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When to Replace the Sacrificial Anode Rod and Why You Should

When to Replace the Sacrificial Anode Rod and Why You Should

  • Plumbing

You may just want to forget about your water heater, but without key maintenance, the lifespan of the unit will be shortened and equipment failures may not be covered under warranty.

Luckily, there are only three main water heater maintenance activities: 

  1. Drain and flush the storage tank (every 6 months to a year)
  2. Schedule professional inspection of the burner, temperature/pressure release valve, venting system, and other system components at least once a year
  3. Inspect the anode rod every year; replace the anode rod every 3-5 years

Unfortunately, the step most people forget is checking the anode rod.

What is a water heater anode rod?

Hidden and forgotten, water heater’s the anode rod, also known as “the sacrificial helper,” offers up its body in exchange for your water heater tank. Without a sacrificial anode rod, your steel water tank will begin to rust and corrode, leading to leaks and bursts. Anode rods also help reduce the amount of sediment that collects at the bottom of the tank.

Water heater anode rods are made of metal (magnesium, aluminum, or zinc)and generally get screwed into the top of the tank.

In order for the anode rod to work correctly, the material must possess a lower, more negative, electrochemical potential than that of the water heater’s steel composition to be useful.

Since the metal in the anode rod is more reactive, the water corrodes the anode rod instead of the steel water heater tank or other exposed metals such as electric elements.

The anode rod is “self-sacrificing” and will continue to corrode until eventually it must be replaced. When there’s no sacrificial metal left on the anode, the tank can rust out, eventually causing it to burst.

How often do I need to replace the anode rod?

Anode rods generally can last about three to five years but it really depends on the manufacturer, quality of your water, and how much water travels through your water heater. If you have soft water, the anode rod will deteriorate at a much faster rate.

Most manufacturers recommend inspecting the anode rod every two years.

We recommend inspecting the anode rod every year, which we will do for you during our annual plumbing inspection.

Professional Anode Rod Inspection and Replacement

We recommend contacting a plumbing professional such as Fix-It 24/7 when replacing the anode rod. Most likely, you will need at least two people to remove the existing anode rod.

Additionally, you want to make sure you have the right anode rod and that it’s properly installed. For instance, if your ceiling is too low, you will need to get a flexible (collapsible) rod to replace it with.

If the water heater is set up in such a way that makes removal of the corroded anode rod impossible, you may need to completely move the storage tank to a new area.

Watch Richard Trethewey of This Old House explain more about anode rods and how to replace them:

Top 5 reasons to replace the anode rod:

  1. You want to extend the lifespan of your water heater and maintain your manufacturer’s warranty.
  2. You want to avoid water heater leaks.
  3. Your water heater is making popping and banging noises when heating, potentially signaling tank corrosion.
  4. It’s been 3 or more years since you’ve checked or changed the anode rod.
  5. Water from your faucets is gritty, sandy, smelly, or discolored.

Nobody wants to deal with a burst water heater which can destroy your home and belongings. If you suspect a problem with your water heater, contact a professional right away.

Fix-It 24/7 is familiar with all types of water heaters, including tankless (on-demand), solar, heat pump, and gas water heaters. We can even install leak detection equipment to alert you to a water leak before it causes more damage.

By Bridget O'Brien

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