Based on your location, mild weather or severe cold may be ordinary this winter. Either way, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary concern is that any standing water found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are built to be operational no matter how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it doesn't hurt to take safeguards if bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before leaving on an extended trip this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid possible freezing. For added protection, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker delivering electricity to the water heater.
- Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to collect the water.
- Open the valve to start the flow of water.
- Keep 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 cold snap 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 unique blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more likely 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. 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 basic objective of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, decreasing 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 warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These paired benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the rare deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist that your next water heater be setup inside, or at minimum in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection
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 brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire 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 effective when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. 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
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 perform 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 plan a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.