Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Dependent upon where you live, mild weather or harsh cold may be typical during the winter months. In either case, your water heater has to work harder when the temperature drops outside. This prompts the question — can water heaters freeze?  

While extremely rare, it’s definitely not impossible for a water heater to freeze. The primary 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 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 it gets outside. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take safety measures if a deep freeze is in the forecast, especially if your water heater is installed outside. 

Drain the Water Heater 

Before going away on an extended trip this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing crisis while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if your home loses power for an extended period to avoid possible freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens automatically and drains the water heater during a power disruption. 

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 providing power to the water heater. 
  1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket underneath it to collect the water. 
  1. Open the valve to create the flow of water. 
  1. Continue draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve. 

Let the Water Run – A Little 

Give some thought to keeping a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the cold snap subsides. The associated increase in your utility bill is well worth avoiding a frozen water heater. This technique also helps prevent frozen and burst pipes. 

Install Insulation 

Plumbing insulation is very affordable and comes in a variety of forms. You can insulate your water heater tank with a unique blanket to help cut down on standby heat loss and offer protection against cold weather.  

Not surprisingly, 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. 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 product label carefully if you plan to use them together. 

Put in a Hot Water Recirculation System 

The primary objective of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap quicker, shortening the wait time and reducing the amount of water that flows down the drain. A hot water recirculation system is useful, 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 warrant the installation cost, especially in cold climates. 

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot 

Almost all North American properties 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 practice is reasonably safe in those specific climates, the occasional deep freeze can have negative effects on outdoor water heaters. Consequently, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at the very least in a covered location sheltered from the wind. 

Choose a Water Heater with Built-In Freeze Protection 

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 option is to install it outside. 

Different products use different freeze-prevention methods. Some have an electric element that supplies an adequate amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others spark the gas burners to raise the temperature of a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free. 

No matter the method, water heater freeze protection is only successful when activated. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is switched on. Then, for protection during a blackout, consider buying 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 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 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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