How to install a freeze-proof tap

For those extra-cold days, you want a reliable water supply. What you can do

By David ZimmerDavid Zimmer


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Most cottages have sillcocks, outdoor faucets handy for washing window screens and putting out runaway campfires. But what many cottages do not have—even fully winterized ones —is a faucet that can provide an outdoor water supply in winter, when a regular sillcock, if not meticulously drained, will freeze and burst. How else would you flood the lakeside rink or top up the hottub? The solution is to install a non-freeze wall hydrant.

A regular sillcock has a handle attached to a short stem which, when turned, compresses a washer onto a seat, thus halting the flow of water. Trouble is, that short stem means the washer is located close to the faucet handle, outside the warm confines of the building. When the temperature drops, the water-filled pipe the sillcock is attached to will freeze and burst. On a non-freeze hydrant, the faucet handle is attached to a long 10″, 12″, or 14″ internal stem, then a washer. This internal assembly is housed in a hollow external stem and when you crank off the flow, the water is held back within the warmth of your basement or crawl space. Water in the external stem then dribbles out the spigot, preventing freeze-up, flood, and a round of blue-streak cursing.

It’s relatively easy to replace an existing sillcock with a freeze-proof hydrant, provided the sillcock comes from within a heated portion of your basement or crawl space.

1. To begin, close the shutoff valve that controls water flow to the faucet, drain the water from the line, then use a tube cutter to sever the supply pipe leading to the sillcock, leaving enough to meet the end of your new hydrant when you slide it through the wall.

2. Remove the old sillcock, then see if the hydrant will fit through the original hole. If it’s too tight, enlarge the hole so the hydrant just slips inside. If the old hole is too large, you’ll need to cut a patch block from some siding material and either inset it into the existing siding or simply fasten an oversized covering piece over the hole, then drill the correct-sized hole through the block.

3. Apply a bead of caulking around the opening, slide your new hydrant through the hole, and attach it to the siding with a couple of deck screws – there are notches on the faceplate of the hydrant for this purpose.

4. Get down and dirty with your copper piping. Trim the water supply pipe you lopped off earlier so it slides neatly into the end of the hydrant – just measure to the end of the hydrant and add half an inch, the depth of the solder joint. If you cut your supply pipe too short, don’t fret. Use a union fitting and a short piece of copper to make up the difference.

5. Clean all the surfaces to be mated with emery cloth, apply soldering paste to each bit, and fit the whole works together.

6. Before you spark up the propane torch, make sure the valve on the hydrant is open so any steam created in the soldering process can escape. Heat up each joint, then lay on some lead-free solder; when the temperature is right, the solder will flow into the joint. Use a rag to wipe away any excess soldering paste, then open your shut-off valve. Water should flow out of your new freeze-proof hydrant.

If you never had a sillcock to begin with, the process is still straightforward:

1. Find a spot on your outside wall that adjoins a heated area of basement or crawl space, then bore a hole for the hydrant.

2. Slide in the hydrant, fix it to the wall, then break out your plumbing tools. First, shut off the water and drain your supply system, then locate a section of cold-water pipe close to your protruding hydrant. Cut into it, insert a copper T fitting into the line, then extend this new supply to the hydrant with as many fittings and pieces of pipe as you need, cleaning and applying paste to each con-nection as you go.

Of course, you’ll want to ensure your new plumbing slopes gently towards the sillcock so water will drain out when the valve is shut off. Then just heat up the joints and solder everything together as above.

A word on shut-offs:

If your old plumbing arrangement did not provide a shut-off upstream of the hydrant, or if you’re putting in a new hydrant, install a shut-off valve now, while you’re messing about with torches. It solders into your supply line like any other fitting and will let you stop the flow for any later repairs or in case of an accident, like snapping off the freeze-proof hydrant with a snowblower. Better safe than sorry.

This article was originally published on October 25, 2003

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David Zimmer