If you live in an area where the winter temperature is consistently below freezing, you’ll rely on your water heater to keep you going. However, sometimes the water heater can freeze, leaving you with ice-cold water or no water at all.
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Fortunately, you can prevent your water heater from freezing with these simple steps:
- Get a freeze-proof water heater.
- Keep the water heater connected to a power source.
- Place the water heater in a warm spot.
- Use a recirculation system.
- Drain your water heater.
- Insulate your pipes.
- Run a trickle of water to keep the heater on.
This guide will walk you through these steps to prevent your water heater from freezing on the coldest winter days. We’ll look at everything from improving insulation to changing the location of your water heater.
1. Get a Freeze-Proof Water Heater
If your water heater is prone to freezing during extremely cold temperatures, you probably have an older model. Most modern water heaters have an anti-freeze option that prevents the water or heater pipes from freezing.
As long as it’s connected to a power source, a tankless water heater will use some of the energy to prevent freezing. This built-in protection usually kicks in when the external temperature drops below -5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius).
The best water heaters have a secondary anti-freeze system that uses sensors to detect when the heater temperature drops below freezing. This sensor will turn the heater on to thaw it, even if no taps are running.
Having a water heater with a built-in anti-freeze feature is the first line of protection against freezing. If you have an older water heater that freezes regularly, consider changing it with a newer model.
2. Keep the Water Heater Connected to a Power Source
Most water heaters will only freeze when they’re not connected to a power source. The freeze protection systems will require power to operate in gas and electric geysers. Remember, it’s more costly to thaw your water heater than to leave it on constantly, so don’t worry about the costs of leaving your water heater on all the time.
If you’re going away for a few days, leaving the water heater powered on will allow it to remain unfrozen, thanks to the anti-freeze system. Besides, most antifreeze systems require minimal power and will only use electricity to keep the heater’s temperature above freezing.
If you live in an area with a risk of power outages, consider connecting your water heater to a battery-powered backup source. You can also get a gas-powered water heater that runs on batteries. You may have to replace the batteries more often in the winter since the anti-freeze feature will switch the water heater on more regularly.
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3. Place the Water Heater in a Warm Spot
Leaving your water heater exposed to the cold may cause it to freeze, even if the water heater has an anti-freeze function. Modern homes usually have a place for installing water heaters indoors, but many houses still have outdoor water heaters.
Snow and cold draughts can damage the heater’s anti-freeze function, which is why your heater should be in a warm or covered position. Have a plumber look at the water heater’s position and advise you on relocating it. The best option is to relocate your water heater indoors.
However, if you choose to leave your water heater outdoors, place it away from the winter draughts. Removing your water heater and placing it in a warmer spot may not cost as much as you think, and it’s an effective way to prevent your water heater from freezing on the coldest days.
However, if you can’t relocate your water heater, your only option is to cover it with insulation.
4. Use a Recirculation System
Water will usually freeze when left stagnant in the pipes. If the temperature is below freezing, leaving water stagnant in the water heater for a couple of hours may cause it to freeze. However, letting the faucet run just to keep water circulating is a waste of water.
The best way to prevent water from freezing in the water heater or pipes is to use a recirculation system. Recirculating water heaters allow for a faster supply of hot water, and it keeps a constant supply of hot water through the pipes. This prevents the pipes or heater from freezing.
Recirculating water heaters are popular in cold areas since they allow hot water to reach taps much faster. Instead of pushing out the cold water and waiting for the hot water to flow through the pipes, the recirculation system will keep a constant flow of hot water through the pipes. An added advantage is that you don’t have to waste a lot of water to get hot water.
However, recirculation systems cost more to operate since they require an almost constant energy supply. Fortunately, many newer models come with sensors and timer systems where you can set a schedule when you want hot water. Apart from the initial cost, they may be less expensive than a regular water heater.
And, let’s not forget that they don’t freeze either!
5. Drain Your Water Heater
If you’re going to be gone from home for a couple of days, you’ll need to drain the water heater to prevent it from freezing. Draining your water heater works best with a tank-storage water heater since tankless water heaters don’t store much water.
Also, you don’t typically need to drain larger water heaters since they aren’t likely to freeze. However, it’s better to be cautious since extreme cold can cause the outer water layers to freeze. When the water heats up, the ice will crack, causing damage to the heater or pipes. So, if you’re going to leave your water heater stagnant for several days, drain it thoroughly to protect it.
To drain your water heater, follow the following steps:
- Switch off the water heater and disconnect the power.
- Wait for at least 20-30 minutes to let the water cool down.
- Drain water from both the intake and outtake valves.
- Put the filters back in place.
Remember, even the smallest amount of ice in the water can damage parts of the water heater. If you have an instant heater, you can drain it regularly since it won’t store a lot of water. However, if you have a large tank-storage water heater, drain it only if you’re going to be gone for a few days.
6. Insulate Your Pipes
While your water heater may have anti-freeze options, your pipes won’t. Pipes are more at risk of freezing, especially if they’re open. To prevent your pipes from freezing, add a layer of insulation to them. Insulating pipes is cost-effective and can protect pipes from cracking from the expansion of melting ice.
Effective methods of insulating your pipes include the following:
- Spray Foam. Spray foam comes in cans that you can use to spray a layer of foam insulation on the pipes. The foam will harden around the pipes, protecting them from extreme cold. Spray foam is an excellent insulation material and will keep your water cool in the summer.
- Foam Rolls. Foam rolls and the most common and least expensive method to insulate pipes. They consist of simple foam rolls that you can seal with tape after wrapping them around the pipes. The best thing about spray foam insulation is that it makes it easy to identify leaks, unlike other types of pipe insulation.
- Fiberglass Insulation. Fiberglass is the perfect insulator used in home and industrial insulation applications. You can insulate your pipes through fiberglass coverings or caulking. Use fiberglass covers for external pipes and use caulking for hard-to-reach areas.
While you can insulate most pipes yourself, have a plumber insulate pipes inside walls or other difficult areas.
7. Run a Trickle of Water To Keep the Heater On
If your heater doesn’t have an anti-freeze function, you can run a trickle of water to keep the geyser on at night. Open the tap just enough for the heater to switch on and stay heated. The flowing water will prevent the water in the pipes from freezing.
However, only use this option as a last resort if your geyser is prone to freezing. Also, avoid opening the tap too much and place a bucket under the faucet to prevent water wastage. You could disconnect the power from the heater and let the faucet flow to save energy, although it’s best to leave it on when there’s a risk of your heater freezing.
A frozen water heater is the last thing any homeowner wants to deal with. By taking the necessary precautions, you can keep your water heater unfrozen and working properly.
To prevent freezing, it’s essential to properly maintain your water heater. If you are still experiencing issues, consider purchasing a newer model or contacting a professional.