Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be ordinary during the winter months. Either way, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside. This makes many people ask 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 on the inside of 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.
Today's water heaters are built to be operational despite how cold the temperature drops. Still, it is always prudent to take precautions if a deep freeze is in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before leaving on an extended getaway this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you may want 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:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker providing electricity to the water heater.
- Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to catch the water.
- Open the valve to begin the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Think about leaving 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 avoiding a frozen water heater. This approach also helps counter frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and give protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more inclined 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. Another option is to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above 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 goal of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, reducing the wait time and reducing the amount of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These overall benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
Almost all North American properties have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the unexpected deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should require that your next water heater be placed inside, or at the very least in a covered area 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. The next tankless water heater that you buy should have this, especially if the only option is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that yields just enough heat to avoid internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to raise the temperature of 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 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 potentially freezing this winter, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Our well-trained plumbers can accomplish 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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.