Depending on where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be the norm during the winter months. Either way, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside. 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 within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may have no choice 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 bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before leaving on an extended trip this winter, think about emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid potential freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power outage.
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 providing electricity to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to catch the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Let the Water Run - A Little
Give some thought to keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This approach also helps avoid 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 minimize standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes found 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 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 move hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These paired benefits could validate the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the occasional deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should require that your next water heater be installed inside, or at the very least in a covered area 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. Don't buy a tankless water heater without this feature, especially if the only choice is to install it outside.
Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that yields an adequate amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when turned on. 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 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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.