5 Tips for Protecting Your Water Heater From Cold Weather

Winter is almost officially upon us, which means that now is a good time to start thinking about protecting your plumbing from the cold. When it comes to this, one thing that many people don’t ever think about is their water heater. The storage tank on traditional water heaters is well insulated, so these units generally won’t ever freeze unless the tank sits full with the unit off for a long time. Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, can be much more prone to freezing since these units only ever heat when the hot water is turned on somewhere in the home. The good news is that preventing your water heater from freezing is fairly simple as long as you follow these basic tips.

1. Drain Your Water Heater Before Going on Vacation

If you ever plan on being away from home for more than a few days during the winter, it is always a good idea to drain your water heater and shut it off. Most traditional water heaters have a vacation mode where the unit will still keep warm without heating the water to as high of a temperature. This mode is specifically designed to minimize the amount of energy the water heater uses while you’re away while at the same time keeping the unit from freezing.

However, we would still recommend that you drain your tank instead of using the vacation mode. The reason is that if the electricity or gas ever goes out while you’re away, the unit will stop working and could potentially freeze. Draining the tank is something you can easily do on your own, but if you’re uncomfortable or not sure what you’re doing, it is best to get a professional to assist you.

To drain your water heater tank, you will first want to shut the unit off and let it sit for at least a few hours or preferably overnight if possible. This will allow the water in the tank to cool down to reduce the risk of you being scalded. Once the water is cool, you will need to connect a garden hose to the drain valve near the bottom of the tank and run the other end of the hose to a floor drain or outside. Next, close the valve on the cold-water supply leading to the tank and then open up a hot water tap. You have to have at least one hot water tap open, or a vacuum can form in the tank and prevent it from draining. The last step is to open the drain valve until the tank is completely drained.

If you have a gas or electric tankless water heater, then you definitely want to drain it just to be safe since some residual water will always remain inside the unit. The process for draining a tankless water heater isn’t difficult, but you will want to consult your owner’s manual or hire a professional if you’re unsure what you’re doing since you could damage the unit.

After turning off the gas or electricity to the unit, you will want to close the valves on the hot water outlet and cold-water inlet pipes. You should see a small T-shaped purge valve on each pipe, and you will need to remove a cap to access the valves. Screw a hose to each valve and run the other end into a bucket. Open the purge valves and let the unit drain until no more water comes out. Finally, close the valves, disconnect your hoses and put the purge valve caps back in place.

2. Keep Tankless Units Plugged in With the Power On

The majority of tankless water heaters have built-in electric heaters that work to keep them from freezing in cold weather. This is important because these units can be installed in basements, crawlspaces and attics where they may not receive adequate heat. As long as the unit is plugged in and the power is on, the water inside it shouldn’t be able to freeze. However, the unit could freeze quickly in cold weather should the power go out, which is again why we recommend draining it before going away for any prolonged time. If you live in an area that experiences frequent blackouts, another option is to install a battery backup to ensure the unit will always have power, even during a blackout.

3. Make Sure Your Tankless Water Heater Is Well Insulated

The pipes that connect to a tankless water heater are what will usually freeze. This makes it essential that the pipes are well insulated so that cold air can’t penetrate through the copper and cause the water inside the pipes to freeze. This can be done by covering the entire exposed length of the pipe in foam pipe insulation or wrapping each pipe with heat tape.

4. Leave Your Water Running Overnight

If below-freezing temperatures are predicted overnight, you’ll want to take additional steps to prevent your tankless water heater from freezing. The best way to do this is to shut the gas or electricity off to the unit before you go to bed so it won’t continue to heat. You will then want to open up the hot water tap that is furthest away from your heater so that there is just a small trickle of water running. Doing so will keep a small amount of water constantly flowing through the heater, which should ensure that the pipes inside the unit don’t freeze.

5. Consider Having a Recirculating System Installed

One issue with tankless water heaters is that there is sometimes a fairly long lag time before hot water finally starts flowing out of your shower or faucet. The further away the plumbing fixture is from the heater, the longer the lag time will be. Installing a hot water recirculating system can overcome this issue, as these systems use a pump that occasionally circulates hot water throughout your pipes so that you will instantly have hot water the second you open the faucet. Recirculating systems also have the added advantage of helping to keep your water heater and pipes from freezing during the winter, so it is definitely something you may want to consider.

The system works by using a thermostatic sensor that measures the temperature of the water inside the pipe. Whenever the temperature drops below a set level, the pump will activate and send the water inside the pipes back to the water heater. This will cause the water heater to turn on and heat for a short time until the sensor registers that the water is again hot enough. The process ensures that your water heater will run every hour and prevent freezing.

Professional Water Heater and Plumbing Services

If you need any type of water heater service in the Rockwall area, Sunrise Plumbing has you covered. We install, repair and maintain both tankless and traditional water heaters as well as water softeners, sump pumps, garbage disposals, boilers, toilets and sinks. Our team specializes in a full range of drain and sewer services as well. If you have any questions about protecting your plumbing and fixtures from the cold or need to schedule any service, give Sunrise Plumbing a call today.

Sunrise Plumbing

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