Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be typical during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance at the same time. 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 no matter how cold the weather is. Nonetheless, it is always prudent to take safety measures if bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended vacation 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. For added protection, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power outage.
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 providing electricity to the water heater.
- Attach 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.
- Keep 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 cold snap subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth averting a frozen water heater. This technique also helps prevent 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 specific blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes located outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It's also possible to install electric heat tape to ensure the pipes don't drop in temperature below freezing. Only some 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 primary purpose of this system is to push hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, 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 combined benefits could justify the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Almost all North American homes have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes 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. Because of this, you should demand that your next water heater be placed inside, or at minimum in a covered spot sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection
A large number 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 manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields just enough heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a blackout, consider 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 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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.