Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Based on your location, mild weather or intense cold may be the norm this winter. In either case, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?

Although very rare, it's definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The biggest concern is that any standing water found in the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the water heater.

Today's water heaters are designed to be operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Even so, 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 leaving on an extended trip this winter, consider emptying the water heater to bypass a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if the power goes out to avoid potential freezing. As an added precaution, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power outage.

Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:

  1. Shut off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob.
  2. Flip the circuit breaker providing electric service to the water heater.
  3. Connect a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket beneath it to capture the water.
  4. Open the valve to start the flow of water.
  5. Don't stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Allow Some Water to Run

Think about letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth averting a frozen water heater. This technique also helps avoid frozen and burst pipes.

Install Insulation

Plumbing insulation comes in many forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a unique blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.

Obviously, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. Beyond running a trickle of hot water, you can shield exposed pipes situated outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. Another option is to install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. 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 goal of this system is to move hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that pours down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also warms the pipes during the cold months and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These bundled benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot

Almost all 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 approach is fine for those climates, the unexpected deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should demand that your next water heater be installed inside, or at least in a covered location sheltered from the wind.

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Prevention

The majority 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 products use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that supplies a sufficient amount of heat to avoid internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to warm 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 helpful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is engaged. Then, for protection during a power outage, think about buying 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 recommend 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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