Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be typical this winter. Regardless, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
Although very 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 in the process. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Today's water heaters are designed to stay operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it doesn't hurt to take safeguards if a deep freeze is in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is installed outside.
Drain the Water Heater
Before departing on an extended getaway this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to avoid a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power failure.
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 electric service to the water heater.
- Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to catch the water.
- Open the valve to begin the flow of water.
- Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This technique 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 unique blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.
Naturally, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. Another option is to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. Only certain types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the directions for use carefully if you plan to use them together.
Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System
The basic intent of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that flows 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 susceptible to freezing. These bundled benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.
Choose a Suitable Installation Spot
Almost all North American households have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the rare deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should demand that your next water heater be placed inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection
A large number of tankless water heaters have built-in freeze protection that works in temperatures down to -22 degrees F. Make sure your next water heater has 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 protect against internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Regardless of the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a blackout, consider 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 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.