Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Based on your location, mild weather or harsh cold may be the norm in the wintertime. Regardless, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?

Although very rare, it’s actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are built to stay operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is placed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before leaving on an extended getaway this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to avoid a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if power is lost to avoid possible freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose 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:

    1. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker providing power to the water heater.
    1. Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to capture the water.
    1. Open the valve to create the flow of water.
    1. Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Leave the Water Running

Consider leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The small increase you’ll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This technique also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.

Install Insulation

There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help decrease standby heat loss and give protection against cold weather.

Obviously, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. Another option is to install electric heat tape to ensure the pipes don’t drop in temperature below freezing. Only certain 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 primary purpose of this system is to push hot water to the tap quicker, shortening the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less likely to freeze. These combined benefits could justify 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 occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the occasional 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 Prevention

The majority 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. Many have an electric element that supplies a sufficient amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a power failure, 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 complete 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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.

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