Depending on where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be the norm this winter. Either way, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. 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 biggest concern is that any standing water inside the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are designed to stay operational despite how cold the temperature drops. Still, it is always prudent to take precautions if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, especially if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before heading out on an extended vacation this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to avoid a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if power is lost to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power outage.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying electric service to the water heater.
- Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to collect the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Leave the Water Running
Consider leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This technique also helps reduce the risk of frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a special blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It's also possible to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. Only certain types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the instructions carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The main objective of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, reducing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These paired benefits could validate the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American properties have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, you should require that your next water heater be setup inside, or at least in a covered spot sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention
A large number 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 products use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that provides just enough heat to protect against 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 helpful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power failure, think about investing in a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.
Schedule Water Heater Services
For more information 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 suggest steps to help your pipes and plumbing appliances last longer in any weather. For more information or to schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.