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Can Water Heaters Freeze?

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

While extremely rare, it’s certainly not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading concern is that any standing water within the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, permanently damaging the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may have no choice but to replace the water heater.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are designed to remain operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it is always prudent to take safeguards if sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast, especially if your water heater is installed outside.

Drain the Water Heater

Before departing on an extended getaway this winter, give thought to bleeding out 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. To provide greater comfort and security, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power outage.

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 providing electric service to the water heater.
    1. Connect 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. Keep draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve.

Allow Some Water to Run

Give some thought to leaving a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth preventing a frozen water heater. This approach also helps reduce the risk of 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 decrease standby heat loss and give protection against cold weather.

Naturally, pipes are more inclined to freeze than water heaters. In addition to 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 some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the instructions carefully if you plan to use them together.

Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System

The basic purpose of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap quicker, reducing the wait time and reducing the quantity of water that is wasted down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, 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 paired benefits could warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates.

Choose a Suitable Installation Spot

Most North American homes have indoor water heaters. But, 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 unexpected deep freeze can have ruinous effects on outdoor water heaters. Because of this, you should insist 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 Safeguards

A large number 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 option is to install it outside.

Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Many have an electric element that provides just enough heat to protect against internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in turn, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.

Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power outage, look into investing in 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 complete 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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