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Why do Frost Free Hose Bibs Leak in the Spring?

May. 06, 2015
Why do Frost Free Hose Bibs Leak in the Spring?

Great question.  Leaks from the water line supply to a frost free hose bib aren't typically found until the spring and the leaking hose bib as the culprit is not always noticeable.

Here's why:
Frost free hose bibs are approximately 12" long and the handle on a frost free hose bib opens a valve all the way on the other end.  Although any excess water that remains inside the frost free hose bib is designed to drain out after the handle is turned off, if a garden hose is still connected to the frost free hose bib, the water will remain inside.  During warm outdoor temperatures, this isn't a problem.  However, during below freezing temperatures, the water inside the frost free hose bib will often freeze, expand, and split the frost free hose bib. 
Even when the hose bib is split during freezing temperatures the homeowner usually doesn’t face a problem then or when the ice inside the hose bib thaws. It doesn't typically leak, because the handle is still off and the excess water (now thawed) drains out the hose.  When the hose bib is used, the handle is turned on, and now the split inside the hose bib wall allows the water to leak inside your home - often times causing major damage. 

Why you don’t know where the leak is coming from:
Remember, the person using the hose bib is outside with the hose and doesn't know there are gallons of water rushing out the split pipe and into your home.  When the hose is no longer in use, the water is turned off which also stops the water leaking out of the split pipe inside.  It may be some time later before the water and the damage from the leak is discovered - leaving the homeowner wondering from where the water came.

What we recommend:
1. Get a partner to help you turn the hose bibs on every spring.  Each person needs a phone so communication is quick and clear. 
2. Before you turn on any hose bibs, make sure you know where the main water shut-off is located and you know how to turn it off. 
3. Then, one person goes outside and turns on the hose bib while the other person is inside the home on the opposite side of the wall from the hose bib.
We recommend having a large towel just in case there is a leak.  If there is a split pipe, the leak will become obvious quickly (within seconds).  If water begins to leak, have the person outside quickly shut the valve to the hose bib off.  If this doesn't work, quickly turn the water off to the home at the main water shut off and call a licensed plumber.  If no water leaks are identified within 30 seconds, the hose bib should be fine and you may move on to test the next hose bib.  Most homes have two or more.

So, how is a split hose bib prevented? 
Remove the hose from the hose bib before the outside temperatures are below freezing.  If you suspect that your hose was left connected during freezing temperatures, you should definitely follow the steps above or, if you feel uncomfortable performing this process yourself, call a licensed plumber.
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Thornton & Grooms
24565 Hallwood Ct
Farmington Hills, MI 48335
(248) 644-7810
MI Plumbing Lic. #: 8106666
MI Contractors Lic. #: 7100232
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