Few appliances in a home are as useful, neglected or as disastrous as a water heater. When we turn on a hot water faucet or shower, we expect hot water. The reaction when that doesn’t happen is immediate- we check the water heater. Beyond draining or flushing out the mineral build up once a year and making sure the pilot light is lit on gas models, it is ignored and ill maintained.
What Happens Inside a Water Heater?
Simply put, all water contains minerals that corrode metal. Different areas of the country have more minerals than others. Heavy mineral concentration is called hard water while light concentration is called soft water. To protect the metal inside a water heater an enamel or “glass” lining is installed. This lining can suffer micro fractures and allows corrosion to attack the metal.
To prevent this or at least slow the process down a sacrificial rod called an anode rod is inserted into every water heater. Made of a “lower” metal- that is a cheaper metal this rod takes the corrosion attack and extends the life of the tank. This process takes about 5 years, however in hard water areas, this could be as little as 2 years.
Your owner’s manual will give you systematic advice on changing the rod and how often, but how many of us actually keep a water heater manual?
The Steps to Replace an Anode
Get the information on your water heater and head to a plumbing supply store or online. You will need the make, model and serial number of your water heater. This helps to find the right replacement rod. The cost is approximately $30, depending on the type of rod and water heater. Check the headspace above the unit- if you don’t have enough space to handle a 4-foot long solid rod, that’s okay. There are collapsible rods that allow work in limited space. Have this on hand before you begin.
You will also need to gather a 3-4 foot long piece of pipe, a deep socket wrench and a 1 1/16 deep socket and Teflon tape. You might also think about getting a helper.
First, look at the top of the water heater. There will be an exhaust vent, a water pipe going into the tank and the water outlet pipe that carries hot water to the house. You should see a large nut on the top of the tank that does not have an external pipe attached to it. That’s the anode rod. On some heaters, the anode rod is underneath the top. Make a decision here. To get at the rod, you have to disconnect all the pipe connections and remove the top.
Turn off the water supply coming into the tank and turn off the power or gas. For gas heaters, turn off the gas supply as well as the pilot light.
Drain the water tank about 6 inches from the top. You’ll need the weight of the water to hold the tank for you.
Get a large 1 1/16 deep socket and a heavy- duty socket wrench.
Place the socket over the nut and insert the pipe onto the socket wrench. Go to the end of the pipe and pull. Do not jerk- you don’t want to break the other pipe connections. You may need to get a second person to help you pull. The factory puts the nuts on with a machine. Never tap or pound on the nut with a hammer or anything else. You don’t want to break the glass lining.
Once you have the hex nut out, lift out what’s left of the rod. Look at it carefully. If there is magnesium left, replace the rod. If the rod has been eaten down to the core (the center wire), then count the replacement rod as the last one. Replace the water heater in 5 years. The corrosion has had the opportunity to get the metal inside the heater- you’re now on borrowed time.
Clean the hex nut threads and wrap them with Teflon tape. This will make it easier to do the job next time. Insert the rod carefully and tighten the hex nut. You don’t have to try to make it as tight as the factory; snug will be fine.
Turn the water supply back on and turn the power or gas back on. Light the pilot light.
By replacing the rod every 4-5 years, you can double the life of your water heater. If your current water heater is over 10 years old and has never had the anode replaced, then the best solution is to replace it with an energy star rated water heater.
If you are still having trouble reach out to the water heater experts in Rancho Cucamonga at 909-303-1179