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2 Issues That Will Damage Your Water Tank's Heating Elements

Just like your car or phone, you use your electric water heater on a daily basis. For this reason, it's necessary you learn how your water tank's heating elements sustain damage and fail. By understanding how these vital components can be damaged, you can perform or arrange for preventative maintenance before it's too late. Here are the three issues that are most likely to damage your tank's heating elements:

Corroded Anode Rod

Your water tank's anode rod sacrifices itself to prevent corrosion damage to the rest of your tank. To perform this vital function, your anode rod is made from a noble metal—the most common metals being aluminum, magnesium, or zinc. These noble metals protect the rest of the metal components in your tank from sustaining damage by attracting the corrosive minerals in your water supply.

Corrosive minerals will still chip away at the noble metals in your anode rod. However, after deteriorating a small section of your rod, the minerals will become neutralized before they're given the chance to attack your heating elements or tank lining. Although, once your anode rod has sustained heavy corrosion, it will wear down to its steel core and become unable to serve its only purpose.

At this point, corrosive minerals in your water supply will attack the other metal components in your tank. Your heating elements, tank lining, and dip tube become optimal targets for corrosive minerals. Unlike your anode rod, these components aren't easy or affordable to replace. If these components sustain heavy corrosion damage (which will occur in as little as a few weeks without an anode rod), then it will likely be more cost efficient for you to replace your water heater than to repair it.

How To Prevent Corrosion Damage:

Luckily, you don't need much time, money, or effort to replace your anode rod. Replacement anode rods are available at your local home improvement or hardware store and can be installed in as little as half an hour.

To replace your anode, close the water supply valve above your tank. Locate the 1-1/16" bolt on the lid of your tank and break it loose with a breaker bar and socket. This bolt may be difficult to remove if your anode rod has never been replaced.

Once the bolt is loose, pull it out of your tank to reveal your worn anode rod. If your rod is fairly thin, or if it's covered in a white substance (calcium bicarbonate), replace it. However, if it's still fairly thick and free of mineral deposits, then screw it back into your water tank and inspect it in a couple months.

Mineral Debris

Your anode rod will neutralize corrosive minerals, but it won't remove them from your tank. Once minerals present in your water supply have been neutralized, they'll simply begin to accumulate at the bottom of your tank. Although a small amount of mineral debris will be kicked up by the fresh water flowing through your dip tube, the majority of the debris will build up at the base of your tank.

The standard electric water heater will have two heating elements: one near the top of the tank, and the other near the bottom. When a significant amount of mineral debris accumulates at the base of your tank, it will bury your lower heating element. This is problematic because your heating elements are designed to be cooled by the water in your tank. Without any form of cooling, your lower heating element will overheat and burn out when your thermostat activates your elements.

Even if your lower heating element doesn't burn out immediately, it's heating efficiency will be significantly reduced while buried in mineral debris.

How To prevent Mineral Buildup:

Annually draining your tank will prevent your lower heating element from being buried in mineral debris—even if your water supply is high in mineral content.

To drain your tank, shut off the water and power supply to your water heater. Release the temperature and pressure relief valve on the side of your tank to increase the rate at which the water will drain from your tank. Attach your garden hose to your tank's drain valve (located a few inches from the bottom of your tank) and place the other end in your yard.

Open your tank's drain valve and let the water and mineral debris from your tank drain. Once the water flowing out of the end of your hose is clear, close both your drain valve and relief valve. Restore your water heater's water and power supply and pack up your equipment.

If you have trouble performing either of these preventative maintenance tasks, or if your heating elements fail prematurely, then contact your local plumber for an inspection and the necessary repair service. By leaving the necessary repairs to plumbers in the area, you can make sure your water heater will operate efficiently.