Water Heater Rescue: Know-How, Troubleshooting, Anodes graphic

Troubleshooting > Quick
Fixes and Tips


Quick Fix, Adding Anodes

You can't get the old anode out, but you want your tank to last.

Just put a combo hot-water outlet/anode rod in on the hot side. If you don't know how, have a plumber do it, but make sure he uses pipe thread seal tape and a flex connector so you can monitor the deterioration of the anode yourself in the future.

Regular anodes are about 48 inches long, so you need that much overhead clearance. Flexible anodes can be used down to 12 inches clearance. If you have a Rheem/Ruud/Richmond/GE, 2005 or later, you'll need the special combo rod for those models available only from Rheem.

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Caveat, Tighten Flex Lines

If you install a water heater or have one installed, go back in six months and tighten the flex connectors on residential heaters or the dielectric unions on commercial ones. With heat and time, the rubber washers shrink a little and that often results in a leak that can wreck the heater from the outside in. Even experienced plumbers overlook this issue!

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Caveat, Magnetic Water Treatment

We have seen claims for magnetic water treatment systems that claim to fix everything: sediment buildup, water spotting, pipe damage, corrosion. We would be delighted to publicize such a complete solution -- if it were true.

However, so far, all the literature we have seen on this subject has been hype and testimonials. On the other hand, all the scientific evidence, that we have seen -- that is, studies conducted using scientific methodology -- indicate that magnetic systems do nothing at all.

There is also a short article, written in layman's terms, in the February 1996 of Consumer's Reports. Their testers found no apparent difference between a tank treated with magnets and an ordinary one.

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Quick Fix, Pressure Flush

If you have low water pressure or think there's a heavy buildup of sediment: consider the pressure flush.

The preconditions: cold water turned off, control set to pilot for gas, or power off for electrics, ball valve and curved dip tube installed. Now, open the valve and let the tank drain all the way down. This gives it a chance to fill with air. Close the ball valve. Open the cold-water valve until you can no longer hear water flowing.

Now what you have is a tank about two-thirds full of water, with that air compressed down to about one-third its original volume. When you open the ball valve to flush, it will flush at full force until the last of the compressed air is gone.

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Caveat, Gas Leaks

Be aware of possible gas leaks. SNIFF. If you smell gas, get a bottle of Windex and spray suspected spots. Bubbles will form where gas is leaking.

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Tip, Water Leaks

When you inspect a tank, inspect all around the tank. Water dripping onto it can rust a tank from the outside in, nearly as fast as from the inside out. Equally important: If water is coming from somewhere, make sure it's really from the water heater before you rush out headlong to replace it. Possible culprits: drippy drain valves and temperature/pressure relief valves, rain down vents, even broken water pipes.

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Tip, Sand in Bathtubs

If you find sand in your bathtub, the problem may lie with a recirculation line. Sediment can drift into the line where it re-enters the tank and be sucked backward along it when hot water is drawn.

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Tip, Water Quality

Many factors bear on water heater life. In general, the cleaner the water, the longer the tank lasts. In our area, there are two water districts. One draws from a river in the Sierra Nevada. The other draws from the Sacramento River, which is a giant agricultural drain. Not only is there more stuff in the Sacramento water; the water company has to add more stuff to it to make it drinkable. In that one, tanks last 6-10 years. In the district with clean water, they last from 12-30 years or more. Other factors: quality of the tank itself and how many people are using it.

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Caveat, T&P Valves


Temperature/pressure relief valve

Somewhere on all tanks is a temperature/pressure relief valve. Most people like to leave them alone because sometimes, once opened, they leak a little. That's a mistake. They should be checked once a year, which involves opening the handle to see if water will come out.

The reason it's important is because under certain circumstances, which admittedly are rare, a tank can explode if the valve fails. And it will explode with the power of two pounds of dynamite. For a demonstration, see the Mythbusters clip on Youtube. Usually there is piping connected to the valve to direct the water down and away. Because the valve does have to be replaced occasionally, it's best that flex line be used for this. But check that valve!

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Caveat, Clattering Noises

If you can hear an annoying rattling sound, especially at night, suspect what are known as heat-trap nipples. These were designed to help water heaters meet federal energy conservation requirements. They consist of a nipple, which is a connector threaded at both ends, the plastic insert you can see at left, and a marble, which is inside.

The heat trap keeps heat from rising when the water heater is not in use. But it also is prone to rattle, especially if the water heater is equipped with a recirculation system that keeps water moving. And the piping will broadcast the noise all over the house. To solve the problem, simply take a pair of needle-nose pliers, firmly grasp the top part of the insert, work it loose, and throw away the marble.

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