Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Based on your location, mild weather or extreme cold may be ordinary during the winter months. In either case, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?

While relatively rare, it’s actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading 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 be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Rest assured that water heaters are engineered to be operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Even so, it is always prudent to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is placed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before going away on an extended getaway this winter, think about emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power outage.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:

    1. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker providing electricity to the water heater.
    1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to collect the water.
    1. Open the valve to begin the flow of water.
    1. Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Let the Water Run – A Little

Give some thought to keeping 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 method also helps avoid 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 reduce standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.

Of course, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. You can also 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 main goal of this system is to move 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 keeps your pipes warm in the winter and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These paired benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot

Most North American homes 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 occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist that your next water heater be setup inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention

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 alternative is to install it outside.

Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power failure, think about buying a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.

Schedule Water Heater Services

For answers to questions 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 propose 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.

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