Depending on where you live, mild weather or extreme cold may be the norm during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside. This makes many people ask the question — can water heaters freeze?
While extremely rare, it’s actually not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The leading concern is that any standing water on the inside of the tank or tankless unit will freeze and expand, ruining the appliance in the process. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that modern water heaters are built to stay operational regardless of how cold the weather is. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions if bitter cold temps are heading your way, especially if your water heater is set up outside.
Before heading out on an extended trip this winter, give thought to emptying the water heater to prevent a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You might also wish to drain the tank if there is a power blackout to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you may want to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens conveniently and drains the water heater during a power outage.
Here’s how to accomplish this task yourself:
Think about letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The resulting slight increase in your water bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This technique also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.
Plumbing insulation comes in many 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 prone to freeze than water heaters. In addition to running a trickle of hot water, you can protect exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. Another option is to install electric heat tape to ensure the pipes don’t drop in temperature below freezing. Only some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the instructions carefully if you plan to use them together.
The main purpose of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap rapidly, decreasing the wait time and reducing the quantity 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 combined benefits could justify the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Almost all North American households have indoor water heaters. However, in mild southern climates, water heaters are occasionally installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is fine for those climates, the rare deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should require that your next water heater be setup inside, or at minimum in a covered area sheltered from the wind.
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 brands use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that supplies a sufficient amount of heat to prevent internal freezing. Others fire up the gas burners to heat a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when activated. 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.
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 perform 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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