Based on your location, mild weather or intense cold may be the norm this winter. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water inside 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.
Today's water heaters are designed to be operational no matter how cold the temperature drops. Still, it doesn't hurt to take safeguards if a deep freeze is in the forecast, especially if your water heater is placed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended vacation this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to bypass a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid possible freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
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 beneath it to collect the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Think about keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth preventing 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 unique blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more inclined 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 ensure the pipes don't drop in temperature below freezing. Only a few 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 main purpose of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These overall benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American properties 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 rare deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should require 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. Make sure your next water heater has 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 yields an adequate amount of 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 effective when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power failure, consider buying 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 potentially 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 plan a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.