Depending on where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be ordinary during the winter months. In either case, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main 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.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are designed to stay operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Nonetheless, it is always prudent to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before leaving on an extended vacation this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if power is lost to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power failure.
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 delivering electric service to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to capture the water.
- Open the valve to begin the flow of water.
- Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Consider letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This method also helps reduce the risk of frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation is very affordable and comes in a variety of forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a unique blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Beyond 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 warm the pipes above freezing point. 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 basic objective of this system is to push hot water to the tap rapidly, reducing the wait time and reducing the amount of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, 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 combined benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American households have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the occasional deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, 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
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 brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that provides just enough heat to avoid internal freezing. Others light 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 activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a blackout, consider purchasing 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 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.