Based on your location, mild weather or extreme cold may be the norm during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very rare, it's actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.
Today's water heaters are engineered to be operational no matter how cold it gets outside. Still, it never hurts to take precautions if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended vacation this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid possible freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, 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:
- Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker delivering electricity to the water heater.
- Connect 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.
- Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Leave the Water Running
Think about leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The small increase you'll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This technique 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 unique blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.
Not surprisingly, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes located outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. Another option is to install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. Only certain 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 basic purpose of this system is to push hot water to the tap faster, shortening the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that is wasted 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 likely to freeze. These combined benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American properties have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should demand that your next water heater be placed inside, or at least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention
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 manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power outage, consider purchasing 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 possibly 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 suggest 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.