Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be the norm this winter. Regardless, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are built to stay operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before heading out on an extended vacation this winter, give thought to draining the water heater to prevent a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker delivering power to the water heater.
- Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to capture the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Leave the Water Running
Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth averting a frozen water heater. This approach also helps reduce the risk of frozen and burst pipes.
There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a unique blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. You can also install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. Only certain types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the directions for use carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The main objective of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, reducing the wait time and reducing the amount of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These paired benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the unexpected deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should insist that your next water heater be setup inside, or at least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Safeguards
The majority of tankless water heaters have built-in freeze protection that works in temperatures down to -22 degrees F. The next tankless water heater that you buy should have this, especially if the only option is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies just enough heat to prevent internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a power outage, think about purchasing a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.
Schedule Water Heater Services
To learn more about your pipes or water heater potentially freezing this winter, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Our well-trained plumbers can complete any water heater repair or replacement you need. We can also recommend steps to help your pipes and plumbing appliances last longer in any weather. For more information or to arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.