Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be ordinary in the wintertime. Either way, your water heater works harder when the temperature drops outside the house. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?
While relatively rare, it’s certainly 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, destroying the appliance along the way. If this happens, you may have few options but to replace the water heater.
Rest assured that water heaters are built to remain operational regardless of how cold the temperature drops. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to take safety measures if a deep freeze is in the forecast, especially if your water heater is placed outside.
Before heading out on an extended vacation this winter, give thought to bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing emergency while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if power is lost to avoid potential freezing. For added protection, you might choose to install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power failure.
Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand:
Give some thought to letting 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 avoiding a frozen water heater. This technique also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes.
There are many types of plumbing insulation that you can purchase. You can insulate your water heater tank with a specific blanket to help reduce 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 shield exposed pipes found outside or along exterior walls by wrapping them in foam insulation. You can also install electric heat tape to warm the pipes above freezing point. Only some types of heat tape are compatible with insulation, so read the product label carefully if you plan to use them together.
The basic objective of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap faster, shortening the wait time and reducing the volume of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is simple, water-wise and energy-efficient. It also keeps your pipes warm in the winter and makes your tankless water heater less prone to freezing. These bundled benefits could validate the installation cost, especially in cold climates.
Most North American properties have indoor water heaters. Nevertheless, in mild southern climates, water heaters are sometimes installed in the garage or even outside. While this approach is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the rare deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. As such, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at minimum in a covered spot sheltered from the wind.
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 choice is to install it outside.
Different manufacturers use different freeze-prevention methods. Several have an electric element that yields just enough heat to prevent internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, as a result, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free.
Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only effective when utilized. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a blackout, think about investing in a small portable generator, whole-home standby generator, or battery backup power supply for your tankless water heater.
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 arrange a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today.
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