Friday, May 10, 2024

Should You Change Your Anode?

How is your day going?

Mark wakes me up at two in the morning and says, "I hear water running!"   I fall back asleep only to hear him say, "there's water on the bathroom floor!" to which I reply, "Well, I did take a shower before bed.."

"No, hot water!" he says.  I jump out of bed.

Years ago, we installed a point-of-use hot water heater - a 2.5 gallon Bosch heater under my bathroom sink.  We have two more, one under Mark's bathroom sink and another in his studio.  I had previously replaced the one under my sink as it rusted out and started leaking.  Now the new one was doing the same.

Fortunately, I had put a storage tub under the heater and it took the brunt of the water - tubes of toothpaste were floating in the tub.  We caught it before it did any major damage.  I suppose we should have put a drain pan, plumbed to the outside, underneath the heater.  The cabinet was damaged from the last go-around and I had to sand the swollen particleboard flat and then paint it with white enamel.  I put a white plastic liner on top of that.

The latest heater was only four years old!  I removed it and drained it and noticed a sticker on the side that said, "change anode every two years" and realized I had never done this.  With our RV we had gotten in the habit of changing the anode every year or so - it is common practice in the RV world.  But for some reason, it is not a habit in the household world.

The instructions recommend soaking the heating element in two tablespoons of vinegar to remove scale.  I think we are past the vinegar stage.  Notably missing: the entire anode!

Our current main hot water heater is over 18 years old and will no doubt rust through soon enough.  As soon as you see a dribble of rusty water, shut if off, drain it and buy a new one.  Maybe a good idea to do that even before you see rusty water.  They can make a mess when they blow their guts out.

A neighbor asks me if they should shut off their water while on vacation.  Their problem is their house has no main shutoff valve, and the Authority valve at the meter box is 50 years old and leaks if you even look at it.  I advised them to install a ball valve (bronze with teflon seals, preferred) near the house for their own use.  "Why do we need that?" she asked.  "Well, your house could fill up with water while you are gone and it is a real mess to clean up, insurance or not!" I replied.  But she was not convinced.

"Pipes don't just break for no reason!" she argued.  I gave up.  She didn't want to hear something that didn't jibe with her worldview.  Might as well try to explain things to a Trumper.  No doubt when they do have a pipe break (50+ year old steel, right?) I will be blamed for "not warning them!"

You can't win.  That's why I don't give advice.

Anyway, I looked online and found some articles and yes, even a video, from those evil "This Old House" people, with a helpful cutaway of a rusted hot water heater showing the damage (Although a well-written article with diagrams and photos would have gotten the idea across in less time!).  Most people don't change their anodes ever.  I know my parents never did - hell my Dad never even changed his oil!  Many hot water heaters (including ours) buries the anode under the sheetmetal cover on top.  To remove this cover, you just undo about six screws and then remove all the plumbing connections and the pressure relief valve.  Easy-peasy!  These types are not designed to be changed.

If we buy a new hot water heater, I will be sure to get one with an accessible anode!

But getting back to the undercabinet job, I removed it and connected the flex pipe directly to the faucet, which put an end to the leaking.  Yes, the shutoff valves under the sink were useless - they no longer shut off anything.  Most of these shutoff valves work this way after a few years.  So if you have a leak, you should know where your main shutoff is located because the under-the-sink or commode valve isn't going to stop the flow.

They make inline shutoff valves that you can add, so you don't have to mess with an old rusty shutoff valve and have to deal with the possibility of an old pipe that you break off behind the wall.  Our condo had about five of these valves, in a row, on the dishwasher, as each successive valve failed in the "open" position.  Owning a home, what's not to like?

I thought about buying a new Bosch (Ariston) under-cabinet heater, but after two have rusted through in ten years, I am a little gun-shy.  I found the anodes for the remaining two heaters we have and will try to replace those.  I also found a "Fogatti" heater that looks like the Bosch, but for a lot less ($100 or so).  At that price, it almost isn't worth changing the anodes!  Just throw the heater away when it rusts out.

While I am sure it is a cheap copy made in China, guess where the "real" ones are made?  Yea, same place.  I saw one cheaper but specifically refused it.  It had no built-on pressure relief valve but instead had the valve mounted to the water outlet.  There is such a thing as too cheap, but we'll see if the "Fogatti" fall under that category.  Oddly enough, Fogatti is big into RV water heaters, air conditioners, and cooktops.  Fascinating!

Throwing away heaters after five years is wasteful and maybe down the road we will get a tankless heater and mount it on the outside wall of the house next to the master bathroom.  Instant unlimited hot water!  And if it leaks, well, it's already outside.

If that wasn't excitement enough, our neighbor e-mails me this morning and informs us that one of his pine trees cracked in the storm and is now leaning over Mark's studio.  It is propped up by another tree and if it falls, it might be cushioned by a water oak below it.  Depending on luck it might miss the studio or just graze my attached shed where I keep yard equipment.  Some fun!

We'll have to wait for the winds to die down for the tree surgeon to come and remove it.  It will be tricky as it is heavy and precariously hanging.  The island arborist hasn't returned my neighbor's calls.  The island arborist is a nice guy, but a bit of a tree-hugger.  He hates to mow the lawn because he doesn't like to hear the grass screaming.  But hey, that's his job - right?

So, a flooded bathroom and a tree poised to fall and kill us.  How's your day going?