Based on your location, mild weather or extreme cold may be typical during the winter months. Either way, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it's actually 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, ruining the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are designed to be operational despite how cold the temperature drops. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is placed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before going away on an extended trip this winter, think about emptying the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency 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 may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker providing power 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.
Allow Some Water to Run
Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth averting a frozen water heater. This method also helps counter 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 special blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes located 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 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 push hot water to the tap quicker, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, 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 warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American households have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, 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. Don't buy a tankless water heater without this feature, especially if the only alternative is to install it outside.
Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that provides an adequate amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. 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 more information about your pipes or water heater potentially freezing this winter, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Our well-trained plumbers can accomplish 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 plan a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.