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We have an outdoor faucet on the side of the house with a shutoff valve that no longer appears functional. (Thankfully, the house's main water valve does shut off water, but many other valves appear to not shut water off at all or at least not completely.) Obviously this needs plumbing, but for various reasons that might come later rather than sooner, and I wonder what can be done about that outdoor faucet in the mean time.

I'm shocked it has not frozen already, given continuously below freezing temps here in the northern stretches of northeast USA. When we open the outdoor faucet, water pours out with full force whether or not the indoor shutoff valve is cranked as far closed as it will go.

The simplest solution to ease our nerves about this pipe freezing in the mean time seems to be letting the outdoor faucet run a little bit - a very slight stream / steady drips - until we fix this or temperatures rise. Steadily pouring water a couple of feet from the side of the house seems like an iffy idea to me though, at least if doing it for more than a few days (I may be talking 2-4 weeks.) Is it OK to let an outdoor faucet drip overwinter to prevent freezing when the pipe can't be shutoff from indoors?

Faucet pops out of cedar siding above rim joists, a couple feet above ground level. Below the faucet's pipe is a basement with painted concrete floor & walls. I'm weighing risk-benefit to some extent, because even if this particular pipe froze, that might not be too disastrous. Then again, maybe it has ripple effects I'm not considering.

  • Another option is a strip of heat cable along the reach of pipe branching off from the cold water line and heading toward the outdoor faucet. It's only about 6' and there's grounded outlets relatively close so that may be a safer option. Never used heat cable before so didn't think of it first. – cr0 Jan 19 '18 at 20:30
  • the heat sounds like a lot better idea than the dripping, but i'm not a plumber. – dandavis Jan 19 '18 at 20:37
  • Heat sounds better to me, too. Trouble with a dripping faucet is that, if it gets cold enough, it's going to freeze from the outside towards the inside - gradually reducing the available diameter until it plugs completely. – Jean-Paul Calderone Jan 19 '18 at 21:05
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    If it's a frost free sillcock then you're ok and leave it, if you let it drip then you may get in trouble of freezing it up and burst. – aofkj Jan 21 '18 at 13:12
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    @cr0 a frost free faucet will have an anti-siphon device that usually sticks up from the body. See an example at lowes.com/pd/… – poorplanning Jan 22 '18 at 3:26
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Your best bet would be to fix it, of course. In the mean time, there is heat tape, or you could disconnect the supply pipe upstream enough to still be in the envelope of warmth from the house. There are dead end caps that can be purchased that push fit onto just about anything (PVC/CPVC/PEX/Copper) and can be easily removed when you're ready for a proper repair.

Leaving it drip doesn't guarantee it won't freeze. The frozen ground might be fine under it, but putting a diverter (even a chunk of rainspout) to get the water farther from the house seems like a simple improvement. Even then, keep an eye on it for when ice builds up on the diverter.

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Heat tape is going to be your best bet until you can repair the hose bib. Leaving it dripping that long is incredibly wasteful, plus you'll get a mound of ice piling up where it hits the ground, and you still run the risk of the pipe freezing.

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