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

Tanklets > "Foamy Water"

Q: Hi, I'm having a problem with an electric water heater, when I turn on just the hot water it comes out white and cloudy. We've also been having high electric bills and I was wondering if this could mean it was dying and there was some kind of electric short circuit burning through our hydro, I believe it is a rather old unit. The water is still hot though.

A: Hello: Run the water and fill a clear glass. Watch to see if it clears from the bottom up. If so, it's gas bubbling up to the top of the water. That can come form the water supply (more likely on a well) or from a very active anode in the tank. Whatcha got? -- Larry (1/20/10)

Q: Has anyone ever experienced a "foamy" appearance when the hot water is first turned on ? If residue (such as oil) is present in the water, it's not apparent when run into your hand.

A: One possibility is that there is gas in the water. It stays in the water when under pressure, but comes out of solution when the pressure is gone, coming out of the tap. It's like opening a bottle of soda. If it clears up fast and the water is clear, it suggests gas, like can be generated by the action of the anode in conductive water. -- Larry

Q1: I know there are no dielectric couplings on this heater. Would that possibly help. Maybe we should check the grounding. In Lincoln, NE it is allowed to ground the entire house electrical system to the water service.

A1: I'm no fan of dielectrics. Use plastic lined nipples from the heater and then copper flex connectors with dielectrics at their ends. This type has no steel in it, like the usual dielectrics do. I would bond and ground the lines. You run a #6 copper wire from hot to cold and to ground. This prevents any stray current from affecting the heater. Do check local codes as practice varies by region. I'd still be suspicious about the anode. -- Larry

Q2: So replacement of the anode rod may be the answer? If it's visibly deteriorated when removed from the heater should it be replaced. Or if we go through the trouble of removing it, should we just put in a new one no matter how the old one looks?

A2: Just to cloud the waters, there is more to consider. Are you on a well? If so, that equipment could be putting air in the lines. Did you do the test I suggested earlier and what were the results? If the heater is new or recent, the anode is probably not in need of replacement. It still might not be a bad idea to take it out, just so you can wrap its threads with teflon tape. This will make it easier to check in future. The rule for replacement is six inches of bare core wire, or if the anode is thinned down to about half of its original diameter. Do let me know about that test. If the water remains cloudy after sitting in a clear glass, we're on the wrong track. -- Larry

Q3: This home is on city water. We haven't had a chance to check the anode yet. I'm corresponding between you and the homeowner (who I work with). He asked me the question and I knew of this website. (10/18/07)

Q: I am a professional home inspector. I recently inspected a 1-year old home that has cloudy hot water. The cold water is clear. The home's water supply is municipal. There is a water softener and a hot water circulation pump installed. The tank is natural gas, manufactured by State, 40 gal, model #GS640YBRS, serial #F06J041176. I do not know the composition of the anode, nor its configuration. The home's distribution plumbing is PEX-AL-PEX (Kitec). Other properties on the same street do not seem to have this issue. I'm thinking that this is a defective or broken anode. Any ideas? Thanks for your help. Great site!

A: I do not think the anode will cause cloudy water. How long does it stay cloudy? If it clears after a short time, it may just be air bubbles. -- Randy

Q1: It does not appear to clear up. The photo was taken after 15 mins. I've seen this issue before in a home that had been vacant for several months and with an older WH, but I've never seen this with a 1-year old occupied home. I also verified that 3 other properties on the same street (all less than 1 year old) do not have this problem, and they all have water softeners and the same type of plumbing as well. Any other ideas?

A1: Is there a recirc line? If so, debris from the bottom of the tank could be getting rinsed out, into the plumbing. Also, is the head of the anode flat or does it havs a bump in the middle? -- Larry

Q2: The recirc pump is installed on the hot water outlet line on the top of the tank. It's on a timer, and the unit was off during the inspection. Also, it's the type that has a cross-over connection at the last fixture, and the water returns via the cold water line (I've never quite understood how that's supposed to work). Anyway, I hope this extra info helps. To answer the anode question, I'll have to visit the property again. I'll be in the area on Monday, so I'll let the folks know I'll be dropping by. I'll take a picture of where the anode is fitted into the tank chassis, and I'll upload it. Thanks for the response.

Q3: This home is on city water. We haven't had a chance to check the anode yet. I'm corresponding between you and the homeowner (who I work with). He asked me the question and I knew of this website. (7/11/07)