Is Winter Weather Harmful for My Water Heater?

We have been accustomed to having hot water throughout the year that we often fail to notice how the difference in temperature affects our home plumbing. The reality is that your water heater works significantly harder to provide hot water in the winter. 

Not only is the water coming into your system colder than usual, but you may want to increase the overall temperature of your bath and showers to warm you up after a long cold day. Proper maintenance and repair can help reduce the impact on  performance and lifetime of your water heater in cold weather.

Can Cold Weather Damage My Water Heater?

The answer is YES. Most homeowners don’t worry about their plumbing even though it is a vital part of comfort, convenience, and function in their home. Dropping temperatures can cause the metal in your water heater to contract and expand, eventually causing failures, damage, and eventually leaks. Because most hot water heaters are located in places without heat supply such as garages or basements, they are more susceptible to damage.

Water Heater In Garage

Most Water Heaters Are Located In Garages, Basements or Outdoors.

Depending on how old the water heater is, the water quality, and how well the unit was maintained, are important factors to consider. Cold weather can cause overexpansion which can cause frozen pipes. This can lead to burst pipes, which makes the water heater work even harder. Water heaters that

How Do I Know If My Water Heater Is Damaged?

The first step in repairing damaged water is identifying what the damage looks like. Since water heaters are in places we don’t frequent around the home, the “out of sight, out of mind” trap is easy to fall on. It’s important to know what to look for when your water needs repair or maintenance. 

1 – Leaks

Usually the most obvious and convincing sign that a water heater may be malfunctioning is a leak. 


  • Gradual Aging

Gradual aging is most often a critical cause of leakage. Because cold weather can cause contraction and expansion, some older water heaters will crack and cause leaks. If these leaks go undetected, they may slowly begin to leak into your home causing significant structural damage.

Burst Water Heater

A Burst Water Heater Can Cause Significant Water Damage In Your Home.

  • Hot/Cold Inlets & Outlets

Other places to look for leaks are your hot and cold inlets and outlets. Check for leaks here as they are more susceptible to damage as other components. 


  • Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve

Be sure to check out your temperature and pressure relief valves as they may malfunction with all the pressure they manage. This may also be caused by raising the water temperature excessively causing the temperature and pressure relief valve to malfunction. 

Pressure Relief Valve

Pressure Relief Valve Location.

  • Drain Valve

Your water heater’s drain valve was made to remove sediments that accumulate or enter your water heater so it is okay if it leaks a little. Make sure that the drain valve leak isn’t full blown as it can grow into a problem sooner than later. 

Drain Valve Leak

Drain Valves Degrade Over Time And Can Waste Water.

2 – High Energy Bills

When a hot water heater is not running efficiently, it may use extra resources to get the water to the desired temperature. There are varying reasons as to why your heater may be running your bills up. Here are the most important.

  • Sediments

When water from your local provider reaches your water heater it contains naturally occurring minerals like calcium and magnesium. These minerals build sediment particles during the heating process and settle at the bottom of the tank. If your tank is not flushed regularly sediment build up will greatly reduce your water energy efficiency, impairing the ability to provide consistent water temperatures. 

Sediment Inside A Water Heater

Sediment Deposits At The Bottom Of Your Water Heater. Regular Flushing Helps Empty Any Deposits.

3 – Rust

Does the bottom of your tank look a little rusty? This most likely means that the bottom has been exposed to water and in more troublesome cases, the metal lining of the tank has completely corroded. If the rust is appearing near the top of the tank there may be a slow dripping leak from one of the pipes above. It may be too slow or intermittent for you to notice.

Corroded Water Heater

A Corroded Water Heater Can Start Leaking And May Cause Damage.

If you are experiencing rust in your water supply, you may want to check the anode rod inside of the water heater. This rod is highly reactive and will most likely rust before the outside of your water heater. We recommend replacing the rod and flushing out the sediment build up.

4 – Noisy Operation

A water heater is typically running quietly without any cracks or popping sounds. The cause of most noisy water heaters is collected sediment found at the bottom of the tank. This occurs when hot water bubbles go through the layers of sediment found inside the tank. If this sediment remains unchecked, it can possibly cause leaks at the bottom of your tank (indicated by rumbling), which can only be solved with a water heater replacement.

Other causes for water heater noise may include ticking caused by fluctuating water pressure. Loose pipe straps can also cause ticking. Sizzling usually means that there is a leak causing water to fall into the burner assembly. 


How Can I Prevent Cold Weather Water Heater Damage?

As you know, the best solution to preventing any type of damage to your water heater is proper maintenance. This begins with an inspection. Watch for the signs of damage and be sure to replace leaky valves. Freeze protection solenoid valves will help prevent your water heater from freezing by opening and releasing water in case of an outage. Make sure to drain your water heater at least once a year and more frequently if you live in areas with hard water. Another maintenance tip is to add insulation to the water heater and pipes. 

Keep in mind that working on a water heater can be dangerous.



We encourage you to consult your local plumber to take care of the maintenance. If the pressure valves are not installed correctly, leaks and damage to your home are more likely to occur. In some cases the pressure relief valves don’t go off damaging your pressure regulator and even causing an explosion. Call Option One today to get you started with a free onsite estimate of maintenance or repairs.