Depending on where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be typical during the winter months. Either way, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it's certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance at the same time. 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. Still, it never hurts to take precautions if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended vacation this winter, think about emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power outage.
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 delivering electricity to the water heater.
- Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under 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 technique also helps counter frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a special blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can protect 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 some 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 main goal of this system is to push hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity 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 paired benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Almost all North American households 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 occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, you should require that your next water heater be setup inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Safeguards
Most 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 choice is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies just enough 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 activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a power outage, 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 perform 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 schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.