Depending on 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. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are engineered to stay operational regardless of how cold it gets outside. Even so, it doesn't hurt to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, particularly if your water heater is placed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended vacation this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. For added protection, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
- Turn 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 underneath 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 letting 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 preventing a frozen water heater. This approach also helps reduce the risk of frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation is very affordable and comes in a variety of forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a unique blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It's also possible to install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. Only some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the product label carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The primary purpose of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, shortening the wait time and reducing the amount of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also keeps your pipes warm in the winter and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These paired benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American properties have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should insist 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 Protection
Most tankless water heaters have built-in freeze protection that works in temperatures down to -22 degrees F. Make sure your next water heater has this feature, especially if the only choice is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to warm 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 switched on. Then, for protection during a blackout, look into investing in 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 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 recommend 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.