Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be ordinary this winter. Regardless, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outdoors. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?

Although very rare, it’s actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The main concern is that any standing water found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are engineered to stay operational no matter how cold the weather is. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take safeguards if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is set up outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before departing on an extended trip this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to avoid a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid potential freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power outage.

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 power to the water heater.
    1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to capture the water.
    1. Open the valve to begin the flow of water.
    1. Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Leave the Water Running

Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The small increase you’ll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This method also helps reduce the risk of 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 cut down on standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.

Not surprisingly, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes located outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. It’s also possible to install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. Only certain 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 intent of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is convenient, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These bundled benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.

Select a Suitable Installation Spot

Most North American properties 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 approach is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the rare deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist 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

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 alternative is to install it outside.

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

No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power failure, consider investing in 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 possibly freezing this winter, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Our well-trained plumbers can complete 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.

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