Depending on where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be the norm this winter. Either way, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it’s certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water inside the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are engineered to remain operational no matter how cold it gets outside. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is installed outside.
Before leaving on an extended vacation this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to bypass a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You can also drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power disruption.
Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:
Consider leaving 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 avoiding a frozen water heater. This approach also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and provide protection against cold weather.
Of course, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Along with running a trickle of hot water, you can protect 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 some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the product label carefully if you plan to use them together.
The primary purpose of this system is to move hot water to the tap rapidly, shortening 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 keeps your pipes warm in the winter and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These combined benefits could justify the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Most North American households have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is perfectly safe most of the time, the occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.
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 option is to install it outside.
Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that provides an adequate amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Regardless of the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when turned on. 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.
For answers to questions 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 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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