Depending on where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be the norm during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it's actually 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, ruining 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 it gets outside. Even so, it is always prudent to take safety measures if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is placed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended vacation this winter, give thought to draining the water heater to avoid a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid possible freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power outage.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying power to the water heater.
- Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to catch the water.
- Open the valve to start the flow of water.
- Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Let the Water Run - A Little
Consider letting 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 method also helps prevent 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 specific blanket to help decrease standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes found 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 certain 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 move hot water to the tap faster, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that is wasted 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 overall benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should require that your next water heater be setup inside, or at least 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 alternative is to install it outside.
Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that supplies just enough heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Regardless of 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 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 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 recommend 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.