Depending on where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be typical this winter. Either way, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it's certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary concern is that any standing water found in 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 built to remain operational despite how cold the weather is. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take safety measures 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 getaway this winter, think about draining the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. For added protection, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:
- Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
- Flip the circuit breaker supplying electricity 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 begin the flow of water.
- Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.
Allow Some Water to Run
Consider letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This approach 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 special blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Of course, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes situated 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 some 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 main goal of this system is to move hot water to the tap quicker, reducing 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 susceptible to freezing. These overall benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Pick a Suitable Installation Spot
Most North American properties have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the rare 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 minimum in a covered area sheltered from the wind.
Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention
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 alternative is to install it outside.
Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that provides a sufficient amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a blackout, consider buying 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 suggest 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.