Can Water Heaters Freeze?

Depending on where you live, mild weather or intense cold may be the norm during the winter months. Regardless, your water heater must work harder when the temperature drops outside. This begs the question — can water heaters freeze?  

While extremely 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, permanently damaging 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 be operational despite how cold the temperature drops. Still, it never hurts to take safeguards if a deep freeze is in the forecast, particularly if your water heater is placed outside. 

Drain the Water Heater 

Before heading out on an extended getaway this winter, think about bleeding out the water heater to prevent a plumbing disaster while you’re away. You may want to drain the tank if power is lost to avoid potential freezing. To provide greater comfort and security, you could install a freeze protection solenoid valve, which opens instantly and drains the water heater during a power outage. 

Here’s how to drain a water heater tank by hand: 

  1. Turn off the cold-water supply valve, gas supply valve, and temperature control knob. 
  1. Flip the circuit breaker delivering electricity to the water heater. 
  1. Fasten a hose to the drain valve or place a bucket under it to catch the water. 
  1. Open the valve to begin the flow of water. 
  1. Don’t stop draining until the tank is empty, then close the valve. 

Let the Water Run – A Little 

Give some thought to letting a trickle of hot water flowing from a faucet or two until the arctic cold weather 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 reduce the risk of 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 specific blanket to help reduce standby heat loss and deliver protection against cold weather.  

Obviously, pipes are more prone to freeze than water heaters. Along with 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 ensure the pipes don’t drop in temperature below freezing. Only a few 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 main goal of this system is to transfer hot water to the tap quicker, decreasing the wait time and reducing the amount of water that is wasted 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 paired benefits could validate the installation cost, particularly in cold climates. 

Pick a Suitable Installation Spot 

Almost all North American homes have indoor water heaters. But, in mild southern climates, water heaters are once in a while installed in the garage or even outside. While this practice is perfectly safe most of the time, the unexpected deep freeze can have catastrophic effects on outdoor water heaters. For this reason, you should insist that your next water heater be installed inside, or at least in a covered spot 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. Some have an electric element that provides an adequate amount of heat to protect against internal freezing. Others light up the gas burners to warm a small amount of water and, in short, keep the tankless cabinet frost-free. 

Whatever the method, water heater freeze protection is only helpful when turned on. First, check the unit to make sure this feature is activated. Then, for protection during a power failure, consider purchasing 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 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 schedule a visit, please contact a Service Experts office near you today. 

  • Easy Ways to Re-Light a Water Heater Pilot Light

    When you step into the shower, you expect the water to get nice and hot fast. If an ice-cold shower greets you instead, you know something’s wrong. The typical offender behind this uncomfortable, harsh surprise is a water heater pilot light that’s gone out. Don’t worry—relighting your... Continue reading

  • 7 Common Causes of No Hot Water

    If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you just had an icy cold shower or turned on the faucet to discover that your house doesn’t have hot water. It’s an annoying situation, but don’t panic. Learning the most frequent causes of no hot water is the first step toward finding an... Continue reading

  • What Are the Advantages of a Heat Pump Water Heater?

    Heat pump water heaters, also called hybrid water heaters, are an innovative and eco-friendly solution that might be ideal for your household’s hot water needs. Dig into the inner workings of these distinct devices and explore their pros and cons to help you decide if a heat pump water heater is... Continue reading