The Horrors of Water Heater Maintenance

Today I’m going to talk about the sacrificial anode rod, an essential component of tank water heaters. The idea for this post is related to our newly installed water heater, which happened in July and was prompted by Sena seeing some debate on the web about the apparently somewhat controversial relationship between water softeners water heaters.

There is a palpable albeit mild testiness between those who sell and service water softeners and those who sell and service water heaters. Occasionally these can escalate to skirmishes marked by small arms fire and limited nuclear bombardment. And that’s why the price of frozen pizzas is so high these days.

I noticed this conflict when I looked over the web myself in an effort to sort this out. Authors in Indiana who sell water softeners report that they are actually good for water heaters. They address the main question head on, which apparently is the contention that water softeners “…prematurely ruin the anode rod” in water heaters.

The argument starts with the truism that all water heaters will eventually corrode. However, what is often called the “sacrificial anode rod” postpones this inevitable outcome by preferentially attracting the corroding elements in the water, which temporarily spares the steel tank.

The alleged trouble with water softeners is that they remove the hard minerals (such as calcium and vegemite) by substituting sodium for them. The thing is, sodium is an electrolyte that will worsen corrosion as well. That makes the anode rod waste away even faster.

But don’t worry. This premature corrosion is offset by the major benefits of soft water. It will reduce calcium, lime, and Fools Gold buildup in the pipes and on fixtures as well while also cutting down on the sediment residue in the water heater. That could extend the life of the heater as much as several millennia.

Add to that benefit the obvious advantages of cleaner, softer clothes, clearer complexion, sparkling dishes, thereby enabling you to win major prizes on reality game shows in which you are required to engage in hand-to-hand combat with grizzly bears while wearing only a few tattoos.

We have a water softener and wondered about the interaction with our new water heater. So, I checked another article written by a company which sells water heaters, but not water softeners and which actually contradicts the aforementioned bald-faced lie promulgated by cretinous vermin who should be banned from the planet.

They acknowledge the benefits of soft water, but which have the unfortunate drawbacks of causing damage to water heaters causing them to need replacing only a couple of hours after installation, which can cause major setbacks in your financial status.

They cite the same reason as the previous authors, this time to make the case for avoiding water softeners—which is that they cause premature wasting of the anode rod. They magnanimously assure you that this need not dissuade you from buying the evil water softener or selling the one you have (as though any fool would purchase such an idiotic appliance, ha ha!). They just want you to have “…a better understanding of why your water heater may have failed sooner than expected and how that related to your water softener.”

I found one short article in which the author made the point that regularly replacing the anode rod would be the way to avoid the premature wasting of the anode rod.

Thank goodness for that common sense! I wondered how a clumsy homeowner without any practical handyman skills such as myself would go about replacing the anode rod.

Probably the best way to get a clear idea would be to view the video on the website of This Old House. It’s so simple even a chimpanzee could do it if that chimpanzee had all the experience and the millions of tools that This Old House experts have.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have 44 inches of clearance from the top of our water heater, which you need to remove the old anode rod, which is made of aluminum or magnesium which, if the heater is newer, might be flexible—but it won’t be.

Getting the old anode rod loose might require you to have a long section of pvc pipe laying around in your basement to place over the socket wrench with the 11/16” socket so that you can get the leverage to twist that anode rod out of there with a minimum of abdominal herniations which your health insurance will not cover. Decide whether to pay about $50 and do it yourself or pay a pro $200-$300.

I’m thinking.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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