The Boiler Room Blog

Advice on commercial water heater selection, maintenance and safety issues for businesses that rely on a steady supply of hot water.

Winter Prep for Water Heaters

water heater maintenance

Take these water heater winter prep precautions and you’ll have a much happier spring!

A water heater not properly prepared for winter can create a serious mess, resulting in a time-consuming hassle that’ll cost you a lot of money, both short- and long-term. So be sure your water heater is ready to roll this winter and into the coming spring by following these tips for water heater winter prep.

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Big Problem: Blocked Intake and Exhaust

You must be sure both the air intake and exhaust vents are clear of all debris. This is primarily an issue for high-efficiency units (HE), also called condensing or sealed combustion water heaters. Snow is the most common problem. In the winter months, snow can easily block or be drawn into your water heater’s air intake pipe. Another (extremely unpleasant) problem is small animals. Small critters like birds and mice might crawl in your exhaust piping because it seems like a warm and cozy place. Unfortunately, the exhaust gasses easily overcome these creatures, so now you’re left with a dead animal in your piping. I won’t go into detail, but take my word for it: this is a messy problem you’d be better off not experiencing firsthand!

An important part of water heater maintenance is clearing blocked vents, which can become covered from things like snow drifts!If the water heater is blocked from the air intake side, not only will that water heater just plain stop working, but a blocked air intake pipe could also result in potentially serious damage to the water heater and its components. So you need to be sure that water heater gets enough air in to fire up and burn properly. If the water heater’s exhaust vent is blocked, then that heat buildup could very well damage your water heater. You could also be looking at carbon monoxide (CO) backup, which means you’re facing personal injury risks in your establishment—so now you’ve got a liability issue, and no one wants that.

You may think, hey, my water heater is running, so what’s the problem? Well, if your air intake and/or your exhaust vent are even just partially blocked, both problems mean that your commercial water heater isn’t working at peak efficiency. So even if your commercial water heater appears to be working properly, all that money in potential energy savings you wanted from your high-efficiency (HE) unit is going right out the window. Wasted energy means wasted money, plain and simple.

Problem Solved: Clear Air Intake and Exhaust Vents

Fortunately, there are many ways you can prevent your air intake lines and exhaust vents from getting plugged with debris and damaging your water heater.

  • If possible, install the intake line and the exhaust vent on the side of your building that gets the most sun exposure. All that snow will melt faster around your piping, lowering the risk of snow blockage.
  • If the area near your exhaust and intake is prone to drifts, put up a snow fence to protect the area from excess snow.
  • When running the intake or exhaust piping out of the rooftop, be sure a U-shaped pipe is installed at the end of that intake/exhaust vent, as it prevents rain, snow, and other debris from running straight down the pipe, potentially causing blockage.
  • Install stainless steel mesh screens on both the intake and exhaust to prevent small animals and other debris from finding their way into your water heater piping.

Turning Off Your Water Heater All Winter

If you’re way up north and/or if you have a seasonal establishment, it’s quite possible your water heater is turned off while you’re away for the winter. If you’re also shutting the heating off to that building, proper water heater shut off is of vital importance. Think about it: if you have an 80-gallon water heater and all that water freezes inside the tank? As the water freezes, it will expand, eventually bursting your water heater tank right open. A mistake like that isn’t fixable; the entire water heater will need replacement.

Not only will the water in the water heater’s tank freeze, but all kinds of water heater components risk damage from frozen water as well. Your cold water feed line, your gas valve, your T/P valve—all of these components and more will break, crack and leak if exposed to frozen water expansion.

Plus, you’re looking at potential damage when all that water thaws. Once the pipes unfreeze and the water starts flowing again, you’re going to have a flooded room if you don’t get to it fast enough. No one wants to deal with that kind of mess—and it’s likely going to cost you a LOT of money down the drain, too.

To prevent a huge mess and a huge expense, be sure to drain your water heater completely before you leave for the winter. You’re going to want to completely isolate that unit, so turn off the water supply to the water heater and drain all associated water lines.

It’s all about clear intake and exhaust piping and proper winter water heater shut off. Trust me, take these water heater winter prep precautions and you’ll have a much happier spring!


Image courtesy of Flickr user tvol. All images licensed for use under the Creative Commons.

2 Responses to Winter Prep for Water Heaters
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