Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be ordinary this winter. Regardless, 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 found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are designed to remain operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it doesn't hurt to take safety measures if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before heading out on an extended getaway this winter, give thought to bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential 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 outage.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:
- 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.
- Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to capture the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Give some thought to leaving 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 averting a frozen water heater. This approach 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 specific blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It's also possible to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. Only some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the product label carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The basic objective of this system is to move hot water to the tap faster, shortening 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 ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less likely to freeze. These bundled benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Almost all 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 reasonably safe in those specific climates, the occasional deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should demand that your next water heater be setup inside, or at least in a covered spot 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. The next tankless water heater that you buy should have this, especially if the only option 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 prevent internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. 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 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 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.