Can Water Heaters Freeze?

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

Although very rare, it's actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading concern is that any standing water found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, destroying the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Today's water heaters are built to remain operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Still, it never hurts to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, even more so if your water heater is placed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before heading out on an extended trip this winter, think about emptying the water heater to avoid a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if power is lost to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you may want to 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. Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
  2. Flip the circuit breaker supplying electricity to the water heater.
  3. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to catch the water.
  4. Open the valve to create the flow of water.
  5. Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Let the Water Run - A Little

Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature 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 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 unique blanket to help decrease standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.

Naturally, pipes are more likely to freeze than water heaters. Beyond 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 warm the pipes above freezing point. Only some 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 primary purpose of this system is to move 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 likely to freeze. These bundled benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot

Almost all 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 catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, you should require that your next water heater be setup inside, or at minimum in a covered location sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Safeguards

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 products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that yields just enough heat to prevent internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Regardless of 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 power failure, think about investing in 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 recommend 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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