Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be typical this winter. Regardless, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?

While relatively rare, it’s definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary 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 be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Rest assured that water heaters are engineered to be operational regardless of how cold it gets outside. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is installed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before heading out on an extended trip this winter, consider emptying the water heater to bypass a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if the power goes out 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 failure.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:

    1. Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker providing power to the water heater.
    1. Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to catch the water.
    1. Open the valve to create the flow of water.
    1. 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 small increase you’ll likely see on your next water bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This approach also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.

Install Insulation

There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and give protection against cold weather.

Of course, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes located outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It’s also possible to install electric heat tape to ensure the pipes don’t drop in temperature below freezing. 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 goal of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the amount of water that pours 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 overall benefits could justify the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Choose a Suitable Installation Spot

The majority of North American households have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should require 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

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 just enough heat to prevent internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, as a result, 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 power outage, think about buying a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.

Schedule Water Heater Services

To learn more 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 schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.

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