Freezing Water in Pipes

My wife and I live in a garden (basement) condominium, and there are water pipes above our ceiling that lead to outside spigots (standard ironically-named “frost-free” sillcocks; but not the kind with inside shut-off valve). On two different prior occasions, we have had water damage due to these pipes bursting due to freezing. Both times, the explanation given to us was that water that normally would have drained out was sitting in the pipes because the garden hose was left attached. Last night, we had a low temperature of 22F (-5C), and this morning my wife discovered the hose attached to the spigot (we have iniformed the neighbors of this problem and we try to keep an eye out for this, but last night had a lapse in our vigilance).

My questions:

  1. Is one night of freezing temperatures enough to burst the pipes?

  2. As most of the length of the pipe is inside the exterior (brick) wall, would a lower temperature than what we experienced last night be required for any sitting water to freeze?

  3. Is there any way to test for damage to the pipe other than:
    a. turning on the spigot and waiting for evidence (dripping or water-staining), or
    b. sawing through the ceiling drywall to examine the pipe directly?

Thanx in advance for any help anyone might provide.

If the pipes are damaged you will know qbout it without turning on the spigot. Also I’m not sure what the hose being left connected has to do with the pipes freezing. The spigot being exposed to the extreme cold is what causes the water in the pipe to freeze. There are covers you can purchase to protect the spigots from the cold. Another problem is the type of pipe and spigot that is installed. Cheap ones will freeze and break much easier than better built ones. If PVC pipes have been used you may be in for serious problems.

This might be part of the problem. An exterior brick wall won’t provide much insulation for this pipe, especially if it’s actually in the wall. And you indicated that there is ceiling drywall on the inside; so that would limit the heat from inside that would reach this pipe.

There are foam tube insulation that you can put around pipes; you would need to open at least a bit of the drywall at one end to get access to do this. But I’m not sure insulating them would help much if they are in a largely unheated space.

Another possible solution is to trace the pipes back inside the house until you find a place where they connect to other pipes, and have a shutoff valve installed here. Then you can turn this off at the start of winter, and just leave it off till spring. That’s fairly common up here in Minnesota. (Be sure you drain the pipe from the outside after shutting it off!)

Leaving the hose connected will cause the spigot to freeze, even if it is a no-freeze type. You probably have standing water inside the hose. When it freezes, it expands. Take off the hose and put it away. Get one of those syrofoam spigot insulators and attach it.

Yep Chefguy is correct. If a hose is connect to a no-freeze sill cock, it can still freeze since the water can’t drain out of the sill cock.


The sill cock styrofom covers may be all you need. Or replace the sill cock with a freeze prof one. The water drains out of those when you turn them off. Bassically, the valve is connected deper into the house.

Is it off a copper line, or threaded steel? Copper is much much easier.

Don’t try to replace it yourself unless you now a bit about plumbing. Or, you want to learn about plumbing.

A frost-proof spigot is a stretched-out faucet. The knob outside turns a shaft that closes the valve, which is 10 or 12 inches inside. When there’s no hose hooked up, the water drains out, and there’s nothing to conduct the heat loss back to the inside water. With a hose attached, the water inside the spigot can freeze and split open the spigot. Until the spigot is opened again in the spring, there may not be enough leakage to show a problem.

This was the situation when I first move in my house. The house inspectors noted some water under the kitchen sink (the faucet is just outside the sink,) but they couldn’t figure out where it came from. When I turned on the faucet in March, Mrs. Nott screamed from the kitchen, “Turn it off! Turn it off!” The split spigot had gone months without leaking, because the split was between the valve and the outside wall.

We had a plumber come in to fix it. He was a man of many faucets.