Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be typical this winter. Either way, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?

While extremely rare, it’s actually 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, permanently damaging the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Today’s water heaters are engineered to stay operational despite how cold it gets outside. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to take safety measures if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is installed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before leaving on an extended vacation this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if power is lost to avoid possible freezing. As an added precaution, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power disruption.

Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:

    1. Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker providing electricity to the water heater.
    1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to catch the water.
    1. Open the valve to start the flow of water.
    1. Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Leave the Water Running

Think about 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 averting a frozen water heater. This method also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.

Install Insulation

Plumbing insulation is very affordable and comes in a variety of forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.

Not surprisingly, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes found 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 a few 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 primary objective of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity 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 susceptible to freezing. These overall benefits could warrant the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot

The majority of North American households have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should insist that your next water heater be setup inside, or at the very least in a covered area sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection

The majority 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 choice is to install it outside.

Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that provides a sufficient amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in turn, 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 switched on. Then, for protection during a power failure, look into buying a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.

Schedule Water Heater Services

To learn more 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 plan a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.

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