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

What you'll find on this page: Apartment owners can realize significant savings by prefitting new residential-type water heaters with extra parts for longevity. The savings come in longer life and less risk of a breaking heater causing a catastrophic flood, as well as less time spent replacing water heaters.

There are countless apartment complexes in the United States where one residential water heater -- 20-, 30- or 40-gallon -- serves one apartment unit.

Where a homeowner might say, "So what if it breaks? I can buy another for $400," that figure can add up to staggering sums when multiplied by units numbered in hundreds or thousands. And that $400 is just the cost of the tank, not installation time and ancillary parts. And if the water heater is in a place where it can cause water damage, well, it can get ugly.

Water Heater Rescue to the rescue. We can offer you one of the best bargains you're likely to encounter. Add an inexpensive part to a new tank, installed in one minute while it's still dry, and double the life of the tank. Install some other parts in five or 10 minutes and control sediment buildup, if that's an issue.

But that's not all there is to installation. We have other ideas that will help cut your costs, lower your liability, relieve stress, help you win the lottery..... Just checking to see if you're awake. So: cut your costs, lower your liability, relieve stress. What's the long-shot lottery compared to a sure bet?

The Nutshell The Why Behind the What

The Anode: If you add a second anode to a six-year-warranty residential-type tank when it's dry -- before installation -- you've just doubled its life for a pittance. Doubled life also means halved flood risk if tanks are installed in places where they could flood a unit if they break.

The top end of a combo magnesium anode, showing its plastic-lined steel nipple

And doubled tank life means one less emergency to be addressed in the course of a busy day. We're acquainted with apartment people. Their days are never anything but.

Anyway, this was always a great bargain, but has become even moreso because of a federal standard that took effect July 1, 2003 that mandates tanks with baffled combustion chambers. Ever since that took effect, prices have been going up, up, up.

If calcium carbonate sediment buildup is an issue, addition of a flush kit at the same time provides an effective way to control it.

If you want to be able to add a second anode, the tank has to be a specific configuration. It has to have a hex-head magnesium anode in its own port on top of the tank. That leaves room for a combination anode/hot-water outlet/plastic-lined steel nipple, like the one at right, in the hot port.

Since this configuration is a little hard to find right now, there are a couple of options. A number of tanks have a hex-head aluminum anode with room for another in the hot port. So you could replace it with one of our magnesium ones and then add our magnesium combo to the hot port. Incidentally, ours are usually thicker than the factory's, so you could be replacing a 6-year-warranty aluminum anode with a 12-year magnesium one for not too much money, and the combo is a 9-year anode. The maker's warranty won't change, but you'll have far more rust protection than you can buy from any manufacturer.

You could also stick with the factory aluminum anode and hunt for an aluminum combo. Click here to see why we detest aluminum. For that reason, you'll have to buy that combo elsewhere.

But all this talk of anodes! You might well say, "What's an anode and why do I care?" A quick Google will show you that anodes are used anywhere that someone is trying to protect metal from corroding. The principle, in general, is about 200 years old. The principle in water heaters is about 60.

A photo showing the differences between aluminum and magnesium anodes; the latter have a bump on the hex nut

Except for Rheem, anodes will be aluminum if the top of the hex head is flat and magnesium if they have a bump, as in the photo at left. Rheem, as far as we know, always uses magnesium, but they don't have the bump. On the other hand, you'll need a special combo rod for Rheem/Ruud/Richmond/GE made in 2005 or later or you might not have water pressure, and it's only available from Rheem.

 

 

The curved end of a curved dip tube
A ball-valve drain assembly with plastic-lined steel nipple

The Flush Kit: Doing this is only advised if you have hard water and the resulting sediment buildup, noise problems and in the case of electrics, burned-out lower elements. If you have aluminum anodes, count on sediment, no matter how soft your water..

Setting up for sediment-flushing involves two things. One is removing the cold-port nipple, if there is one, removing the standard, straight dip tube, possibly drilling out a lip that the standard dip tube sometimes sits on, and screwing in a curved dip tube/plastic-lined nipple, like the one on the left. The second thing to do is remove the drain valve that came with the water heater and install a ball valve drain assembly with hose adapter, like the one on the right.

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When minerals settle out of hard water, the sediment settles evenly around the bottom. Gas heaters have a flue in the center of the tank, but both gas and electrics have domed bottoms.

That means that if you drain the tank regularly as manufacturers tell you to do, you'll only get the sediment between the bottom of the dip tube and the drain valve -- provided the latter doesn't clog.

The curved dip tube will force the sediment to swirl around the bottom and out through the ball valve. By attaching a hose, opening the valve and letting the water flow at pressure for five minutes once or twice a year, you can eliminate buildup. This is the simplest method we know of. The alternatives are disconnecting the tank and vacuuming it or using chemical de-limers. Be sure it's a plastic-lined steel nipple you use and not brass. If you use brass, the anode may react with it and plug it with gunk.

You could also disconnect the water heater completely, take it outside, turn it upside down and spray the inside thoroughly with a hose. Navy maintenance people actually used to do this...

Earthquake Straps: People in a significant chunk of the country can skip this part, but for the rest of you, be aware that just any ol' thing won't hold. We've seen 800-lb. tanks with a wrap of flimsy plumber's tape screwed into Sheetrock. What should be there is heavy steel bands, top and bottom, lagged into wall studs, and although it's not code, we think blocking behind the tank is good, too, if there is any space there. If it starts rocking, it will break loose.

It's been code in California since 1992 for all new and replacement water heaters to be so strapped, yet we continually find installations with no straps or inadequate ones.

Shutoff Valves: We strongly favor ball valves, like the one in the photo above right. Ball valves are not infallible, but they are generally more reliable than the cheap gate valves that seem to be specified for every apartment complex built today. Typically, gate valves work just fine when they're new, but years after installation, especially in hard water, they're prone to fail. Why put in a shutoff at all if it won't work when you need it?

The reason to put a valve on the hot line is that if there are floors above the unit with the water heater and you have to work on the tank, say to change the anode or replace the temperature/pressure relief valve, when you open the tank, all the water in the upper piping is going to drain out in your face.

We suspect that you'd prefer to save the shower for later.

Temperature/Pressure Relief Valve: T&Ps should be tested once a year. Nobody wants to because residential ones are prone to fail: either not work at all, or drip or run after testing, requiring replacement.

A union connects a drain line to a temperature/pressure relief valve, permitting easy replacement of the valve if it should fail

We think it's worthwhile to test them, especially in electric tanks because if a heater explodes, it's catastrophic. If replacement merely involved shutting off the water and unscrewing the valve, testing wouldn't be such a big deal. But often there is a hard copper drain line that runs through a wall and out and can't be disconnected from the valve except by cutting and resoldering it.

One solution is to put a flex connector between the valve and that line. Another is to use a brass union, as in the photo at right. In all cases, the drain line should go generally down and out, never up.