Can Water Heaters Freeze?

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

While extremely rare, it’s certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary 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 be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are designed to be operational despite how cold the weather is. Even so, it is always prudent to take safeguards if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is installed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before going away on an extended trip this winter, think about emptying the water heater to avoid a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid possible freezing. For added protection, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power disruption.

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

    1. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
    1. Flip the circuit breaker delivering power to the water heater.
    1. Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to catch the water.
    1. Open the valve to begin the flow of water.
    1. Don’t stop 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 small increase you’ll likely see on your next water bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This approach also helps counter 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 special blanket to help minimize standby heat loss and offer 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 ensure the pipes don’t drop in temperature below freezing. Only some 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 basic objective of this system is to push hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less likely to freeze. These combined benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates.

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot

Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the occasional deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should demand that your next water heater be setup 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. Make sure your next water heater has this feature, especially if the only choice is to install it outside.

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

No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a blackout, 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 complete any water heater repair or replacement you need. We can also propose 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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