Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be typical this winter. In either case, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water inside the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Today's water heaters are engineered to remain operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Still, it never hurts to take safety measures if bitter cold temps are heading your way, particularly if your water heater is placed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before heading out on an extended getaway this winter, think about draining the water heater to avoid a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if the power goes out 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 providing electric service to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to collect the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Leave the Water Running
Think about leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This technique also helps avoid frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a special blanket to help decrease standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Of course, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Beyond 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 keep the pipes just above freezing. 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 purpose of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, reducing the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These paired benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially 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 practice is fine for those climates, the rare deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should insist that your next water heater be setup 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. The next tankless water heater that you buy should have this, especially if the only choice is to install it outside.
Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that yields just enough heat to avoid 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.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a blackout, look into 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 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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.