Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be typical this winter. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively 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, permanently damaging 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 regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Still, it is always prudent to take safety measures if bitter cold temps are heading your way, particularly if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended getaway this winter, consider draining the water heater to bypass a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential 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 outage.
Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying electricity 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 start the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Think about letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This method also helps counter 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 cut down on standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. In addition to 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 certain 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 main objective of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows 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 susceptible to freezing. These bundled benefits could justify the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American properties have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the rare deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should require that your next water heater be installed inside, or at minimum in a covered spot 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. Don't buy a tankless water heater without this feature, especially if the only option is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that provides a sufficient amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in turn, 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 engaged. Then, for protection during a power outage, consider buying 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.