Can Water Heaters Freeze?
Depending on where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be typical in the wintertime. Either way, your water heater has to work 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 at the same time. 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. Still, it is always prudent to take safeguards if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is placed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before leaving on an extended trip this winter, give thought to draining the water heater to bypass a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker providing electric service to the water heater.
- Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to capture 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
Give some thought to letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This approach also helps counter frozen and burst pipes.
There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a special blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Obviously, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes found 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 instructions carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The main intent of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the amount 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 prone to freezing. These bundled benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American homes have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should demand that your next water heater be installed inside, or at the very least in a covered spot sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Safeguards
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 option is to install it outside.
Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that supplies an adequate amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat 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 turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a power outage, think about 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 schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.