chronic anode degradation – water softener – powered anode?

The Tank chronic anode degradation – water softener – powered anode?

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  • #15104
    slinke
    Participant

    Our hot water just became very rusty, and I discovered a highly degraded anode. This is the fourth water heater tank failure in the last 14 years. The current one is an AO Smith GVR-40-100 that I installed 3 years ago. When I installed it, I noted that it had a combo anode (I’m pretty sure it was aluminum), but it also had a port on top for an optional top-mounted T&P valve.

    I installed an additional aluminum anode in the top port in the hopes that it would extend the time required for an anode replacement. I also tried to unscrew the hot water nipple to see the combo anode, but I was unable to loosen it and feared damaging it, so I gave up. The highly degraded anode that I described above is the one I installed in the extra port.

    During the previous 3 tank failures, I had an ancient Culligan water softener that recharged itself based on time (regardless of use), and it was set for pretty soft water. Around the same time I installed the current water heater, I installed a new Kenmore water softener. The new softener is demand-based, and it is not set for maximum softness, so I was hoping that it would not prematurely consume anodes like the previous one was presumably doing. That, combined with the extra anode, gave me some hope that I might be able to go 4 years before having to check the anode(s). It was not to be.

    I am a bit stumped on what to do at this point. I am hoping that AO Smith will provide a free replacement water heater, as my tank has a 6-year warranty, but I don’t know the best anode strategy. I am tired of dealing with water heaters. I guess one option would be to get rid of the water softener, but I would rather not have to do that.

    If I don’t get rid of the water softener, I would really rather not have to check the anode once a year, as it is a very cramped installation with low clearance. Not to mention the fact that I could not even turn the hot water nipple with the combo anode on the current one–even though I had full access to it outside of the water heater nook. So, I am not sure I could even check that anode. Should I get a segmented anode and install it in the extra port? Can I then just check that anode once a year?

    At this point, I am leaning toward the powered anode, but it is quite pricey, and, after previous failures every 2 to 4 years, I am skeptical that anything will work. If I do get a powered anode, which one do I need for this specific water heater? Also, if I get one, do I need to get rid of the combo anode, or can they co-exist (I have never had smell issues)? If I need to get rid of the combo anode, are there any suggestions on how to go about getting it out?

    Is it possible that there is something else (other than the water softener) that is contributing to the problem? Stray electrical current in the pipes? Should there be a dielectric joint on the cold water nipple? I am grasping at straws at this point and am tired of the ordeal every ~3 years.

    #15105
    Randy Schuyler
    Keymaster

    I think a powered anode is a good choice here, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave a sacrificial anode in the heater with it. I don’t know what will happen, and that is reason enough. I would expect the powered to work a lot harder to protect the sacrificial one, as well as the heater itself.

    Stray electrical current is what people look for when they can’t find any other cause for a problem. You have a pretty obvious cause.

    By now, a lot of people have installed powered anodes and always in softened water. Nobody has come back and said “My tank broke,” so I think it does a good job of protecting the heater.

    For simplicity’s sake, I’d get SKU27 and remove the combo anode in the hot port and replace it with a plastic-lined steel nipple.

    Randy Schuyler

    #15106
    Larry Weingarten
    Participant

    Hello: I agree. If you could readily check anodes, sacrificial rods could make sense. Softened water can take an anode down to a bare wire in six months.

    As for stray currents, if you jumper between hot and cold lines with #6 copper wire and then run ground back to the main panel ground bar (make sure that bar is attached to a ground rod or other decent earth contact), you won’t need to worry about grasping at straws any more 😉

    Yours, Larry

    #15109
    slinke
    Participant

    Thanks for your replies. I called AO Smith this morning and talked to three different representatives. I was quite disappointed with their responses. They claimed that the anode was excluded from the 6-year warranty, and when I pointed out that the written warranty did not explicitly exclude the anode, they claimed that the information was available if I had called them. Yeah, right.

    Then they told me that all I had to do was replace the anode, chlorinate the tank, and rinse it out, and that would solve the problem.

    (1) Is it possible that my tank is still OK, and that flushing it will get rid of the rusty water? As careful as I was in removing the “secondary” anode, chunks of it were falling back into the tank as I pulled it out.

    (2) Do you have any suggestions on how to remove the hot water/combo anode “nipple”? What tool do I need? It is in there very tight, and I assume the anode is in the same condition as the “secondary” one, and, as you suggested, it should not be in there with the powered anode. So, I need to get it out.

    Thanks.

    #15110
    slinke
    Participant

    Home Depot had Heat Trap Dielectric Nipples, so I should be able to replace the combo hot side nipple. However, despite trying a 24″ pipe wrench, I am still unable to loosen the existing nipple. I assume it is a conventional thread that I need to turn counter-clockwise to loosen. Is there some lubricant I can spray around the outside, or something, to help loosen it?

    If I ever get that thing out, and I am then able to flush the tank to a point where there is no more evidence of rusty looking water, I am going to try the powered anode.

    #15113
    Larry Weingarten
    Participant

    Hello: Here is a trick for getting the hot side nipple out… Find a steel bolt that just fits into the hot outlet. It’s fine if you need to tap or screw it into place. Now when you put a big wrench on the nipple, it won’t get squished and you’ll be able to give it some good force. Leave the tank mostly full of water to help hold it in place. Find a wrestler or football player or both to help out if needed. If the nipple breaks off, it’s OK. The steel ring that’s left can be removed with a sharp punch and small hammer. I’ve NEVER ruined a tank doing this 😎

    Yours, Larry

    #15116
    slinke
    Participant

    I was able to remove the hot water nipple with some additional brute force! Just for reference, I actually posted in this forum three years ago when I had to do my last water heater replacement. That previous 6-year warranty water heater lasted about 5 years with its single anode. In my last post in that previous thread, I had just finished installing the extra anode in my current water heater, and I stated my hope that it would last at least 6 years. Unfortunately, it only lasted 3 years, despite having two anodes, although there is a catch to that (see below).

    As I described above, I installed the “secondary” aluminum anode in the extra top port when I first installed the water heater three years ago. That one was completely consumed with just a few thin rusty and white scaly sections barely clinging on. Although the central wire was also very rusty with some very thin sections, it appeared that the full wire came out:

    When I removed the hot water nipple/aluminum anode combination, I was surprised that there was intact rod for virtually the full length. There appeared to be some missing from the top, as the rod did not extend all the way to the nipple, and it was separated from the wire (I struggled for 5-10 minutes to blindly guide this end through the port after getting the nipple removed):

    There was also a very short portion that may have been missing from the bottom. The wire was not rusty and had the look of a very clean cut at the bottom. The diameter of the rod was about 1/2″ to 9/16″ for most of the length. However, it was heavily encrusted with clear to white crystals.

    I proceeded to thoroughly flush the tank. The rusty color went away relatively rapidly, although flecks of rust-colored sediment kept coming out for the entire ~2 hours I flushed. Although I tried to be very careful when removing the “secondary” anode, I know that several chunks of corroded anode dropped into the tank during the process, so I presume they will continue to produce sediment.

    I put in a new heat-trap/dielectric nipple in the hot port. I ordered a powered anode, and I plan to install it in the secondary port as soon as I get it, and then go back to softened water. However, I have a few additional questions:

    1. Is there any explanation for why the secondary aluminum anode would have been entirely consumed, while the combo anode was largely intact, although heavily encrusted with crystals/scale?[/*]
    2. Is my description of the anodes encouraging with regard to the tank probably still being fine, and the long-term elimination of the rusty water with the powered anode?[/*]
    3. Could the remaining chunks of anode that dropped into the tank pose a problem/issue?[/*]
    4. Is my current plan sound?[/*]MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: I have clearance issues that could affect both the SKU15 and SKU27 powered anodes. There is a cold water supply pipe that runs horizontally directly over top of the port. There is just under 5″ between the top of the water heater and the “bottom” of the pipe. The threads on the port itself are not particularly deep down below the top of the water heater, so I ended up ordering the lower-profile SKU15 model, as I felt the SKU27 model might not fit under the pipe. Here is what the port looks like without the plug:

      And here is what it looks like with the drafthood attached and the plug in the port:

    #15120
    Larry Weingarten
    Participant

    Hello: Normally no matter how many anodes are in a tank, they corrode away at a similar rate. It sounds like the combo anode you pulled out was intact because it was not working correctly. There likely was a bad connection between anode metal and pipe nipple. Unless you have steel plumbing, the rust is coming from the tank. So longevity now depends on how much damage was done to the tank. I suppose one benefit of a powered anode is that it can be pulled out and put into a new tank if the old one leaks. I think only time will tell about the condition of the tank 😕 If there is enough left for a powered anode to protect, it can last a very long time. If it is seriously damaged, no anode can fix it.

    Anode chunks in the bottom of the tank pose little or no problem.

    Yours, Larry

    #15142
    slinke
    Participant

    I received and installed the powered anode without any problems. Is there a written warranty? With soft water and a powered anode, should the tank be flushed every year?

    #15143
    Randy Schuyler
    Keymaster

    There is no written warranty, but that said, the device has a seven-year warranty, although the factory says they should last 50-100 years. Since you’re softening, flushing isn’t such a big deal. There won’t be much sediment buildup. The only thing you should watch is the LED. If that ever goes out, contact me and I’ll immediately send a replacement and a return label for the defective one. This has happened two or three times out of more than 400 sold. So it’s not a common issue, but it’s an extremely important one.

    I’m the warranty rep. I try hard to be extremely responsive, not just on that, but on anything anybody asks me through this site.

    Randy Schuyler

    #20142
    slinke
    Participant

    So, I have lost yet another water heater battle to rust, and perhaps soft water is a contributing factor. My current AO Smith GVR-40 leaked ~5.5 years into the 6-year warranty.

    And now, I note that the brand new replacement water heater has rusty parts on it even before installation. This includes the exhaust baffle and pipe, as well as a threaded top port (see attached photos). I am most worried about seeing rust on the port. Both AO Smith and the local distributor from which I received it are claiming that the rust is normal. Is it?

    I was using a powered anode in it, but it is important to note that I did not install the powered anode until there were initial signs of rust ~2.5 years ago. I will try the powered anode in the new water heater from the beginning and see how long my hot water remains rust-free. I am not optimistic given my history (see below).

    It is also frustrating that the AO Smith Instruction Manual says that the anode should be checked annually when softened water is used. However, the anode is integrated into the hot water nipple, and only the threads of the nipple (the top ~3/4″) protrude above the top of the tank. Because I want to try the powered anode from the beginning in the new tank, I decided to just remove the hot water nipple/anode. As I expected, I had to destroy the nipple with the teeth of the giant pipe wrench required to get that stupid thing out. How, on Earth, would anybody be capable of checking that anode on an annual basis! All that can be done is replace it, or am I missing something?

    Even more frustrating, AO Smith has apparently implemented a $25 “warranty handling fee” ($27 after 8% sales tax), even though I picked the replacement up at an AO Smith official distributor. At a minimum, this sounds unethical, and it seems like it is bordering on illegal–charging a fee to replace a defective product?

    HISTORY

    American Standard installed in 1997
    Single anode
    Rusty water 11/2002 (~5 years)

    American Standard G62-40T34-3N installed 11/2002
    Single anode
    Rusty water 1/2008 (~6 years)

    AO Smith GVR40-100 installed 1/2008
    Dual anodes (one integrated with the hot water nipple and one I installed in an extra port on the top)
    Rusty water 1/2011 (~3 years); extra anode completely degraded; integrated anode largely intact but covered with white crystals (defective integrated anode?)
    Documented HERE

    When I experienced the rust in January of 2011, AO Smith told me that the rust was simply due to bacteria and/or a degraded anode rod, and that I could simply sanitize the tank and replace the anode to fix the rust problem. I sanitized the tank, removed both old anodes, and installed a powered anode. I hoped that rust was related to anode wire degradation and/or bacteria, as claimed by AO Smith. Alternatively, I hoped that, if the rust was from the tank (more likely than AO Smith’s claim), that the powered anode would help inhibit further tank rusting.

    Now, in September of 2013 (~2.5 years after the powered anode was installed), my tank leaked. The hot water seemed a bit rusty for most of the ~2.5 years–sometimes worse than other times. The water heater leaked ~5.5 years after purchase, which is within the 6-year warranty period. Therefore, I obtained a warranty replacement.

    TOP THREADED PORT

    Attached files

    #20143
    slinke
    Participant

    TOP OF EXHAUST BAFFLE

    Attached files

    #20144
    slinke
    Participant

    BOTTOM OF EXHAUST BAFFLE

    Attached files

    #20145
    slinke
    Participant

    TOP, SHOWING NIPPLE HEIGHT AND TOP OF RUSTY EXHAUST PIPE

    Attached files

    #20146
    Randy Schuyler
    Keymaster

    If the tank sat somewhere, without a nipple in the port, it’s possible you could get some oxidation. I’ve got stacks of sacrificial anodes in the garage that have been there for awhile. They’ve never gotten wet, yet the hex nuts are slightly oxidized from moisture in the air.

    I agree about the short nipple.

    Send me an e-mail at mail@waterheaterrescue.com and I’ll send you the instructions for testing the output of the powered anode to make sure it’s functioning in the proper range. This is rarely an issue if the LED is lighted, but it’s a simple thing to check.

    Randy Schuyler

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