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Outgassing at Faucets

Q: We had a new water heater installed in January. It's now March and the hot water faucet(s) still spout air every time you turn on the hot water faucet(s). We had the installer out here in February. He checked installation and said everything is fine and he has no idea why the air keeps on coming since it doesn't come out of the faucet with the cold water so we have to learn to live with it.

Since we never had this problem before and the fact I almost have a cardiac arrest every time a spurt or sputter emits from the faucet I may not be able to "live" with it. We are on a well and have a fairly sophisticated water system including reverse osmosis and softening.

The point is: how can we get rid of this air problem? My husband is an invalid and I lack mechanical skills so what I need is an explanation of some things that may be checked for or done when I call another plumber and I can at least tell them something to look for to resolve this problem. Right now, an air problem sounds so abstract so I'm not sure any plumber just wants to come and investigate this without some specifics.

I hope you can help and I gladly will pay for this information. I've been searching the Web for quite a while but have never found anything of help about air in the pipes other than "open the faucet slowly and let the air escape." That obviously hasn't alleviated our on-going air problem that began after the installation of the new water heater. I was delighted to come upon your site this morning and don't know why I hadn't found it sooner but am hoping you can help. Thank you.

A: Most water heaters have an anode rod inside of them to help protect the tank from rust damage. The anode itself corrodes away to give this protection. As this is going on, small amounts of gas are formed both at the anode and at the tank walls. That is if you have normal water. If you have very conductive water, (softened water is very conductive) the process speeds up and much more gas is formed. This is likely what is happening.

There are various ways to work on the problem. First would be to soften the water as little as you can get along with. Some units can be set for how often they regenerate and how much regenerating they do. If your unit is turned down, it may take care of the problem altogether.

If that doesn't do it, the next thing to do is replace the anode with one that is used up more slowly. Rheem water heaters have a magnesium anode that has a resistor in the top of the rod. This is there to slow down the action of the rod. Rheem is sold at Home Depot as G.E. I'd get one of their anodes and replace the one currently in the tank.

Now, if those two steps fail to completely fix the problem, one more thing can be done that will help. That is to install an air vent at the top of the heater. This is done by putting a brass "T" fitting on the hot outlet pipe on top of the heater. Plumb the hot water line to the center of the "T" so that it leaves horizontally. This will leave a vertical port at the high point of the hot outlet. A brass bushing and air vent (rated for 150 psi and 240 degrees) would mount in this port.

Any gas generated in the heater will float up to the vent and be expelled there. The problem with air vents is they are mechanical devices that tend to plug up or go wrong some other way. The first two suggestions will involve less upkeep over time. The anode in your heater should be replaced from time to time to keep the heater from failing.

Normally in softened water the anode needs replacement every two years. Turning down the softener will extend the life of the anode. Some plumbers like to remove the anode to eliminate air problems. This will void the warranty on the tank and condemn the heater to an early demise. Don't let anyone do that. (1995-2000)

 

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