Your water heater anode rod takes a beating so your water can be free of rust and other unwanted materials.
Given that a tank-style heater stores water for future use, you might wonder what keeps it from corroding while water sits in it. After all, most people have experienced how water or air interact with metal to create rust and other corrosion products. Enter the anode rod: the unsung hero keeping your water heater free of rust and harmful materials everyday.
Though you might never have seen it, your water heater contains a critical component that prevents it from corroding: a “sacrificial” anode rod. Without this piece correctly functioning, your hot water quality would suffer, and your water heater would not last nearly as long.
The Anatomy of a Water Heater Anode Rod
An anode rod looks like a metal stick. It has a steel wire core that’s surrounded by “less noble” metals–metals that tend to corrode relatively quickly in water (usually magnesium, aluminum, or zinc).
How They Work
An anode rod extends the life of a water heater by preventing rust from eating away at the tank’s interior. The water in your heater tank contains dissolved gases like carbon monoxide and minerals like calcium that destroy steel. Because the anode rod is made of less-noble metals (like magnesium), it attracts and sequesters the gases and minerals that would otherwise destroy a water heater in short order.
Signs That The System Is Failing
Anode rods must be replaced periodically to maximize a heater’s life cycle, so it’s important to know when yours is no longer working effectively. The most obvious clue that an anode rod should be replaced is the appearance of rust flakes in your hot water. Heater leaks and a sulfur smell coming from taps also indicate that an anode is no longer doing its job effectively.
How to Replace Your Water Heater Anode Rod
Replacement is a fairly straightforward process. You’ll need a 1-1/16-inch socket and a breaker or “cheater” bar to pull it off. Loosen the hex head of the anode located on the top of the heater and screw in a new unit.
Why Professional Replacement Is Recommended
While many people may insist that replacing a rod is a DIY job, there are important reasons to consider hiring a qualified plumber. Anode rod replacement involves high water temperatures, which puts personal safety at risk, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Furthermore, anode rod replacement requires specific tools that many homeowners don’t have handy. Long story short, replacing components is often best left to the professionals.
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