Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be the norm in the wintertime. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it's certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water on the inside of 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.
Rest assured that water heaters are built to be operational no matter how cold it gets outside. Even so, it doesn't hurt to take precautions if a deep freeze is in the forecast, especially if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended trip this winter, consider bleeding out 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 potential 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 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 supplying power 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 begin the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Let the Water Run - A Little
Think about leaving 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 avoid frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a special blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Of course, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It's also possible to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. Only some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the directions for use carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The primary objective of this system is to push hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing 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 keeps your pipes warm in the winter and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These combined benefits could justify the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American households have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is fine for those climates, the occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, you should insist that your next water heater be placed inside, or at minimum in a covered area sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention
A large number 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 products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields just enough heat to avoid internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Regardless of the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power outage, 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 more information 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 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.