Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Depending on where you live, mild weather or severe cold may be ordinary during the winter months. In either case, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?

While relatively rare, it’s definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading concern is that any standing water inside 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.

Rest assured that water heaters are engineered to remain operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take precautions if a deep freeze is in the forecast, especially if your water heater is set up outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before leaving on an extended trip this winter, think about emptying the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid possible freezing. As an added precaution, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power disruption.

Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:

    1. Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker supplying electricity to the water heater.
    1. Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to capture 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.

Allow Some Water to Run

Think about keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This method also helps avoid 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 unique blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.

Naturally, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes situated 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 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 primary purpose of this system is to push hot water to the tap rapidly, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, 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 paired benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Choose a Suitable Installation Spot

The majority of North American households 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 fine for those climates, the rare deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at least in a covered spot 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. The next tankless water heater that you buy should have this, especially if the only option is to install it outside.

Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields just enough heat to avoid internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a power outage, look into 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 perform any water heater repair or replacement you need. We can also recommend 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.

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