Every spring we get inundated with requests to repair lawn faucets (also known as hose bibbs, hose spigots, or sillcocks). There are a multitude of issues that occur with these valves. The most common issue is that the valve won’t turn off completely. Other issues include broken handles, frozen/burst piping behind the valve and dripping coming from the valves handle. There are a number of different styles of lawn faucets out on the market and with each valve comes a different way to fix the problem.
First you need to diagnose the problem (if it’s leaking you need to find out where it’s coming from). Next you need to figure out which kind of lawn faucet that you’re dealing with. The most common valve style we see is the style to the left. Inside the valve there is a stem that travels up and down with a washer on the bottom of it. It shuts the water off by seating the washer up against the brass body on the inside the valve. This valve is the most common because it is the least expensive for a contractor to install.
To fix a drip that is coming out of the spigot (in other words, your valve won’t shut off) you need to replace the washer inside the valve. To do this you need to take the valve “stem” out of the valve body. Make sure that you have 2 wrenches for this. You need one wrench to hold the body of the valve and another to turn out the stem. If you only use one wrench and crank on the valve body you could potentially break the solder joint that is between the valve and the copper supply. This would result in a much larger problem for you. Take the stem with you to the hardware store and replace the washer with the largest washer that will fit into the housing on the stem (note: you probably will have a hard time finding an exact match that fits perfectly snug into the housing. As long as it is large enough to seat against the valve body it doesn’t need to fit perfectly).
Another common problem for this style of valve is that it will drip from the handle. This is due to the failure of the packing that keeps water from coming up through the stem. Often times you will see a white or green crusty deposit around the stem. This occurs when water slowly leaks out and the mineral deposits calcify. To repair this you should first try tightening the packing nut. Often times it works its way loose over time due to the turning of the valve on and off. Sometimes tightening doesn’t solve the problem. To repair this issue you need to add graphite string packing (shown on the left) under the packing nut. The packing nut is the nut located directly at the bottom of the stem under the handle of the valve. It’s easiest to remove the handle first then loosen the packing nut. Do not remove the packing that is already in place. Take a small piece of graphite string packing (found at LeVahn bros. Hardware) and wrap it around the stem and tighten down packing nut. This should solve the problem.
Unfortunately if either of these methods to fix your valve doesn’t work there are no other parts available to repair this style valve. If this is the case replacement is the only option. If this is the case hiring a professional plumber (like the plumbers at LeVahn Brothers) is the best option. Replacement usually involves having to cut the 3/4″ copper supply on the inside of the house. Do not attempt to unsolder the valve from the pipe on the outside of your house. The valve is generally too close to the house to unsolder safely. When replacing the valve it is best to go with a different style (such as a 1/4 turn ball valve or frost free valve) that may cost a fraction more to start with but will save you the cost of a plumber in the future.
Another common lawn faucet is the “frost free” style valve. This valve is a better valve in terms of function and repair. This valves purpose is to prevent the pipe supplying the valve from freezing and bursting during the cold winter months. It works by shutting off the water going to the valve back further in the wall as opposed to outside the house. These faucets will eventually fail just like the cheaper ones talked about above. The difference is the accessibility of parts for repairing this style valve. When purchasing this style valve make sure that the place of purchase has the parts needed to repair the valve when it fails. Some inexpensive versions of this valve don’t have replacement parts and will leave you with no other options besides replacement of the valve.
Another common issue is the valve leaks or doesn’t work due to the back-flo preventor. A back-flo preventor can be part of the valve Like the frost free valve pictured above) or it can be installed on the valve (like the valve to the left). The back-flo preventor is required by code in Minnesota. It’s purpose is to prevent contamination of our drinking water due to water being siphoned back into the system.
In most cases the back-flo preventor is attached to to the valve and a screw is turned until it breaks off (thus securing the back-flo preventor to the valve so that nobody steals it). However this also prevents the back-flo preventor from being removed when it fails. When the back-flo preventor is attached in this way and it is failing your only options are to try and drill out the screw (without ruining the thread on the valve) or to start from scratch and replace the whole valve.
When replacing your valve with a new valve your best option is to go with a frost free sillcock that has a back-flo preventor already incorporated in the valve. Your next best option is to replace it with a 1/4 turn ball valve (pictured on the right). This style valve has less problems across the board. It has a stainless steel ball that shuts the water on and off. Because of this there are no washers to replace. It also does not have a packing nut that will leak over time. This valve should last you a lot longer than other styles. However, if there are any issues that happen to arise the only option for this valve is replacement.
For more questions on this or any other plumbing or hardware issue contact LeVahn Brothers Plumbing and Hardware. You can call us at 763-553-1222