Outdoor Plumbing

Conserving water

Even if you only use one outdoor spigot for a garden hose, you should make sure you're not wasting water (and money) because of a slow leak. A slow drip from an outdoor spigot can add up to 20 gallons of water a day or 500 gallons a month. The ground under the outdoor spigot tends to be wet from incidental spillage when using the faucet, so you may not notice if it leaks when fully shut off.

Try this test: Shut off the faucet, and wait for it to stop dripping from water still inside. Then, place some newspaper or a paper grocery bag under the spigot and weigh it down with a rock. Check back later to make sure the paper is still dry.

If you keep a garden hose attached to an outdoor spigot, make sure you put fresh washers in the threaded hose connections each spring to prevent leaking.

Replacing an outdoor faucet

Make sure you've shut off the water that feeds the spigot. You may need to shut off the house's main water supply valve, or there may be another valve closer to the outdoor line. Either way, test to make sure it's off by opening the outdoor spigot. As with a garden hose, it'll spill out some water before running dry.

Remove the old faucet by tightly grabbing the pipe below the faucet with a pair of adjustable pliers. Tighten the pipe wrench around the faucet and twist until it comes off.

Use a stiff brush to clean the pipe threads (don't skip this step), then wrap the threading with plumber's tape to ensure a good seal. Install the new faucet, tightening by hand. After the faucet has been tightened as much as is possible by hand, wrap the new faucet with a towel to protect the finish and tighten fully using adjustable pliers.

If you live in a cold climate, you can lessen the risk of a burst pipe by installing a freeze-proof spigot. This has an extra-long stem inside a long pipe so when you close the handle the water is stopped deep inside the house instead of inside the faucet itself.

Be prepared for winter

When winter comes, it really should not be a surprise to you — so there's no excuse for making preparations. Freezing pipes can mean disaster for any homeowner. To prevent freezing, disconnect garden hoses from outside valves. Check in your basement behind the outdoor spigot. You may have an indoor valve you can close that shuts off the water to the outdoor spigot. If so, be sure you then open the outdoor spigot a little to let any remaining water out.

Sprinkler systems

If you're a lawn nut (not that there's anything wrong with that), you probably do a lot of watering during dry spells. This can quickly become your biggest use of water and double your water bill.

Installing a sprinkler system with a timer and other controls can save you money over time. It can be as simple as hooking together garden hoses or a more permanent system with buried water lines.

Either way, there are some basics you should cover:

Get a timer: Once you learn how much time is needed to provide 1 inch of water, you can set the timer to do just that and stop worrying about what time to turn it off.

Plan it out: Even if you're just watering a continuous expanse of lawn, you may find that some areas need more water than others. This can be affected by drainage, sunlight and different varieties of grass. Give yourself a way to turn on or off different sections depending on the need.

Consult an expert: Although you may be able to do all or most of the installation yourself, that doesn't make you an expert. The bigger your system, the more likely you would benefit from a plumber or lawn care expert's input.

Don't contaminate your water. If you're mixing in fertilizer or other lawn chemicals you'll need a backflow preventer to keep the chemical mix from washing back into your home's plumbing system. This part is best left to an expert to ensure there is no risk of contamination.

Outdoor sinks

An outdoor sink can be a great idea, but which kind you buy depends on how you intend to use it. Whether you are barbecuing on the deck or washing your hands in the garden, choosing the best type of sink ensures maximum use.

The barbecue sink: To cook outdoors, no kitchen is complete without an outdoor water source. The expert home chef can’t give a top-level performance if he or she has to run inside for water every few minutes. Made of stainless steel or cast iron, the barbecue kitchen sink should work like an indoor kitchen sink. These sinks are usually part of a larger outdoor kitchen, appearing much like their indoor counterparts as well. However, standalone barbecue kitchen sinks are available but usually require a power source and sink cart.

The garden sink: Like the barbecue kitchen sink, the garden sink should work (and even look) much like an indoor sink, especially utility sinks used more for cleaning dirty tools than dishes. Many garden sinks are mounted on the side of the house, though some stand alone. Most garden sinks are stainless steel and can be used to clean equipment, wash your hands or collect water to put into your garden.

Outdoor showers

People with swimming pools often have installed simple outdoor showers to make for less mess indoors. But even without the excuse of a pool, many other homeowners have discovered the convenience and fun of showering outdoors.

After activities that leave adults or children especially dirty, bathing outdoors keeps the grime out of the bathroom. Those living near the ocean shower outside to prevent sand from being tracked indoors, and many appreciate keeping the humidity-producing steam out of the house in the summertime.

However, it's not as simple as hooking up a garden hose because you're going to want hot water. A plumber can install hot and cold water lines out to your shower with shutoff valves inside to prevent pipes from freezing in winter.

It's smart to include a system to drain the water away from the foundation of the house and a place to stand that prevents puddles. A French drain will direct the water into a drainage area, and a raised wooden box with spaces between the boards will allow the water to drop though the slats to gravel below. Some prefer a poured concrete pad with a traditional drain system, while others are content to bathe standing on a flat stone.

For privacy, you can use a standard shower curtain, but you can also plant deciduous shrubs and perennials. Be sure to make beds around the shower that are large enough to allow the plants to grow and to keep them away from the draining water so the roots don't rot.

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