Can Water Heaters Freeze?

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

Although very rare, it’s definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary concern is that any standing water inside the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging the appliance along the way. 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 engineered to be operational no matter how cold it gets outside. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take safety measures if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, especially if your water heater is placed outside. 

Drain the Water Heater 

Before heading out on an extended getaway this winter, give thought to draining the water heater to prevent a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if power is lost to avoid potential freezing. As an added precaution, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power disruption. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through it: 

  1. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob. 
  1. Flip the circuit breaker supplying electric service to the water heater. 
  1. Attach a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to collect the water. 
  1. Open the valve to start the flow of water. 
  1. Don’t stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve. 

Let the Water Run – A Little 

Think about leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the bitter temperature subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This technique also helps avoid 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 offer 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. You can also install electric heat tape to keep the pipes just above freezing. Only a few 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 purpose of this system is to push hot water to the tap faster, shortening the wait time and reducing the amount 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 susceptible to freezing. These bundled benefits could justify the installation cost, particularly in cold climates. 

Select a Suitable Installation Spot 

The majority of North American properties 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 approach is perfectly safe most of the time, the rare deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should demand 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 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 products use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that yields a sufficient amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others spark 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 successful when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power outage, consider purchasing 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 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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