Depending on where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be ordinary during the winter months. Regardless, 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 certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water on the inside of the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are built to be operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Even so, it doesn't hurt to take safety measures if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, especially if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before going away on an extended trip this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to bypass a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. For added protection, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
- Turn 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 under it to collect the water.
- Open the valve to start the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Leave the Water Running
Think about keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth averting a frozen water heater. This approach also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a unique blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more likely 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 warm the pipes above freezing point. Only a few 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 move hot water to the tap faster, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, 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 combined benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Pick 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 approach is fine for those climates, the rare 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. Make sure your next water heater has this feature, especially if the only choice is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that provides an adequate amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others spark 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 turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a power failure, consider 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 propose 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.