How to Tell a Water-Heater Is Dying?

I would like to know how to tell if a water-heater is approaching its useful life and needs to be replaced soon. I don't want to wait for its water tank to crack open and flood the basement before I take action.
I was planning to examine the anode rod in my 4-years old water-heater with the hope of replacing it periodically in order to extend its service life. But my basement doesn't have enough head room to extract the anode rod. Therefore, I am thinking of just waiting for it to die before I replace the water-heater and all its connecting fittings to flexible fittings (then I can disconnect them easily for periodic checking the anode rod). How can I tell when I should replace the water-heater?
Thanks in advance for any suggestion.
Jay Chan
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Jay Chan wrote:

Gas water heater average life is ~10 years. Electric a little longer. Life can depend on water quality. They rarely split open like a melon; usually a small leak to begin with (not a guarantee).
You can get a little comfort from an inexpensive flood alert device, or from a drain pan under the heater (on the next one), or even a more intricate device which shuts off the water supply when a leak is detected. You decide how much it's worth...
Jim
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A friend tells me he has had two that simply burst. Go figure.
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He probably should get his water pressure measured and if it is too high install a pressure reducing valve.
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This is reassuring to hear this.

Thanks for the good suggestion. My waterheater is near a finished area of my basement. Therefore, I don't want any flooding in my basement that may ruin the many days of hardwork that I spent on finishing the basement. I am willing to spend the money. I will go to home center after work to see if I can find anything like that.
Jay Chan
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On 18 Oct 2004 11:23:18 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Jay Chan) wrote:

Blue balls in the shower might be a clue.<g>
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If you can pull the anode rod up a few inches, you'll be able to see its condition.
With just a little clearance, you can replace it. Pull it up, clamp the base of it at the WH top surface with vice grips (so the rod doesn't fall into the tank) and cut off the extending anode rod. Pull the remainder up again, clamp again, and cut. And so on. If the anode rod is shot, there won't be much material to cut through anyway.
The replacements fold up, and unfold as you insert them. Ingenious little device made for crawl-space WH's.
Jay Chan wrote:

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Thanks for the tip. But the threaded fitting of the anode rod is totally rusted. I could not get it open with a large correctly-sized wrench and gentle force. I didn't want to put too much force in case I may jerk the whole waterheater and crack some other fittings. This is a part of the reason why I chose not to examine the anode rod (the other reason is lack of head room).

Now, _this_ is a useful piece of information. I thought I would have to disconnect the waterheater, tilt it sideway before I could replace the anode rod. Now that I know that I don't need to tilt the waterheater to replace the anode rod, I think I can do the following things now: - Disconnect all the fittings. - Use brutal force to unscrew the rusted anode rod, and examine it to see how far it has gone after 4-years of use (this becomes the benchmark). - Replace the anode rod with a folding version. - Cover 3/4 of the threaded area of the folding anode rod with teflon tape. Hopefully, it will be unscrewed easier next time. - Replace the rigid fittings with flexible fittings.
When I need to examine the anode rod periodically, I only need to do this: - Unscrew the anode rod and take a look and then put it back.
I have one question though: - What is the folding anode rod called? - Do you know where I can order it? Our local plumbing supply stores don't sell any anode rod any more (they want people to replace the whole waterheater).
Thanks in advance for any additional info.
Jay Chan
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Jay Chan wrote:

Before you do that, spray the fitting with a penetrating oil spray. You can use WD-40 (which does work somewhat, but it is more of an all purpose lubricant and water displacer, hence the original meaning of the name WD). A pure penetrating oil like "Nuts Off", CD2, or any of a dozen other brands sold in hardware stores will probably be more effective.

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Thanks. I will try WD-40 first. If it is not good enough, I will get the pure penetrating oil as you have suggested.
Jay Chan
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Jay Chan wrote:

"flexible anode" or "articulated anode"
http://www.google.com/search?q=%22flexible+anode%22 http://www.google.com/search?q=%22articulated+anode%22
Also check the website of the manufacturer of your water heater for replacment parts; some (e.g., A.O. Smith) sell flexible anodes.
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Thanks for the product names and the key words. I will go looking for it.
Jay Chan
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Get/ borrow a 1/2" drive socket of the proper size (3/4"?) and a good sized (long) breaker bar. We change these on a regular basis without much trouble. If its tight, get a helper to hold heater while applying force to wrench. Don't use teflon tape or pipe dope on threads of replacement rod to insure good electrical connection. Look at plumbing supply or Johnstone Supply for replacement rods. HD & Lowes don't seem to carry them. Guess they would like you to buy a new heater more often. Also be sure to flush unit well on a annual or semi-annual basis. This is the key to getting long life from your heater. If you hear popping and crackling on a gas unit then it needs severe cleaning. We use muriatic acid diluted 4:1. Let it soak for a few hours and then flush well through the bottom drain. We also remove the hokey little boiler drain and replace with a brass nipple and a ball valve so it can flush much better. Be sure to check pressure/temp relief valve at least annually. A malfunctioning heater can remove half your house in seconds. A real potential bomb under the right conditions. Hope this helps.
On 20 Oct 2004 06:56:09 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Jay Chan) wrote:

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Actually, I have a suitable wrench that is good for that. I just don't want to put too much force because all the connections are rigid connection, not the flexible kind.

I will only wrap 3/4 of the threaded area, and leave 1/4 to have solid metal to metal contact.

Thanks for the store name. I will check it out. I have checked HomeDepot and they don't carry any anode rod. Other local plumbing supply stores also don't carry any anode rod. The salesman claimed that this is too difficult to check the anode rod (not enough headroom in a typical basement); therefore, he claimed that most people simply replace the whole waterheater. I don't believe this.

I doubt I will put acid into my waterheater. If I need to do this, I will tilt it at 45-degree to drain the last bits of stuffs from the bottom of the waterheater. Luckily, I don't need to do so.

The problem is that the old relief valve in my waterheater could open but could not be close completely after it had been opened. This seems to be a very common problem. My house inspector asked me not to touch it; but I had to exercise it in order to check if it works or not. Good thing this is relatively easy to replace the relief valve.
Thanks for the info.
Jay Chan
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Jay Chan wrote:

Best bet is to ask your neighbors how long their's have lasted. There are great differences from one area to another based on the water. Use and the temperature setting also makes differences.

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Joseph E. Meehan

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I have had my last two water heaters last 17 & 20 years (Santa Ana, CA) Maybe they're putting corrosion inhibitors in the water. :)
In Tustin, CA 7 to 10 years is normal.
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This is a good tip.
Although I have decided to replace the anode rod (following the advice from another newsgroup member), I may not want to do this right now when cold winter is approaching. I don't want to screw up my water-heater when I really need the hot water.
I will ask around to see how long other people waterheaters last. If they last quite long, this means I don't need to replace the anode rod right now, and I can wait until next summer. The flip-side is that if their waterheaters last only 4 years, I will have to take action right away to make sure our family will have hot water during the winter.
Thanks.
Jay Chan
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Thanks everyone who has replied to this thread. Based on the suggestions here, I have formulate this plan:
I have asked my neighbors. Seem like the waterheaters around here last a long time (something like 10 years). This means I don't need to be in a hurry to check the anode rod. I can afford to wait until the coming summer when we don't expect to use hot water that often.
Meanwhile, I will do these:
- Use a union-joint to extend the drip pipe from the relief valve to no more than 6" above the floor. That union-joint can be taken down in case I need to replace the relief valve.
- Add a flood-alarm near the bottom of the waterheater ... just in case the waterheater cannot wait for the summer.
In the summer next year, I will do these:
- Replace the ball-valve in the cold water supply that cannot completely shut off. Seem like the plumbler used too much heat when he soldered the ball-valve to the copper pipe that melted the plastic seal inside the ball valve. I will replace it with a ball-valve that uses compression fitting.
- Replace the rigid connections at the water pipes and gas pipe with flexible connections.
- Examine the anode rod by pulling it out as much as the headroom allows. I probably need to use WD-40 to loosen the rusted connection.
- Replace the anode rod with a flexible version if the anode rod is almost a goner. Preferably a magnesium version. I will contact the manufacturer of the waterheater to see if they sell it. Wrap 3/4 of the threaded area of the anode rod with teflon tape to ease removing it next time when I need to unscrew it.
Thanks again for helping me to come up with an action plan to deal with my 4-years old waterheater.
Jay Chan
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