How to Replace an Outside Water Spigot
Leaky outdoor spigots can be easier to fix than you might think. If you are a do-it-yourself type of person, who welcomes challenges around the house and doesn't like to spend money where you could figure it out yourself, then this article is for you.
Tap, Faucet, or Spigot - Definitions
When you're starting a new project, it's a good idea to define your terms. Most people don't worry about this much, until they go to buy parts and the sales rep takes them to the wrong thing, or they ask for advice from someone over the phone and neither can understand the other.
Tap, faucet, and spigot are often used interchangeably. However, each has its own particular special use that differentiates it from the others:
Tap is any contrivance that turns to open up a flow of some kind of liquid or gas. In its most specific and enjoyable form, it is used to mean the tap on a beer barrel. When you go to a bar and ask for "whatever's on tap," you are asking for whatever beer they've bought in bulk, which comes in barrels, rather than bottles, and you will watch them go over to a barrel with your glass and flip the tap up to release the beer. You might want to test this out, after you've finished this job.
Faucet is a tap used to release water. In its most specific form, it means those used indoors, that are usually decorative as well. One identifying feature of a high class hotel is its fancy bathroom faucets.
Spigot is more specific than the other two, and means the plain tap that's outdoors, used to connect hoses and fill buckets. Working with a spigot has some similar and some different requirements than working with an indoor faucet.
To Repair or Replace Your Water Spigot
It's also a good idea, at the beginning of a project like this, to examine closely what it is you really want to do. You've probably noticed that your spigot was leaking, but does this require just a minor repair, like replacing a washer, or a complete new spigot? If, upon examination, you discover there are no cracks or visible damage to the spigot, you could try just replacing the washer first (if it has one). But if the spigot handle has broken off, or spins without opening the water supply, or has a crack running down its post that leaks, then you'll need to replace it.
Spigot Parts & Function
There are different ways that faucets and spigots are set up to block and release water from a pipe. The diagram above shows the commonly used "gate valve" with the spigot half open. You can see that the handle is directly connected to a screw-down mechanism connected to a flat plate. Next to it is a vertical plate that semi-blocks the pipe.
The vertical plate has a hole in it. Water can go under the plate, but it can't get out. It can only get out through the hole, which is blocked by the screw-down mechanism when the spigot handle is closed. When you open the handle, it raises the flat plate up and opens the hole, so water can flow out.
Most of these parts are pretty sturdy, but if they break you will need to replace the spigot. With this type of spigot there is no washer to make it a quick repair.
Spigot Tools and Supplies
To make the job easy, rather than frustrating, gather all your tools and supplies first. Your aim is to take the spigot off, take it into a hardware store to find one that matches, then put the new one on when you return home.
If you make sure first that you have all your tools and supplies in place, then you'll know if there is anything else you'll need to purchase while at the store.
Two pipe wrenches
A spray lubricant to help loosen the spigot
Stiff bristle brush to clean off debris
An old rag to wipe your hands and the pipe after scrubbing
- Teflon tape for sealing
- New spigot that you will be purchasing
This is a sturdy pipe wrench to use, if you don't already have one. The teeth work well for gripping pipes without piercing or denting them, i.e. they're not too sharp. The wrench is relatively inexpensive to buy. It opens to 3 1/2", which is bigger than you'll need for most outdoor pipes.
Finding the Water Shutoff Valve
Needless to say, if you take the spigot off without first turning off the water supply, you will immediately be drenched. (Note that turning off the water supply means no one can use water in or outside of the house until you turn it back on.)
The first step in replacing the spigot, therefore, is to find the house shutoff valve. Here is how:
Look for the water meter. In cold climates it might be inside the house or garage, but in most climates it's outside the house, and very often close to the gas or electric meter.
Find a spigot (or faucet, if you're inside) on the same side of the house that you can see from the meter, if possible, and turn it on slightly.
Now look below or near the meter for two handles or levers. Determine which is closest to the house. Turn the handle clockwise or flip the lever to close it.
Check your open spigot to see if the water has stopped flowing. If so, you're good. If not, turn the first one back to where it was and try the other spigot. Once you have it, close the spigot you were testing with.
Now you are ready to work on the derelict spigot.
Disconnect: Locate the place where the spigot joins with the main pipe. Spray that area with lubricant to start the freeing-up process. With a pipe wrench in your non-dominant hand, clasp the main pipe underneath the join. With the other pipe wrench in your main hand, clasp just above the join and turn counterclockwise. Once the join loosens, you'll be able to put the wrenches down and loosen it the rest of the way with your hands.
Purchase new spigot: Pull the spigot and whatever it's attached to out of the pipe. Wipe it off. Use the brush to scrub rust out of the end of the pipe, then wipe it with the cloth. Take the old spigot to a local hardware store and buy another one exactly like it - same width and length. If you don't have teflon tape, get that as well.
Reconnect: Back at home, take the new spigot out of its package. Make sure it's handle is closed. Wrap teflon tape several times around the threads that will screw into the main pipe. This will prevent it from leaking at the join. With your hands, screw the new spigot into the pipe as far as you can. Pick up the wrenches and tighten it the rest of the way, ending with the spigot facing in the proper direction.
Test: Turn the house shutoff valve back on. Go back to the new spigot and test it to make sure it works and does not leak anymore. Once done, be sure to tell everyone in the house they can use the water again.
The video on the right will show you replacement of a spigot that is different from the gate valve spigot pictured above. The video at the bottom will show you how to replace a spigot, along with the pipe below it, if the leak is caused by a burst pipe.
Replacing a Faucet that Leaks at the Outlet.
If you live in a cold area where pipes freeze during the winter, this might be a good time to wrap the pipe for protection. If you decide to do so, you'll want to purchase a wrap at the hardware store, if you don't already have one. Wrap the exposed pipe well and duct tape it closed. This should help prevent the problems dealt with in the following video.