Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be the norm in the wintertime. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outdoors. 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 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.

Rest assured that water heaters are designed to remain operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it never hurts to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, particularly if your water heater is installed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before going away on an extended getaway this winter, consider bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.

Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:

    1. Shut 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 under it to capture 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

Think about keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap 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 counter 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 decrease standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.

Not surprisingly, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can cover exposed pipes situated 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 certain 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 intent of this system is to move hot water to the tap faster, 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 ensures your pipes are warmer and makes your tankless water heater less susceptible to freezing. These combined benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Select a Suitable Installation Spot

Almost all North American properties have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is fine for those climates, the occasional deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist that your next water heater be setup inside, or at minimum in a covered area 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 choice is to install it outside.

Different brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that provides just enough heat to protect against internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Whatever 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 failure, 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 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 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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