Depending on where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be the norm in the wintertime. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water inside 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 designed to remain operational no matter how cold the temperature drops. Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to take safeguards if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before heading out on an extended trip this winter, think about emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if power is lost to avoid possible freezing. As an added precaution, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power outage.
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 delivering electricity to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to collect 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
Give some thought to keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing 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 cut down on standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Of course, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Beyond 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 main intent of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap faster, reducing the wait time and reducing the volume of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, 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 validate the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of 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 fine for those climates, the rare deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, 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 Prevention
Most 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 manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire 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 effective when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power outage, consider purchasing a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.
Schedule Water Heater Services
For more information 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 suggest steps to help your pipes and plumbing appliances last longer in any weather. For more information or to schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.