Can Water Heaters Freeze?

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

While relatively rare, it’s definitely 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, destroying the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.

Rest assured that water heaters are engineered to be operational no matter how cold the weather is. Even so, it never hurts to take precautions if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, even more so if your water heater is placed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before leaving on an extended getaway this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, 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. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker delivering electric service to the water heater.
    1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to capture the water.
    1. Open the valve to create the flow of water.
    1. Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Allow Some Water to Run

Give some thought to 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 averting a frozen water heater. This approach also helps avoid 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 unique blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.

Not surprisingly, pipes are more prone 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. It’s also possible to install electric heat tape to ensure the pipes don’t drop in temperature below freezing. 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 basic goal of this system is to move hot water to the tap rapidly, reducing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that pours 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 likely to freeze. These combined 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. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the occasional deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should require that your next water heater be placed inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention

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 brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies a sufficient amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Regardless of the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power outage, 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 more information 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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