Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be ordinary during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it's actually 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 at the same time. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are designed to remain operational despite how cold the weather is. Still, it doesn't hurt to take safety measures if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before leaving on an extended trip this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want 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 conveniently and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
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 electric service 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.
Allow Some Water to Run
Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This method also helps reduce the risk of frozen and burst pipes.
There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It's also possible to install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. Only a few 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 goal of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, shortening the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that flows 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 prone to freezing. These combined benefits could validate the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the rare deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should demand that your next water heater be installed 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. 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 provides a sufficient 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.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when activated. 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 more information about your pipes or water heater potentially 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 recommend 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.