Based on your location, mild weather or intense cold may be ordinary this winter. Either way, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water inside the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are engineered to be operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Still, it is always prudent to take safety measures if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before going away on an extended getaway this winter, think about emptying the water heater to avoid 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 possible freezing. For added protection, you could 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:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying power to the water heater.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to collect the water.
- Open the valve to create the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Leave the Water Running
Think about letting 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 preventing a frozen water heater. This approach 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 reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. You can also install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above 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 main goal of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, decreasing the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These bundled benefits could validate the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Select a Suitable Installation Spot
Most 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 perfectly safe most of the time, the occasional deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, 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
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. Many have an electric element that supplies a sufficient amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Regardless of the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a power outage, think about 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 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 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.