Preparing Your Water Heater for Winter

There isn’t a single Houston area resident that doesn’t remember the devastating effects of a February 2021 winter storm that went by the name of Uri. Arriving just before Valentine’s Day, this uninvited guest hung around for eight days and plunged the whole of metropolitan Houston –and most of Texas – into an unprecedented 44-hour deep freeze. 

As the temperatures continued to go down, the number of Texans without power steadily increased until more than 12 million of us were in the dark. 

Power Stations Operated Un-Winterized to Save Money

Fortune Magazine referred to the Texas winter blackout as a “negative feedback loop that sunk the state deeper and deeper into frigid darkness.” Before it was over, nearly half of all power generation stations in Texas were shut down. Just as the “hard freeze” conditions were setting in for the first of three days, many independent power generation companies that hadn’t prepared their equipment for extreme cold weather operation simply went offline. All of it was the direct result of failing to maintain and winterize their generation plants and equipment. 

What Did Winter Storm Uri Teach Us?

The winter storm showed us that maintenance of any system is critical for proper operation and maximum efficiency, and failure is imminent when that crucial step is neglected. Had the state’s governing body that regulates power generation companies (ERCOT) insisted that their affiliated producers perform essential winterizing maintenance, there is a strong chance the blackout could have been prevented. By not servicing the equipment before the fast-moving arctic front, more than half of the power plants responsible for powering the state’s independent ERCOT grid had to remain offline until the temperatures rose above freezing. 

How Does Winter Weather Impact My Water Heater? 

For most of us, our water heaters are located somewhere under our roof, most installed in attics or garages, two areas where the home’s HVAC system does not regulate the temperature. During the warmer months, your water heater has the benefit of the heat naturally around it to assist in keeping your water hot, which results in the water heater doing less work and using less energy. 

While you probably won’t notice a huge difference in energy usage in the fall season, once the weather turns cold, your attic and garage go from an average temperature of ninety degrees down to thirty or forty degrees. Not only are YOU going to feel the difference, but your water heater feels it, too! When the air temperature surrounding your water heater drops, you can expect a spike in your energy bill to follow closely behind.  

Handy DIY Water Heater Tip: 

Limit the seasonal drain on your wallet by wrapping your water heater tank with a layer of fiberglass insulation and securing it with tape. The insulation offers an extra layer of heating loss protection on bitterly cold nights by keeping heat inside the tank. Make sure to keep the insulation as far away from the gas burner assembly, located near the base of the water heater, to eliminate the risk of a fire. 

Can My Water Heater Freeze?

Probably not. Here in Texas, the temperature rarely gets cold enough to freeze a 40-gallon tank of water thoroughly enough to split the tank casing. Frozen water heaters are a concern for homeowners in the more northern states where brutal winter storms are the rule instead of the exception. 

Tankless water heaters, particularly those installed outside the home, all use some form of freeze protection. If you have a tankless water heater located outside, be sure to run a slow trickle of hot water from at least one tap on every floor to prevent standing water in the unit from freezing.

I Need to Get My Water Heater Winter-Ready.  

Call Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning today to schedule your annual water heater maintenance service before the cold weather sets in. Our service starts with draining your water heater and flushing out any sediment build-up that has been collected. This sediment, if left untouched, will settle near the bottom of your tank near the gas heating element. All the water that needs to be heated will be displaced to the top of the tank, resulting in lower hot water temperatures. 

Our licensed and experienced plumbing technicians will inspect the electrical components of your gas water heater, including any switches and the thermostat, for signs of wear and corrosion. Inspection of the gas burner, gas lines, and all associated fittings follows, along with inspection of the tank for signs of rust or leaks. We also check the condition of your anode rod, a sacrificial piece of metal designed to rust away to protect your gas water heater tank. 

What Does it Cost to Winterize My Water Heater?

The average cost of a water heater maintenance call will cost you somewhere between $149 and $279 for a traditional tank-type unit. If you have a tankless gas water heater, your maintenance call will cost a bit more, around $325 – $500 once a year. A schedule of regular water heater maintenance will keep your hot water flowing reliably and efficiently all year round. Call Nick’s Plumbing Air Conditioning about scheduling a water heater maintenance service call today.

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