Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Depending on where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be the norm in the wintertime. In either case, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?

While extremely rare, it’s actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water inside the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are designed to stay operational no matter how cold it gets outside. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take safety measures if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is installed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before heading out on an extended trip this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.

Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:

    1. Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker providing power to the water heater.
    1. Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to collect the water.
    1. Open the valve to create the flow of water.
    1. Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Leave the Water Running

Consider letting 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 method also helps counter frozen and burst pipes.

Install Insulation

There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.

Not surprisingly, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. Another option is to install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. Only a few 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 intent of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap quicker, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less likely to freeze. These paired benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.

Select a Suitable Installation Spot

Most North American households have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the rare deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should demand that your next water heater be installed inside, or at the very least in a covered area sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection

The majority of tankless water heaters have built-in freeze protection that works in temperatures down to -22 degrees F. Don’t buy a tankless water heater without this feature, especially if the only alternative is to install it outside.

Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies a sufficient amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a power outage, look into purchasing 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 possibly freezing this winter, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Our well-trained plumbers can perform 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 plan a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.

  • Easy Ways to Re-Light a Home Water Heater Pilot Light

    When you step into the shower, you expect the water to get nice and hot very quickly. If an icy blast greets you instead, you know something’s not right. The typical root cause behind this nasty, harsh surprise is a water heater pilot light that’s gone out. Don’t worry—relighting your... Continue reading

  • 7 Common Causes of No Hot Water

    If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance it’s because you just had a shockingly cold shower or turned on the faucet to discover that your house doesn’t have hot water. It’s an irritating state of affairs, but don’t panic. Learning the most likely things that leave you with no... Continue reading

  • What Are the Advantages of a Heat Pump Water Heater?

    Heat pump water heaters, also referred to as hybrid water heaters, are a revolutionary and earth-friendly solution that might be perfect for your household’s hot water needs. Delve into the inner workings of these unique devices and explore their pros and cons to help you decide if a heat pump... Continue reading