Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Depending on where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be ordinary during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?

Although very rare, it’s certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water on the inside of the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance at the same time. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are designed to stay operational no matter how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it never hurts to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, particularly if your water heater is set up outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before going away on an extended getaway this winter, consider draining the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. For added protection, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power outage.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it:

    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 underneath it to collect the water.
    1. Open the valve to begin 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 arctic cold weather subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This method also helps counter frozen and burst pipes.

Install Insulation

Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.

Naturally, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes located 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 product label carefully if you plan to use them together.

Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System

The basic purpose of this system is to transfer 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 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 combined benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Select a Suitable Installation Spot

Almost all North American households have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the rare deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should insist that your next water heater be placed inside, or at least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection

Most 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 alternative is to install it outside.

Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies just enough heat to avoid internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a blackout, look into purchasing 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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