Depending on where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be typical in the wintertime. Regardless, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary concern is that any standing water within 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 built to be operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Still, it never hurts to take precautions if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended trip this winter, think about draining the water heater to bypass a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly 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 providing power 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 begin the flow of water.
- Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Give some thought to keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth averting a frozen water heater. This approach also helps prevent 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 minimize standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Of course, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes located outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. You can also 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 main purpose of this system is to push hot water to the tap quicker, reducing the wait time and reducing the amount of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These bundled benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American homes have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is perfectly safe most of the time, the occasional deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at minimum in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Safeguards
Most 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 alternative is to install it outside.
Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that supplies just enough heat to avoid 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 helpful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a power failure, think about investing in 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 possibly 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 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.