|Your water heater is an investment in your home, and maintaining your water heater is very important. The most common reason that water heaters fail or have a short life is due to corrosion. There are several trouble spots that can be affected by corrosion that you should be aware of to increase the life of your water heater, as well as some conditions that might exist that will make your water heater perform at less than optimal levels. Let's review those problematic areas:
Electrical elements. When two metals come into contact with one another, galvanic corrosion can occur. With an electric water heater, galvanic corrosion is often a problem as the heating elements inside the water tank are made of steel that has a copper sheathing. Electrolysis and corrosion occur when the inner steel and the outer copper become wet, and with continued corrosion, the heating element will simply fail to work. The best way to prevent this type of corrosion is to install galvanized unions that feature plastic nipples on the tank's top.
Combustion chambers. Another breeding ground for corrosion, the combustion chambers of your gas water heater should be checked frequently for rust and corrosion that can cause the heater to fail or to become unsafe. Before checking your heater, set the gas control of the heater to "pilot" and remove the hatch cover and draft diverter. The draft diverter is the hood on the top of the gas water heater's tank that works to gather exhaust gas and divert them to the vent system. Raise the baffle located inside the tank's flue pipe. Use a flashlight to determine if there is any corrosion or rust. If so, call a plumbing professional immediately to have the unit serviced. Commercial gas water heaters will have to be drained in order to check for interior rusting.
Anodes. The life of your water heater rests in the anodes which work to prevent corrosion by allowing corrosion within the anode rod instead of the water heater unit (if the rod is doing is job properly). However, the anode rod can become encased in a hard layer of calcium carbonate, especially if you are dealing with hard water problems. The calcium carbonate prevents the anode rod from doing the job it is designed to do, which sets the wheels in motion for the water heater to experience corrosion. To test an anode rod for this problem, a service professional will remove it and then try to bend it by hand. If it will bend easily, it has gone bad and must be replaced.
Vent pipes. The vent pipes that vent combustible gas from your water heater and divert it outside of your home can become problematic. Although you cannot do any type of maintenance yourself on these pipes (this is work for a professional only), you can check these pipes for corrosion - which can sometimes be seen as a rusted hole in the pipe. Should you find any holes or suspicious looking areas, call a plumbing professional at once because this gas can escape into your home and pose a safety threat.
Softened water. During the water softening process, hard minerals are rendered inert or inactive. Most water softeners use salt which can cause corrosion and can also cause your anode rods to become ineffective. For homeowners who use a water softening system, the anode rods in your water heater should be inspected annually.
Preventing Corrosion and Rust in Your Water Heater
As a homeowner, you can take an active role in preventing the rust and corrosion that can affect your water heater's performance or cause it to fail completely. One step that you can take in this regard is to upgrade your water heater's pipe nipples to plastic lined nipples. Most of the traditional pipes inside most water heaters are copper and brass, metals that resist corrosion; however most linings are made of steel. When these different metals touch or come into contact with one another, the copper or brass can remain rust free but the steel will corrode or rust. A plastic lined pipe nipple can cover the part of the brass of copper that is touching the steel water tank, putting an end to this damaging corrosion. To solve the problem, just install the plastic lined pipe nipple to the cold water lines and hot water lines where the pipes come out from the wall, and another set to these lines where they connect to the tank.