Do it yourself: Installing an outdoor faucet that won't freeze

Q: I have an outdoor faucet that I use a lot to water plants and wash my cars. It leaks badly. I want to replace it with a freeze-proof faucet so I can use it year-round without worrying. Are those faucets hard to install and are they really freeze-proof? I have half-inch copper water pipes.

A: These faucets, usually called frost-proof, can freeze in some conditions. Freeing usually happens when a hose is left attached to the faucet in cold weather and the water in the hose freezes, backs up, and cracks the shaft of the faucet. Some new faucets have a special valve to prevent this, but the best bet is to disconnect the hose in cold weather. A frost-proof faucet is not difficult to install if you have a few basic plumbing skills and some common tools. The faucets have a long shaft that extends through the foundation or wall of the building so that the actual water-shutoff point is inside the building, where the temperature is presumed to be high enough to keep water pipes from freezing.

Start by turning off the water supply to the outdoor faucet you want to replace; there should be an inside valve to do this. Next, measure the length of the shaft of the new faucet, cut off the water pipe that leads to the old faucet at a point where the pipe will connect with the new faucet and pull out the old faucet through the existing hole in the foundation or wall. Most frost-free faucets have a threaded end on the shaft, so a fitting that will accept the threaded end should be soldered to the end of the cut water pipe (don't neglect to figure the length of the fitting into your measurements before cutting the pipes). Poke the shaft of the new faucet through the hole, enlarging the hole if necessary, and apply Teflon sealing tape to the threads of the new faucet before screwing it into the fitting. When the faucet is in the position you want outside the building, seal around the opening with patching cement, epoxy putty or caulk to hold it firmly in place.

A tip: When you buy your new faucet, try and get one with a metal handle. I owned a faucet with a plastic handle once, and when the handle broke I was unable to get a replacement handle even though the faucet was bought at a large home center. My present frost-proof faucet has a metal handle.

No heavy lifting

Q: I have a small bedroom with only one window, and I want to find a window air-conditioner that will fit the window but be light enough in weight so that I can remove it on cool nights to get natural ventilation. My doctor has told me not to do any heavy lifting, so I would have trouble installing and removing it unless it was pretty light. I need at least 5,000 BTUs.

A: It is unlikely you will be able to find a 5,000 or 6,000 BTU window air conditioner weighing much less than 40 pounds, but there are several options by which you can avoid heavy lifting. One is to buy a unit that can be installed through the wall instead of placed in the window. If you have wood-framed walls, this is a relatively simple job for a carpenter. If you have masonry walls, the installation is more difficult. Installing the unit this way means it can be left in place year round, freeing the window for ventilation when you want it. An insulated cover can be placed over the unit in winter to reduce drafts and heat loss.

Another option is a portable air conditioner. These have flexible pipes that extend through the window, but the pipe is easily taken out and there is little lifting involved. Most portable coolers have wheels so they can be easily moved. I have never tried one of these air conditioners, so I can't vouch for their performance. Prices usually run higher than window units. For more information, search for Portable Air Conditioners on the Internet.

If your doctor approves, a third option is to buy a wheeled table that is approximately the same height as the window sill. You can probably find a table like this at an office-supply store. You could then slide the cooler in and out of the window without bending down to lift it. You should not try this without the approval of your doctor, however.


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