This month, I learned a lot about hot water heaters and hot water heater maintenance - much, much more than I had planned to learn. It all started when we noticed a metallic smell with our water. A few minutes Googling turned up what appeared to be the likely problem – a corroded anode rod in the hot water tank. Don’t know what an anode rod is? Well, neither did I, much less that it was something to be checked out, and eventually replaced.
An anode rod is a cylinder shaped piece of metal (usually aluminum or magnesium) that is inside of a water heater to prevent other exposed metal in the unit from corroding. It works by corroding faster than the other metal. As such, it disintegrates over time and needs to be replaced. And that was the case with ours.
As back story, our house, and our hot water heater, is eleven years old. The water heater is powered by propane gas and our water is from a well, a well that is 660 feet deep. I have never done any maintenance to the unit, except for draining it a couple of times to remove the calcium that had accumulated.
The anode rod is accessed from the top of the unit, and luckily, I have about 8 feet of room above mine so it was easy to unscrew. But since I am not a plumber, I will not attempt to guide you through the steps, but will simply suggest you look at the link and video that I used for assistance. They are at the bottom of this article. My summary version of the steps are as follows:
- Turn off inlet water to the heater.
- Turn heater to pilot light.
- Haul hose up stairs to drain tank. Attach hose and open valve. Turn on a hot water faucet close by to release the vacuum.
- Remove old anode rod (yuck). I needed a long breaker bar/socket to break the seal.
- Put new rod in with Teflon tape on the threads.
- Refill tank and turn heater on normal (from pilot).
When you reopen a faucet, it will sputter for a few minutes while the air is bled out of the line. This is normal.
As part of my research to learn how to replace the anode rod, I read that it is a good idea to test your temperature and pressure relief valve – the recommendation is to do this every year. Oops, this would be the first time ever. After I tested the valve it would not seal correctly due to all of the crude and corrosion in the tank. With a quick trip to Home Depot and $15 dollars later, and a repeat of the tank draining procedure, I replaced the valve. Lesson learned. From now on, I will do my yearly hot water heater maintenance at the same time as I change the batteries in the smoke detectors.
Video – Hot Water Heater Maintenance
photo credit: I am I.A.M.