Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Based on your location, mild weather or severe cold may be the norm during the winter months. Either way, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?

While extremely rare, it’s actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance along the way. 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 it gets outside. Nonetheless, it is always prudent to take safety measures if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is set up outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before heading out on an extended trip this winter, think about draining the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power disruption.

Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:

    1. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker supplying electric service to the water heater.
    1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to collect the water.
    1. Open the valve to create the flow of water.
    1. 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 bitter temperature subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This technique also helps prevent 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 specific blanket to help decrease standby heat loss and give 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. Another option is to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. 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 transfer hot water to the tap quicker, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that flows 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 prone to freezing. These combined benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot

The majority of North American properties have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, you should require that your next water heater be installed inside, or at minimum 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. Don’t buy a tankless water heater without this feature, especially if the only option is to install it outside.

Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to heat 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 switched on. Then, for protection during a power failure, 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 possibly freezing this winter, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Our well-trained plumbers can accomplish 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 plan a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.

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