The Tank › Brock IB32-R -Anode rod problem. Possibly dangerous?
- September 3, 2009 at 3:13 am #11920
Hot water heater: Brock IB32-R oil fired.
Age: Unknown, possibly 5 years or more.
Water: Softened with potassium 1 year. Salt before that. Well water. Simple sediment filter. No known iron or sulfur problems ever.
A little while ago, I began to notice that my hot water was beginning to smell bad, kinda like sewage, mostly on the towels, but on me, too!
Not knowing anything about hot water heaters, I began to do a little research on the web, and discovered the effect anode rods can have on water quality.
After determining that my tank had magnesium rods, I went out and picked up a pair and prepared to do battle. After getting the hoses, buckets, bleach, and my trusty 3/4 inch ratchet set, I was ready.
The rods came out slick as you please, thank God.
Take a look at the attached image to see what I found.
Now I could see what was causing the smell.
Obviously the previous owner had never checked them at all, and given the softened water, who knows how long they’d been like this?
Anyway, next came the flush and shock, and during the flush, quite a bit of brownish grainy stuff came out, but so did a lot of black shiny granules that looked for all the world like tiny black glass spheres. I have no idea what they were, and neither does anyone on the net, apparently, as I’ve found no mention of them anywhere.
After replacing the rods (and adding teflon tape to the threads) I shocked and flushed again as per instructions, and that was that.
The water was nice and clean smelling again…..except for the bleach smell, but it faded after a day or so.
Now after opening the tank like I did, I expected a little air to get in the system and cause some surging and popping at the taps…and it did just that.
However, after a few days, it hadn’t stopped, and seemed to be worse the longer the hot water wasn’t used. Cold water was ok, but the hot kept being annoying. Smelled fine, though, and the surging stopped after letting the water run for a minute or two…even though it started again after another few hours of disuse.
Back to the web.
I learned next that magnesium anodes can react with the water and produce hydrogen sulfide gas, which can cause the problem I’m having when it builds up and causes pressure in the tank and lines.
I ruled this out because the water never had any odor at all when it was surging and popping. None at all.
Next, I read in some dusty corner of the net that new magnesium rods can create a reaction and cause the formation of ordinary, odorless, hydrogen gas if they are installed in a tank that is already corroded.
Could this be my problem?
I certainly knew the rods were magnesium.
Also, seeing how badly dissolved the rods I pulled out were, and not knowing how long they’d been totally depleted, I could easily believe the tank could be corroded, despite it’s glass lining, especially considering the softened water.
Not being able to see inside the tank, I did the only thing I could to see if this was what was happening in my tank:
I turned on a hot water tap, and when it started surging and popping, I stuck a BBQ lighter next to the flow and lit it.
Sure enough, the water started puffing out little (..and some not so little..) bursts of flame!
Well, now I know two things:
1) My problem is hydrogen gas being produced in the tank due to the magnesium rods.
2) The tank is almost certainly corroded internally.
I know that changing the anodes to aluminum will stop the gas production, but should I simply change them and just risk it, knowing the tank is corroded? How far is it gone? Will it last? It looks almost new externally. How can I see inside?
Should I say screw it and just replace it entirely with a new one?
Given that money is very much an object right now, I also know where there’s a totally identical IB32-R Brock water heater for sale, 4 years old and very well cared for, comes with all kinds of spare parts, (owner is obviously very careful..) for about $300. Owner is switching to gas….too bad I don’t have that option here.
No matter what I do, would a powered anode be a good idea, given my softened water?
Any advice or insight anyone can give me would be much appreciated.
I’ll respond asap tomorrow once I’m back online…..If I haven’t blown myself up shaving, that is.
PeteSeptember 3, 2009 at 4:08 am #11922
Hello: Those little glass looking beads were likely zeolite resin from your softener, which should not let those resin beads out.
I’d consider a test. Stop softening and see if the gassing slows or stops. Softening will usually speed up the action of the anode, helping to create the burning trouble you see 😯 In normal hard water, the anode will coat weak spots in the glass lining with calcium from the water. Ultimately the anode slows down and gassing is not a problem. Another way to deal with the gas is to put an air vent on the hot outlet. I’m not fond of this method as eventually the thing fails/leaks. It’s a stop-gap. It’s been recommended that one leave 60 to 120 ppm of dissolved solids in softened water. Never soften down to zero hardness as it can damage metallic plumbing. Anyway, if stopping the softening works, then you can slowly up the amount to where you experience flammable water again ~~~ and then back it off a bit.
$300 is cheap for a Bock heater. (OK, I’ll admit it… I’d only ever heard of Bock, not Brock heaters. I’ve snooped around and found Brock in Canada, which seems similar to Bock in the US, which is a very good heater.) Might be nice as a backup. From the photo, your old anode/s were completely used up. The rule is that you replace them when six inches of anode wire is exposed.
One thing that does not make sense is the odor you experienced before changing the anodes. As there was little or nothing left to react, there should have been no odor. You may need to look elsewhere for the cause of that smell. It might really be sewer .. either leak or slow discharge from your washing machine. 😕
ps. Changing to aluminum anodes will slow the reaction, but there is no promise of no gas and you then have aluminum in your water.September 3, 2009 at 1:23 pm #11923
Thank you for the help, sir.
I’ve bypassed the softener so we’ll see what effect this has over the next few days.
-Should I power down the softener since it is bypassed?
-What should the proper settings be for the softener? I have no manual for it, nor do I see any brand name on it to research, and I can barely squeeze my fat noggin between it and the wall to see it. ( Attached is an image of what it’s set for now. ) Dunno why it was installed turned this way.
-I’ve read that resin can be washed into the lines occasionally. Is this true? Certainly would explain the handful of black beads in the water tank.
-Since we switched to potassium instead of sodium, we’ve noticed a decrease in that ‘oily skin’ feel after showers. Normal? Exhausted resin beds? Aliens?
-You mentioned that the smell could have been caused by a “slow discharge from the washing machine”. Please explain.
FYI, With regards to softener settings: there are only two of us in the house, gone most of the day, and I’m told the water here isn’t extremely hard.
P.September 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm #11924
Hello: With the softener bypassed, there is no disadvantage to unplugging it. Do you really need softened water? Sounds as though possibly not. This test will give you a chance to see what living with plain ole’ water is like 🙂
I’m not a softener guy. The 60 to 120 ppm recommendation comes from the National Assn. of Corrosion Engineers, but it may take a softener guy to translate that with those knobs/gears in your photo to less softened water. Resin in the tank usually means the container that holds the resin has failed and needs repair/replacement. Only a little resin is a puzzle to me. I’ve found gallons of the stuff in heaters and it’s a mess particularly if it gets out into the plumbing.
The sewer smell and slow discharge from the washer thinking is that if the washer never fully drains, (because of partly clogged lines) you wind up with stagnant water/ scum in the washer. This may not be particularly pleasant, aromatically 😛 Or then, it might simply be unwashed aliens. Still, it’s a question why there was odor when you know the anodes were not responsible.
ps. Are there an hot taps that don’t have this odor?September 3, 2009 at 11:44 pm #11925
The water itself never really smelled bad on it’s own.
It was once it got on the towels or my hair that you smelled it.
Having said that, it may have indeed been bacteria in the washer that was responsible, so now that we’ve flushed everything, we’re using a little bit of bleach in each wash and so far the smell has not returned.
As far as unwashed aliens go, my wife claims I’m the only one she’s ever seen in the house, so I dunno…
The anode thing is another story.
I bypassed the softener earlier today so we’ll see what the hot water is like after a day or so.
This morning, I could actually see the suspended gas bubbles in the hot water when it was poured out of the tap. The water looked cloudy at first, but as it sat in a glass, you could see the ‘clouds’ rise to the top and it was then I realized it was actually the gas in the water. After a minute or so the water had totally cleared, no bad smell or anything. Even tasted normal..(..not that I actually drank it..)
I tried it just now and the flow looks somewhat clearer, more like the cold water. Maybe that’ll fix it.
If the gas doesn’t stop, even with no softened water, are the aluminum/zinc anodes my next step? (We don’t drink our well water, so the AL is not an issue. Not that it’s bad. We could drink it…it’s just a choice.)
Could it be residue of the bleach reacting with the magnesium and the softened water? Anybody know a chemist? All I could find is the fact that magnesium creates pure hydrogen gas when it reacts with a) steam or b) an acid. Neither are in the tank, so WTF is going on?
Also, judging by what you say, I take it that this over-softening- leading to flammable water has been seen before? Why is there not more about it on the web? I’m sure I can’t be the only one who’s ever experienced it. Having water that could blow your dishwasher across the room is something I’d think people would want to know about.
I know they mention hydrogen sulfide gas all over the place, but not one mention of pure hydrogen anywhere. (Unless it’s some other, odorless, flammable gas..which I doubt.)
Aliens….I’m telling you, it’s gotta be aliens..
P.September 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm #11926
Hello: Knowing that it’s aliens behind this “hydrogen gas in the water” cover-up should help clarify.. but are they a carbon based life form? OK, on to other things.
Hydrogen is mentioned in a bit of heater manufacturer’s literature. Any problem really is a matter of dose. If your kitchen faucet belched forth big orange flames every morning, it would be different than attempting to ignite a bit of gas mixed up with water. I do think that once you have less conductive water and the anode has had a chance to plate out some bare steel, the reaction will slow and gassing will shrink as a problem. You could put in aluminum anode/s, but understand they also produce volumes of gooey corrosion byproduct that sit as a blanket on the bottom of the heater, helping it to overheat and rumble.
Water, under pressure can hold gas. When it is no longer under pressure, the gas comes out of solution. This is bad if the water is in your blood and you are a diver coming up too fast from too deep. That’s the bends. Open a soda bottle… same thing. Plain old water coming from the tap goes through depressurization as it leaves the spout. Air from a well system or gas from an active anode shows up this way. I see it simply as evidence that we’re completely surrounded by physics. No need for excitement on this one. Now it your heater were hot, bulging and leaking steam at the joints, that would be exciting physics! 😯
Yours, LarrySeptember 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm #11927
I see your idea of exciting and mine are a little divergent! 🙂
As for the aliens, my wife says if I were one, I’d be a beer-based life form.
BTW, I’m a wreck diver, so the scuba comparison was nice.
Well, after a little stumbling around the web, I came across a site which mentioned that, among other reactions, hydrogen gas is usually produced by electrolysis of water. (i.e., an electrochemical process). Magnesium, such as what’s in the anodes, can only create pure hydrogen in the presence of an acid, or steam, neither of which exists in the hot water tank. Hydrogen sulfide, which produces gas in the lines like I have, is produced by bacteria in the tank, but it has a distinct odor, which I do not have.
Then I found another site that talked about proper grounding of home plumbing.
Well, after reading all that I could on the subject, I began to look at my system.
The tank does not have dielectric fittings, or so it seems. The hot and cold lines are not jumpered (yet), but I’ll do it soon.
All the pipe hangers are copper, and nothing is touching the AC ducts.
Moving into the pump room, I made an interesting discovery.
The ground wire for the main electrical panel, which is also in the pump room, was attached to the copper cold water line coming in from the pressure tank, going to the softener.
Now, you should know, in my pump room, you’ll also find the well head.
Kind of nice in cold weather. It never freezes.
Next to the well, is the jetpump. It’s attached to the wellhead by a high pressure flexible hose, not a metal line. Then the pump is attached to the pressure tank by another high pressure flexible hose.
See the problem?
There was no solid, conductive, ground cable actually connecting the home’s water system to the well head, or a ground of any sort !
In other words, the home’s entire electrical system was grounded to the water system, but the water system wasn’t, in turn, actually connected to the ground itself by anything other than the water in the lines !! I may be wrong, but I believe this may have resulted in a current being induced in the water itself.
Since there were plenty of solids in the water, it would be very conductive, and in fact, I’m thinking it could have been conductive enough to allow electrolysis in the water tank, thus creating the pure hydrogen gas I’m experiencing.
If you look at the attached image, you can see the external corrosion on the water line where the main panel ground was. The corrosion was greater proximal to the connection, and it was quite dry, so I can only assume this was caused by current passing through the ground wire. Maybe this is normal? What do I know?
I have now removed the main panel ground wire and fastened it directly to the metal of the wellhead pipe. I have also run another, new, ground cable from the copper water line at the pressure tank out fitting (which is essentially where the copper piping begins) to a separate point on the wellhead pipe.
Now we see what happens.
If this doesn’t work, I think I may be in the market for one of them thar electro-hoozit anode thingies. I dunno if I want all the debris hassles of AL anodes.
Either that, or I can collect all the hydrogen it’s producing and try to run the hot water heater itself on it.
A self-sustaining hot water heater!
No power source needed!
P.September 4, 2009 at 10:43 pm #11929
Hello: Electrically speaking, I’d want one good driven ground rod, connected to well, piping and main panel. (you may be able to use a metallic well casing for this… not sure) I’d jumper the hot and cold over the heater to keep it out of the electrical path. You could take a volt-ohm meter and measure between a good ground and the various points in the plumbing to see if there is any voltage. In an ideal, un-alien world there would be no voltage. Were talking stuff that is sometimes only dimly understood, even by good handy-people, so might be nice to run it by an electrician good with grounding and stray current protection.
The exciting thing about steaming water heaters is that a pound of steam is about 1700 times bigger than a pound of water and has more energy in it than a pound of black powder. A 30 gallon heater that lets those gallons flash into steam puts out more energy than two sticks of dynamite (two million foot pounds of force). So, sitting next to a steaming heater is like sitting next to a bomb about to let go. It may not be good excitement, but is excitement non-the-less. Makes hydrogen look tame 😎 So sayeth a water heater nerd.
Yours, LarrySeptember 7, 2009 at 7:10 pm #11942
Will this never end?
I waited a while to see what would happen once I properly grounded the entire system.
I figured I’d remove the two magnesium rods, then replace them with a single aluminum rod. Less reactive, so I figured that may slow things down, at least.
Take a look below at what I found!
The rods looked as if they’d been in there a year!
Whatever was attacking them was pretty aggressive, to say the least!
I replaced them with the single AL rod and plugged the remaining hole.
We’ll see what happens now.
Anyway, I also flushed the tank again to see what I’d get.
I found a bit of debris, but not much.
What I did find quite a bit of was more resin from the softener. Must be a damaged screen somewhere.
Back to the net for more research on how to fix this.
What I found was a description of what the resin is and how to change/refill it.
Apparently it’s properly known as a “cation exchange resin” which is made of divinylbenzene.
Whatever that means.
Waaaait a minute…
I’d seen that chemical name before on the net when I was researching hydrogen generation. It stuck in my mind becuse it reminded me of the Divinyls
You know….the band?
I Googled hydrogen+divinylbenzene and looky what I found:
It’s a patent for an electrochemical hydrogen generator using (get this) :
-One electrode of magnesium (The anode rods)
-One electrode of Iron (The rusted tank)
-A solution of water including potassium or sodium chloride (Softened water)
-Divinylbenzene resin. (The leaked softener resin)
I almost fell over.
I think I built a damn fuel cell and didn’t know it!
Take a minute or 30 and read it.
It sounds like it’s describing the inside of my hot water tank.
I can’t explain the chemistry clearly here, but apparently it’s valid science, and pretty common too. I’m corresponding with a chemist via email, and I’m waiting to see what he thinks of all this. I’ll post his response, as it may have some value here…
Now I’m not saying that this is 100% certain what is going on, but it sure would explain the amount of odorless gas I’m experiencing, and the absolute trashing of the anode rods in 10 days.
In the meantime, I’d advise everyone to consider being on the lookout for this kind of problem in the future. I know it’s an unusual combination of circumstances, but it is entirely possible for this to happen to other people.
If your softener leaks resin into your hot water tank, and it’s rusted past a certain point, and you then replace depleted anodes with new magnesium anodes, you may unknowingly start generating odorless hydrogen gas…and we know what that can do!
More as I learn it!
P.September 8, 2009 at 11:57 am #11944
The aluminum anode rod has fixed the off-gassing problem.:D
Obviously, I was correct in assuming the magnesium rods were a factor in producing the gas, thus I can only assume that the chemical reaction I read about was indeed taking place in the tank.
I wonder how many other people this has happened to without them knowing it?
I also wonder how many accidents this has caused?
I can only imagine what would have happened if I had left town for a week or two with the tank churning out gas like that and filling up the lines with hydrogen.
The dishwasher could have turned into a bomb!
I propose we consider a new guideline.
If you have softened water, and you find your hot water tank has totally depleted the magnesium anode rods, it will probably be rusted inside. If you replace the magnesium rods, and there is any resin from the water softener present in the rusted tank, it will create an extreme reaction that will produce large amounts of odorless hydrogen gas in the tank, and very quickly destroy the new anode rods. This gas will be evident when the hot water taps are turned on, especially after a period of disuse. A large amount of odorless gas, which could be mistaken for air, will be expelled through the taps when they are first opened. This off-gassing will taper off until the water has resumed a normal flow as the trapped gas is bled off. The hot water will flow normally until the gas builds up again. Caution: this gas is pure hydrogen, and although odorless, it is extremely flammable! Keep matches, candles, cigarettes any open flames away from the taps when they are opened!
If this reaction is occurring, the hot water tank is almost certainly corroded beyond repair internally. If your tank is not already leaking, it probably soon will. Replace the magnesium anode rods with aluminum anode rods in order to slow the corrosion and prevent any hydrogen gas production. Then, begin to consider your options for a new hot water heater as it will undoubtedly require replacing in the near future
Now, I cannot say with any certainty that this reaction would not occur if there was no resin in the tank.
For all I know, it might.
Maybe the resin is just an accelerant, I don’t know.
It might also happen with non-softened water, or water that is past a certain hardness/softness.
In any case, anyone who’s experiencing problems similar to mine should read this thread and consider their actions carefully.
I’ll still post that chemist’s reply, whenever he gets back to me.
P.September 8, 2009 at 11:27 pm #11948
I did get a single, small puff of H2 gas from the tap this evening after not being opened for the entire day.
Since the aluminum is far less reactive than the magnesium, and I also only installed one road instead of two, I can see that the reaction is still continuing but at a waaaay reduced rate.
New tank time, for sure.
I might also open all the faucets to be sure that there are no resin beads stuck in the screens. Haven’t seen any other than in the tank, but you never know.
P.December 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm #12372hodge podgeParticipant
I’m just writing to say that this has been perhaps the most entertaining, and informative, DIY/appliance-debugging thread that I have ever come across. 😀
nice job.December 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm #12373
Hello: We have high standards here. Humorlessness is not much tolerated. Abstruse technical detail is always welcome 😎
Remember “A teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down”? Humor does that for technical stuff.
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