Do you really need to cover up a faucet in frost? What to do when there's a big freeze

Frozen faucets cause more issues than not being able to water your plants. Experts explain why covering them may be helpful during frosts

An outside facuet covered in snow
(Image credit: Alamy)

Even if you do not use your outside faucet in the winter, a frozen pipeline is often much more than a simple nuisance – at worst, it can burst, causing extensive damage. But does covering a faucet in winter actually avert a disaster? Experts suggest that it can be helpful, but is not the best way to prevent frozen pipes

Protecting an outside faucet from freezing in winter is one of the best ways to help mitigate the damage caused by burst pipes. 'If you can't let an outdoor faucet drip to prevent freezing or turn the water supply off at the mains, then covering an outside faucet is your next best shot at protecting your waterlines in winter,' says Rachel Crow, garden editor for Homes & Gardens. 'But experts agree that other facuet winterizing steps are more useful than a simple cover.'

As a big freeze hits the country, experts explain when covering an outside facuet could be helpful, and what else you should be doing as well. 

Should I cover my outside faucet? 

An outside facuet covered in frost

(Image credit: Alamy)

With freezing temperatures here, or arriving in your zone, then know that covering the outside faucet and exposed pipes should help to prevent some damage to pipework and infrastructure, experts say. If you are able to turn your faucet off, however, a cover might not be necessary.

'The truth is that if you properly close your outdoor faucet for the winter, then you shouldn't have any problems,' begins Jake Romano, general manager at John the Plumber (opens in new tab). 'Properly closing your outdoor faucet means: shutting the water supply shutoff valve inside your home that supplies water to the outdoor faucet, and going outside to open the outdoor faucet to drain the water from the line.

'The reason you want to do this is the freezing temperature can travel through the faucet and into the water pipe. If the water inside the pipe freezes, it will expand. If it expands enough, the pipe will split or burst, and you'll have to deal with a flooded basement.

'With or without a protective winter cover over your outdoor faucet, I think you are unnecessarily gambling if you don't follow steps one or two – and you're gambling without anything to win,' Jake warns.

You should consider winterizing and covering a faucet once temperatures begin to drop below 28ºF for three hours or more at a time. 

Why covering an outside faucet can sometimes be beneficial

An outside faucet on the side of a house

(Image credit: Alamy)

'So the question becomes if you properly shut down your outdoor faucet – is a protective cover a good idea?' Jake continues. 'I would say that it's not a bad idea. But, I wouldn't bank on that being a long-term solution. Depending on how cold your climate can become, an insulated cover is only going to buy you time,' he says. 

If you are not used to sudden frosts and cold snaps, then it may seem impractical to cover expert faucets and pipework whenever the weather cools down. 

'But I'm also aware that not everyone has $500 to throw at a plumber to install a shutoff valve if you don't already have one (especially at Christmas time),' Jake admits. 'So, if all you can afford is a cover I'd say that's definitely better than nothing and it might protect you. But I just wouldn't expect it to help, guaranteed.'

How to cover an outside faucet properly 

An outside facuet covered with an insulated box

(Image credit: Alamy)

Covering a faucet is often the last step in winterizing a house and simply requires wrapping the pipe and faucet tap in an insulated bag, or containing it within an insulated box to help protect the metal and plastic from the freezing cold. When sealed correctly, a faucet cover traps heat around the tap, preventing the formation of frost on the metal and plastic and cold traveling down the pipeline.

'While a single insulated cover is often enough in mild climates, those living in seriously cold temperatures may want to pack the inside of the box or bag with extra insulative material for an extra layer of protection,' Rachel Crow, garden editor, suggests. 

It is possible to make your own insulating cover if needed, but it is not the best long-term fix. Simply wrapping an old shirt, blanket, or cloth around the faucet and securing it with a plastic bag and strong tape can help take some of the pressure off of the faucet and prevent a build-up of biting frost. Store bought options (below) are a more efficient option, however.

Is it better to drip outside faucets or cover them? 

Whether or not you drip or cover your faucets will depend on your individual circumstances. If you do not want to spend extra money on a high water bill, or you are able to isolate your exterior faucet from the mains water supply, then covering the faucet will likely be better for you. If you can drip your faucet, however, then it may be more effective in protecting your pipework from over-expansion. 

How do you winterize exterior faucets? 

Winterizing an exterior faucet should begin with turning the shut-off valve and draining the water from the faucet pipes. This will help to prevent pipes from over-expanding by removing any water. If you can't turn your faucet off for whatever reason, then it is best to leave your faucet to drip slowly to keep water moving in the pipes over winter as moving water is harder to freeze than still water.

Chiana Dickson
Junior Writer

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.