Depending on where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be typical this winter. In either case, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging 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 engineered to be operational regardless of how cold it gets outside. 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 set up outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended trip this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing disaster 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 could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker delivering electric service to the water heater.
- Connect 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.
Leave the Water Running
Think about keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth averting 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 reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes found 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 product label carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The primary intent of this system is to push hot water to the tap faster, decreasing the wait time and reducing the volume of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less likely to freeze. These overall benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
The majority of North American households have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the occasional deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist that your next water heater be placed inside, or at the very least in a covered area sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection
The majority of 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 brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that provides an adequate amount of heat to protect against 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 turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power failure, look into purchasing 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 possibly 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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.