Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be typical this winter. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are designed to stay operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Nonetheless, it is always prudent to take safety measures if a deep freeze is in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before going away on an extended getaway this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. As an added precaution, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying electric service to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under 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.
Leave the Water Running
Consider keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth preventing 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 unique blanket to help decrease standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. In addition to 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 warm the pipes above freezing point. Only a few 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 intent of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, shortening the wait time and reducing the amount of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, 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 justify 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 once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should demand that your next water heater be placed inside, or at least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection
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 brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that supplies just enough heat to protect against internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in turn, 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 failure, look into 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 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 schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.