Understanding Your Water Heater Anode And How To Replace The Part

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Understanding Your Water Heater Anode And How To Replace The Part

11 July 2016
 Categories: , Articles


Your water heater is one of the most essential appliances in your home. An electric model is likely to last up to about eight years. In many cases, corrosion will cause the heater to fail. Water heaters are made out of steel and they are covered with an enamel coating. This coating will protect the exterior from corrosion. A small device called a sacrificial anode will protect the inside of the tank from forming rust as the steel comes into contact with water. However, the anode will wear away over time. When this happens, the inside of the water heater can form a hole and a replacement may be required. Keep reading to understand how the anode works and then find out how to replace it.

How Does A Water Heater Anode Work?

A sacrificial anode is a long metal rod that sits inside your water heater. The middle of this rod consists of a solid piece of steel, and the steel wire is surrounded by aluminum, magnesium, or zinc metal. Your heater will contain either a single or a double rod, and the part will be completely covered by water. When metal comes into contact with water, an electrochemical reaction will occur. This reaction helps to transform a refined form of metal into a stable compound with the assistance of oxygen and water. The stable compound is the corrosion you see on the outside of the metal. Some metals will corrode faster than others. If two metals are touching one another or are both placed in water, then the less stable metal will start to corrode before the more stable one. In the case of a water heater, the anode will degrade and break down before the steel inside the heater will.

However, the steel in the water heater will begin to corrode once the sacrificial anode is completely eaten away. When this happens, holes can form in the water heater fairly quickly. To prevent this from happening, you will need to replace the anode in the water heater before it degrades completely. 

How Do I Know When To Replace The Anode?

Some anodes will wear away more quickly than others, so it is wise to keep an eye on the anode as your water heater ages. It is pretty easy to inspect the metal rod. You simply need to unscrew it from the top of your water heater and pull it up from the tank. As the anode breaks down, it will appear quite pitted. This means that the anode is doing its job. When you can see the steel wire that runs along the middle of the rod, then this indicates that a replacement is needed.

You also may see a situation where the sacrificial anode does not look worn at all when you inspect it. This might be a sign that the rod is not doing its job. This will typically occur when metal passivation has occurred. Passivation occurs when a metal forms a protective coating of oxidation that makes the metal less likely to corrode. Passivation can occur spontaneously, and this means the steel of the water heater will likely corrode before the anode will. If you see that the sacrificial anode has not changed in appearance after several inspections, then replace the anode. 

How Do You Replace The Anode?

Replacing the anode is a simple job, since the part can be screwed on and off fairly easily. Before you go about making your replacement, you should purchase the right anode. Aluminum rods are often a good choice for a variety of different water and heater types. The aluminum will corrode slowly and the anodes are relatively inexpensive. If your faucets seem to release a foul, rotten egg odor, then aluminum may not be the best choice. You should instead pick an anode made from zinc. The zinc can eliminate some of the bacteria in the tank that cause the odors.

When choosing an anode, you should also pick one that is as long as possible. This way, the metal will remain submerged in the water even when you use an extensive amount of hot water. For more information, contact a company like H.R. Stewart Inc.