Depending on where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be ordinary in the wintertime. Either way, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it's definitely 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, destroying the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.
Today's water heaters are designed to be operational no matter how cold the weather is. Still, it is always prudent to take precautions if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, especially if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before going away on an extended getaway this winter, think about draining the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying power to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to capture 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 arctic cold weather subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This approach also helps avoid 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 provide protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. You can also install electric heat tape to ensure the pipes don't drop in temperature below freezing. Only some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the instructions carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The main purpose of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap faster, reducing the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also keeps your pipes warm in the winter and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These paired benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American households have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally 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. As such, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention
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 manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies just enough heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when utilized. 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 complete 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.