Depending on where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be the norm this winter. In either case, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it’s certainly 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, destroying 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 remain operational despite how cold it gets outside. 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.
Before leaving on an extended trip this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
Consider keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water 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 special blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. In addition to 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 keep the pipes just above freezing. Only certain types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the directions for use carefully if you plan to use them together.
The basic goal of this system is to move hot water to the tap faster, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume 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 combined benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Almost all North American households have indoor water heaters. But, 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 require that your next water heater be setup inside, or at least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
A large number of tankless water heaters have built-in freeze protection that works in temperatures down to -22 degrees F. Make sure your next water heater has this feature, especially if the only alternative is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that supplies an adequate amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to heat 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 activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a power outage, think about buying a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.
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 propose 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.
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