How To Protect Your Water Heater's Elements From Premature Failure

19 February 2015
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Hot water, which was once a luxury in ancient times, has become a necessity in your home. Without your hot water supply, simple tasks such as cleaning dishes, washing laundry, or bathing become inefficient and uncomfortable processes. For this reason, you should make sure your electric water heater's heating elements are properly maintained. Perform these tasks on an annual basis to make sure your water heater will keep the hot water flowing throughout your home plumbing:

Anode Rod Inspection

Unfortunately, the water that's delivered to your home isn't completely filtered. Instead, it contains minerals such as limestone and magnesium—which are both capable of causing corrosion damage to several components of your water heater.

To counteract corrosive minerals, your water heater's manufacturer designed your tank to utilize an anode rod—a long, thick rod made of noble metal. The corrosive minerals in your water supply that enter your water tank will be attracted to your tank's anode rod and become neutralized as they corrode your rod instead of your heating elements, dip tube, and tank lining.

Your anode rod isn't invincible. Typically, your anode rod will last several years before it requires replacement. However, if your water supply has a very high mineral content (or if you use an excessive amount of hot water), then your rod may deteriorate and become ineffective after only a single year of use. When your anode rod is no longer able to neutralize the minerals that enter your tank, the various internal components of your water heater will begin corroding.

Luckily, inspecting and replacing your anode rod will only take a few minutes. To remove your anode from your tank, find the 1-1/16" hex bolt on your tank's lid and use a breaker bar and socket to break it loose. Once this bolt is loose, you can pull it out of your tank to remove your anode rod.

If your anode is covered in calcium deposits, or if it's corroded down to its core, then it needs to be replaced. However, if the majority of your rod is still fairly thick and free of deposits, then it will continue to neutralize the minerals in your tank. Although, you should continue to monitor its condition over the coming months to determine when it needs to be replaced. 

If you need to replace your rod, then purchase a new anode from your local home improvement store. Before screwing your replacement anode into your tank, apply several wraps of plumber's tape in a counter-clockwise direction to the rod's threads to prevent water and air leakage.

Tank Draining

The minerals in your water supply (along with a small amount of sediment) will collect at the base of your water tank. If these contaminants aren't removed, then they'll eventually bury your lower element. When this occurs, your lower element will overheat and fail.

To prevent your lower element from being covered in debris, you must drain your tank. Although draining your tank can be a messy and time-consuming process, it will be well worth it. Draining your tank will not only prevent your lower element from failing, but improve your hot water quality as well.

Begin the draining process by closing the water supply valve on the inlet pipe above your water tank. Pull outward on the lever on your relief valve to prevent a vacuum from forming inside your tank while it drains. After these valves have been adjusted, connect a hose to the drain valve at the base of your tank and lead your hose into your yard or gutter. Open your drain valve to begin draining the sediment, minerals, and water from your tank.

Observe the quality of the water flowing from your hose. Once the water draining from your hose is clear and free of debris, you can close your drain valve and open your supply valve to begin refilling your tank. Leave your relief valve open while your tank refills to allow air pockets inside your tank to exit. Close your relief once it drips water to finish the draining process.

By performing these tasks at least once a year, you can make sure your heating elements last as long as possible. However, if you're unable to perform an anode rod inspection or tank draining, or if you believe one of your elements are already failing, then hire your local plumber. They will be familiar with electric water heaters and capable of performing any repairs or helping you find a replacement.