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.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Outdoor Faucets, Hose Bibbs, Sill Cocks
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 outdoor hose bibbs used in non-freezing climates - Compression Faucets
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 Associates a Toronto home inspection, report writing tool & education firm), 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).
Watch out: 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.
How to Repair a Standard Hose Bibb or Sillcock - an outdoor faucet that is dripping or leaking
Leaks at an outdoor hose bibb or frost-proof faucet range from a drip to water gushing out of the faucet or out of the anti-siphon vent such as the leaky faucet shown in our photo.
The repair of a dripping hose bibb of this type depends on where the leak is occurring.
How to Repair a faucet that leaks around the valve stem when the faucet is turned on
This common leak can usually be fixed by gently tightening the large packing nut (see sketch). 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:
Turn off the main water shutoff that feeds this water pipe
Open the faucet to drain off water and pressure.
Remove the faucet handle - this means loosening the screw in the center of the handle that holds the handle to the faucet stem or spindle.
Gently wiggle the faucet handle side to side while pulling it away from the faucet stem to remove it.
Unscrew the packing nut - this should expose the packing washer.
Pull off the packing washer and install a new one of the same size and type.
Tip: old plumbers used to carry a graphite-impregnated string that could be coiled around the valve stem and tightened in place in lieu of the factory-provided packing washer. As the domed packing nut is tightened the graphite string (still available from plumbing suppliers) squashes to seal around the valve stem.
Stem packing is still sold both in graphite string form and in teflon string form by Larsen and other suppliers.
In a pinch, when I could not find a matching graphit or nylon dome-shaped valve stem packing washer I've sued a nylon bonnet packing (used on Crane tub faucets) or a thick rubber shower stem valve packing washer that squashed enough to fit other brand valve stems. Bring your valve stem to your hardware store and find a stem packing washer that is snug around the stem diameter.
Replace the packing nut and faucet handle and close the faucet.
Tip: tighten the packing nut snugly - until you feel resistance when you turn the faucet handle, but don't make it so tight that you crack the nut or so tight that turning the handle is difficult.
Turn the water supply back on and check for leaks.
Tighten the packing nut further if water is leaking around the stem.
How to Repair a Dripping Hose Faucet or Stop Valve
Our photo shows the position of the valve washer in a conventional stop valve. You'll find similar washers in hose bibbs and many other water valves of this type.
Other types of water shutoff valves such as gate valves and ball valves do not have a replaceable stop washer or valve washer like the one pointed to by the red arrow in our photo.
Turn off the main water shutoff that feeds this water pipe
Open the faucet to drain off water and pressure.
Unscrew the center screw that holds the faucet handle in place and remove it to gain working room.
Unscrew the faucet packing nut - the large nut on the top of the valve, through which the valve stem protrudes,
Then unscrew the smaller nut now revealed (it was underneath or below the packing nut) that holds the faucet stem or spindle into the faucet body.
Remove the faucet spindle assembly by unscrewing it from the faucet body. You should see the stem washer secured to the bottom of the spindle assembly, usually by a brass screw.
Replace the stem washer, and while you're at it, replace the brass screw too.
We use a small dab of non-hardening teflon paste on the new stem washer screw to make a future repair easy.
Re-assemble the parts in the reverse order of your disassembly.
Close the faucet.
Turn the water back on - you should see no leaking.
How to Repair a Faucet Valve Seat
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.
Especially when a valve stem washer has been leaking for a long time, the passage of water through the valve can literally cut or corrod a slot in the valve seat.
There are valve-seat damage repair tools that might still salvage the repair. The valve seat repair tool mounts through the faucet cap and provides a cutting wheel and handle designed to allow re-surfacing of the valve seat.
The faucet-re-seater kit shown here is inexpensive (less than $10. USD) and is sold by plumbing suppliers, by Grainger.com and other online vendors.
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.
Other faucets have a screw-in valve seat that can be replaced entirely once the valve has been dis-assembled.
Shown below is Lasco's No-Lead Aqua-Seal valve steat repair kit for American Standard Brand faucets. Lasco's valve seat repair kit as well as others are availble from local hardware stores, plumbing suppliers, and onlien vendors such as amazon.com.
Reader Question: Our rarely-used outdoor faucet seems to be clogged internally, maybe with mud. What does the faucet look inside like & how can I clean it out?
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:
Loosen the faucet packing nut to expose the (usually but not always present) smaller nut below the packing nut that secures the stem assembly to the faucet body. You may have to remove the faucet handle to be able to un-screw the packing nut and smaller stem nut completely.
Turn the faucet towards its "open" position (you may have to put the faucet handle back on to do this) which will now unscrew the faucet stem assembly from the valve body.
This will give a view into the faucet interior body. If you see mud and crud therein, stand back, and turn on the building water supply to this faucet.
The water should push the mud/crud right out of the faucet assembly and should flush it clean. If not you may need to pick at the internals of the faucet body to loosen hard-packed mud/crud.
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
Installing a new faucet stem washer and screw
A dab of non-hardening teflon paste on the stem washer screw and on all other threaded parts.
Repair a Leaky Frost-proof Outdoor Faucet SillCock or Hose Bibb
 "Freezeproof Your House," Mike McClintock, Rodale's New Shelter, p. 30, October 1985 (approximate date)
 "How to Winterize Your Pipes," Mike McClintock, Homeowners How-To Magazine, p. 59-62, Nov-Dec
 "Cross Connections", Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Bureau, Lansing Operations Division, Tel: 517-241-1300, web search 5/12/12, original source: http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/customerservice
 "How a Frost-Proof Faucet Works", Woodford Manufacturing Company, 2121 Waynoka Road, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80915, Phone: (800) 621-6032, Website: woodfordmfg.com, Email: email@example.com, WCM Industries, Inc., web search 5/12/12, original source: http://www.wcmind.com/woodford/Troubleshooting/19%20Troubleshooting.pdf
 "Anti-Burst Freezeless Wall Faucet Model 16 & 19, Installation Instructions", Woodford Manufacturing Company, 2121 Waynoka Road, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80915, Phone: (800) 621-6032, Website: woodfordmfg.com, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, WCM Industries, Inc., web search 5/12/12, original source:
 "How a Standard Frost-Proof Faucet Works", Woodford Manufacturing Company, 2121 Waynoka Road, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80915, Phone: (800) 621-6032, Website: woodfordmfg.com, Email: email@example.com, WCM Industries, Inc., web search 5/12/12, original source: http://www.wcmind.com/woodford/HowAFaucet/How%20a%20
 "Cast Brass Hose Bibbs with separate tamper-proof vacuum breaker", Watts Regulator, ES-SC8, 2005, Watts Regulator USA: 815 Chestnut St., No., Andover MA 01845-6098, website: www.wattsreg.com; Canada: Watts Regulator, 5435 North Service Rd., Burlington ONT L7L 5H7, website: www.wattscanada.ca
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
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