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

Tanklets > Rusty Water

Q: What could be the problem with my 1+ month Rheem water heater that has brown rusty water already ? I have installed a new water softner 1 day before the new 40 gal gas Rheem h20 heater. I already had a point of entry whole house water filter, now I had added another filter after the softener and before the heater. I added peroxide in the filter body and solved the odor problem, still have the brown water. Any hints as to the problem?

A: You don't, by any chance, have galvanized plumbing, do you? Galvanized anywhere in the system could cause rusty water. Also, just for the heck of it, drain a gallon out of the water heater drain valve and see what color that is. Also, since you're softening, make sure you are not softening to zero hardness. -- Randy

Q1: No galvanized pipes that I can see,everything in basement is copper and looking up in the walls is all copper. I have been draining buckets of water from heater drain valve, it comes out brownish. I have installed 4 filters total in the house, two for the house and two for drinking water only. I change them weekly and they are brownish at every change.

My water pressure is starting to suffer because of all the filters, one filters out everything down to .5 micron. others taste & odor, and rust & sediment. This morning I had no water and saw two gushing spouts from my front lawn ! The village water crew is out there now digging up the yard to replace a broken line. Maybe my problem was outside the whole time ! Clay and dirt may have been getting into the supply line. Don't know, I'll be sure to let ya know.

Q2: Well, the village water crew dug up under the curb to locate a hole in the main supply line, they patched it. My water was looking cleaner after that ordeal, water ran free into the street for over 3hrs. before it was turned off. A few days later, brown water again ! Brown water comes from the wh drain, the hot water in sinks and tub, even the toilet ! (That's strange, only cold water goes to toilet.) The hardness lovel on softner is at 20, down from 25) The first 22" of the anode looks good,(wh is now 2months old.) Would changing the anode to a aluminum/zinc help? The wife is getting real tired of the brown water ! Any suggestions ?

A1: A couple of things: first, if you're getting brown water in your toilet, either the lines still haven't cleared from the digging, or you have a cross-connection between the hot and cold lines. There is a simple test for that in Tanklets. The other thing is, what do you mean by, "the first 22 inches of the anode looks good"? What does the rest look like? -- Randy

Q3: There was only enough overhead clearance for the anode rod to come up 22" and I didn't want to bend and remove the anode from the new unit without another one to replace it on hand. I'm just fishing.

A2: Sometimes the resin in the softener is able to escape and get into the system. When it does, it can settle in the heater, or show up in cold fixtures. One thing to try is to bypass the softener and see if brown water clears up at cold fixtures. My understanding is that softeners should be flushed when new to wash out loose resin that could get into plumbing. High chlorine levels can cause resin troubles as well. Possibly, capturing some of the brown stuff to see just what it is would be useful. -- Larry (1/5/08)

Q: We have a 12 y.o. heater with softened well water with .6 iron content in St. Paul, Minn. Our problem is a relatively fast repeatable occurrence of iron on the hot water side of the water supply, most noticeably in the showers/tub. The tank manufacturer has been contacted and they indicated that possibly there is a non-toxic bacterial well water source that produces the soluble iron that causes the discolorization. There is a limited, faint H2S (hydrogen sulfide) odor but not repeatable. Their solution was to empty the tank, remove the anode and inject about 3 gallons of bleach (sodium hypochlorite) refill and allow to sit for 2-3 hours, drain and refill. If this fails to solve the problem replace the anode with a combo anode. The problem is the anode access is rusted in the tank. The question is: Is bacterial contamination from well water a reasonable problem or is the functioning of the anode at fault or, is the tank itself rusting, something that seems questionable since there is limited oxygen on the iron surface to complete the rust reaction. Thanks for any info you may have.

A: In my experience, the bacteria cause smelly water, but not rusty water. There's a good chance that the latter is occurring because the tank is rusting internally. Twelve years is old for a water heater in a lot of places and when you throw the softening in, very old. -- Randy

Q: Our hot water has a rusty color. We have emptied the tank. Was better for a very short time. There is no odor and , if there is sediment, it is too small to see. What else can we do?

A: Replace the anode. Also note the condition of the original one. If there is still some sacrificial metal left on it, then replacement may well extend the life of your tank. If it is bare wire or less, that's not so good, but a new anode will still probably buy you some time. -- Randy (10/22/07)