How to Prep Your Home’s Hose Bibs for Winter

Prevent ice from cracking water lines and fixtures by winterizing hose bibs.

an outdoor frozen pipe

Michael Regan / Getty Images

Winter weather brings with it a series of challenges that you need to prepare for in order to protect your home. Whether you're draining a sprinkler system, winterizing your pool, or de-icing gutters, it’s essential to understand the risks that freezing temperatures can pose. One commonly overlooked task is preparing hose bibs for winter.

If hose bibs are not properly winterized, the water trapped inside the pipes can freeze. When ice forms, the water molecules take on a six-sided crystalline structure, which makes ice less dense than water. However, due to this configuration, the volume of the water increases, forcing the ice to expand outward. This expansion exerts force on the interior of the pipe, valves, hose bib, and any accessories, like hoses or spray nozzles. When the force is too great, the pipes and plumbing fixtures can crack, leading to leaks. 

To prevent costly damage to your hoses, hose bibs, and pipes, it’s necessary to isolate and drain hose bibs, as well as store any hoses and hose accessories in a safe location for the duration of the winter. Find out more with this guide to winterizing your home’s hose bibs.

When to Prepare a Hose Bib for Winter 

Hoses and hose bibs are great for watering the yard, washing the car, or even just having access to readily available water without having to run inside. Winterizing the hose bib too early in the year won’t have any negative impacts on your home, but it does limit the convenience of this plumbing fixture. Instead of jumping the gun and winterizing the hose bib too early, it’s better to have a basic understanding of when to prepare it for winter.

This is an annual task that will need to be completed before winter weather has a chance to damage your plumbing. Outdoor pipes and fixtures are vulnerable to freezing once outdoor temperatures fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so you should plan to winterize the hoses and hose bibs when the outdoor temperatures are consistently below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

sprinklers and hose attachments stored on wall
Jay Wilde

How to Winterize Hose Bibs

Learning how to prep the hoses and hose bibs for winter is relatively easy, but it’s an important task that needs to be completed before winter weather hits to prevent pipes and plumbing fixtures from freezing and cracking. 

What You Need

  • Channel locks
  • Bucket
  • Insulating faucet covers

Step 1: Inspect the System

Inspect your hose bibs, hoses, and any hose accessories as the first step in the winterization process. It’s also a good idea to inspect the hose bibs, hoses, and hose accessories in the spring before you use them again. These brief inspections can help identify any existing issues, so you can make repairs or replace parts, if necessary.

Step 2: Detach, Drain, and Store Hoses

Use a set of channel-lock pliers to detach the garden hose from the hose bib and remove any accessories, like a hose spray nozzle. Drain the water out of the hose and out of any hose accessories. Coil the hose and store it in a safe location for the duration of the winter, such as a garage, shed, or even the basement. Keep hose accessories stored in a plastic bag to prevent any dirt or debris from getting into the openings where it can create a blockage.

Step 3: Turn Off Indoor Valves 

Hose bib faucets extend from the outside of the home through the wall into the interior of the home where there is commonly an isolation valve located just a few inches down the line. Find the isolation valve for your hose bib and turn it off to stop the flow of water through that water line. If you have more than one hose bib, you will need to locate the other isolation valves and repeat this process to turn off the flow of water to the hose bib. 

Step 4: Open Hose Bibs

Head back outside and place a bucket under the hose bib, then open the hose bib valve to drain any remaining water in the line. Having a bucket isn’t strictly required, but if the temperatures are low enough for water to freeze, it’s a good idea to use a bucket instead of creating a layer of ice outside your home. If you have more than one hose bib, make sure to repeat this process to drain the water from each hose bib fixture. 

After opening and draining the hose bibs, leave the valves open. If there is a slow leak from your isolation valve, leaving the hose bibs open will allow any ice to expand down and out of the hose bib, instead of trying to expand inside a closed system where it could crack the pipe or plumbing fixture.  

Step 5: Install Faucet Covers

A final step you can take to protect your plumbing is to install insulated faucet covers. These covers are designed to protect the hose bib and pipes from snow, dripping water, ice, and freezing winter temperatures. This is an optional step, but it is recommended to ensure that your plumbing is properly protected throughout the winter season.

Benefits of a Frost-Free Hose Bib

There are specialty hose bibs known as frost-free hose bibs that are specifically designed to prevent ice buildup. They look similar to a traditional hose bib faucet, but these fixtures are designed with a slight downward pitch that allows water to naturally drain out of the line. In addition, the actual valve component for frost-free hose bibs is located a few inches inside the home, where it is safe from freezing. 

When the hose bib is closed, this operates the valve down the line, so you don’t have to shut off the water supply from inside the house to prevent damage in the winter. Simply turn off the hose bib outside and drain the remaining water. Despite these benefits, frost-free hose bibs should still be insulated during the winter months to protect the pipe, gaskets, washers, and plumbing fixture from freezing snow and ice.

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