice-maker, the drinking water.

Quite often, vacuum breakers will leak. If that occurs right after you turn on the hose bibb, and then it stops leaking, then you probably do not have too much to worry about. But, if the leak is ongoing or looks like this one in the video below, then plan on repairs. Often repair is as simple as removing the cap and replacing the internal vacuum breaker parts. Other times, you might have to call in a plumber.

That gauge on the hose bibb checks water pressure. It puts back pressure on the hose bibb and, in part, that is a reason for this big leak. However, if you think about it, this same scenario may occur in everyday use. If you have a hose on the bibb and a nozzle/sprayer at the other end of the house, for washing the car, every time you turn the nozzle off, that hose bibb will begin leaking profusely. Time for repairs! By the way, if your outdoor faucets do not have backflow preventers, you can buy the screw-on kind -- they go between the hose bibb and the hose -- at hardware stores.

 

 

Steven L. Smith

If you enjoy nostalgia and music of yesteryear, click on Elvis' gold record to visit This Day In History. To explore The Stories Behind The Music blog posts click on the electric guitar. 

 

        

 

 

 

 

Comment balloon 5 commentsSteven L. Smith • August 23 2012 10:11AM
Frost-free Hose Bibbs (Bellingham Real Estate Inspections)
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Frost-free hose bibbs are nifty devices. For the most part, they end the worry about outside faucets freezing in winter. At least they do the job here in Whatcom County's maritime climate, where it never gets too frigid. I have seen problems… more
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