How to Replace a Leaky Outdoor Faucet or Water Spigot
Outdoor faucets (also known as water spigots or hose bibbs) are subject to a lot of wear and tear that cause them to leak over time. However, they can be easier to fix than you might think. If you are the do-it-yourself type who welcomes challenges around the house, this is the article for you.
Before You Start, See If You Can Fix the Spigot
You've probably noticed that your spigot is leaking, but does it just require a minor repair, like replacing a washer, or do you need a completely new one?
Examine it for any visible signs of damage to the handle, stem, or supply pipe. Is it leaking from the handle, spout, or where it joins the main supply pipe?
- If it's leaking from the handle, try tightening the packing nut or replacing the washer(s) first (see the photo below).
- If it's leaking from the joint to the supply pipe, remove the spigot, inspect the threads for damage, clean the threads, and wrap them with Teflon tape.
- If it's leaking from the spout, the inner mechanism may be damaged, and it's probably easier and cheaper to just replace the entire thing.
Hose bibbs usually cost anywhere from $5-10, but a plumber may charge you upwards of $150 for the replacement service. Save some money and do it yourself. As you'll see, they're really quite simple to replace.
Tools You Will Need
To make the job easy and avoid frustration, gather all your tools and supplies first.
- Replacement spigot
- Two pipe wrenches
- Spray lubricant (penetrating oil)—to help loosen the threads
- Stiff-bristled brush—to remove corrosion and other debris
- Old rags—to wipe your hands and the pipe after scrubbing
- Teflon tape (plumber's tape)—to seal the threads and prevent future leaks
What Type of Spigot Should I Get?
I recommend removing the old spigot and taking it to the hardware store to find a direct replacement. There are two things you or the store clerk should be looking for:
- Thread size: They usually come in 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch. Make sure you get a replacement that's the same size.
- Male or female: Is your spigot male (the threads are on the outside) or female (the threads are on the inside)?
How to Replace an Outdoor Water Spigot
- Locate the water shut-off valve.
- Shut off the water supply by turning the water shut-off valve clockwise.
- Open the spigot to drain the remaining water.
- Remove the spigot by firmly grasping both the spigot and the supplying pipe and twisting the spigot counterclockwise.
- Brush the threads to clean the corrosion.
- Seal the threads with Teflon tape.
- Install the new spigot by hand before tightening it with a wrench.
- Check for leaks.
1. Locate the Main Water Shut-Off Valve
In most houses, the main water shut-off valve is located near the water meter. If you live in a cold region, the meter is likely in your house or garage. If you live in warmer climates, the meter is probably outside—at the front or side of your house.
You may have one or two valves. The valves will either be controlled by a lever or a wheel handle. Ball valves use levers, while gate or globe valves use wheel handles.
2. Shut Off the Water Supply
Turn the lever or wheel clockwise to shut off the water supply.
If you're unsure which shut-off valve will cut supply to the faucet you're trying to replace, turn the faucet on slightly and close the shut-off valve. The water should stop running within a minute or two. If it doesn't, go back to the meter and look for another valve.
Levers are usually allowed to turn only 90 degrees. Wheel handles will turn until they are seated (usually within one or two full revolutions).
3. Drain the Excess Water
Open the spigot to let any remaining water drain out. You may have stopped the water flow, but there is still some water in the portion of the pipe from the shut-off valve to the spigot.
Remember to close it again when you're done.
4. Remove the Old Spigot
Firmly grasp the supply pipe at the hex nut with one pipe wrench. Keeping the supply pipe steady to avoid damaging the entire system, turn the spigot counterclockwise with the second pipe wrench.
If it doesn't turn, stop. Don't force anything, which often does more damage. Spray some lubricant in and around the joint and leave it on for a few minutes to loosen the threads.
A few quick taps can also help loosen up the corrosion. Just remember to stabilize the supply pipe before doing so.
5. Brush the Threads to Clean the Corrosion
Use a stiff-bristled brush to remove corrosion, left-over plumber's tape, and other debris. This prevents damage when installing the new spigot and ensures a water-tight seal.
6. Seal the Threads With Teflon Tape
Wrap the exposed threads with Teflon tape, starting at the base and overlapping about half the width of the tape until you reach the tip. Teflon tape fills in the tiny gaps between the threads to ensure that no water can leak out.
7. Install the New Spigot
Carefully screw on the new spigot by hand until it is seated. Tighten it the rest of the way using a pipe wrench. To prevent damage to the protective finish, wrap a towel around the spigot before grasping it with the wrench.
8. Check for Leaks
Once it's installed, check for any leaks from the joint, stem, and spout. Make sure the spigot is turned off before turning the water supply back on. Then, open the spigot and make sure that water is only coming out of the spout.
How to Replace a Leaky Faucet
Common Questions About Water Spigots
What's the difference between a tap, faucet, spigot, and hose bib?
All of them can refer to a valve that controls the flow of water, but there are some differences in their usage. For example, a tap in British English refers to the water control valve in sinks and bathtubs—what would be considered a faucet in American English.
Spigot is a more technical term for a tap or faucet used by plumbers and other people in the industry, and it usually refers to outdoor faucets. Hose bibb (or hose bib) is another term for a spigot and is so named because it is where you would normally attach a hose.
How does a spigot work?
In a regular spigot, water supply is controlled by a valve—either a ball, globe, or gate valve—that can be opened or closed by a screw-down mechanism. The diagram below depicts a gate valve. As you turn the handle, the mechanism either opens or closes the valve.
Leaks from the spout generally occur due to wear and tear in this inner mechanism. You may choose to replace the individual components, but it is usually cheaper and easier to just replace the entire spigot.
How can I prevent an outside faucet from freezing?
If you live in a region that is prone to frost, leaks can be caused by water expansion inside the pipe and/or spigot. To prevent frost damage, follow these steps:
- Close the main water shut-off valve and drain the water from the spigot(s).
- Wrap the spigot and any exposed pipes with pipe insulation (usually cylindrical foam pieces). Duct tape them for a tight and secure seal.
- Install a frost-proof faucet.
Note that wrapping with insulation will only slow heat loss. It cannot prevent it or generate heat. With continuous exposure to freezing temperatures, the insulation will become ineffective. This is why draining the water out or installing a frost-proof faucet are the best ways to prevent frost damage.
How does a frost-proof faucet or spigot work?
The basic mechanism of a frost-proof or freeze-proof faucet is similar to a regular faucet; a valve is opened or closed to control the flow of water. The difference is where the valve is located.
In a frost-proof spigot, the stem (the portion that houses the valve control mechanism) extends up to two feet into the house. This prevents the water from being exposed to freezing temperatures since the valve (the point where the water supply stops) is now located in the house.
Questions & Answers
How do I replace an outside water spigot if I have copper pipes?
It depends on if the copper pipe is threaded or not. If it is (I'm assuming you're replacing the faucet), you will replace the old faucet with a new one in the same way you would with any other kind of pipe.
If it isn't threaded, and the leak is where the pipe joins the faucet, you'd have to cut off the end that inserts into the faucet, and use either solder or a compression fitting to put a new end on.
Here's how to solder it on:
If you use a compression fitting, watch out that you don't tighten it too much:
If you're connecting copper pipes to plastic, you'll want to insert a liner in the plastic pipe to keep it strong and not leak under the compression fitting: