The water heater in your Plainfield, IL, home should provide approximately 20 years of service. When standard, storage-based water heaters fail, homeowners often find themselves ankle-deep in water. Although ruptured water heater tanks take residents by surprise, there are usually strong indications of problems long before these events occur. Foremost among these is rust. Rust breaks down tank liners and gradually turns tank materials into brittle, discolored dust. Read on to discover some of the most common causes of water heater rust and the best ways to prevent them.

Failed Anode Rods

For certain metals, rust is a natural byproduct of water exposure. Whenever air moisture or water are present, iron and oxygen react to form iron oxide or rust. Known for its deep, red-brown hue, rust gradually breaks water heaters down by turning their strong, durable tanks into a flaky, crumbly powder. Given that water exposure is an ongoing issue with storage-based water heater tanks, tank manufacturers have several built-in preventative measures. Anode rods are their first and most important line of defense.

Anode rods travel from “tip to toe” or vertically across the entire length of water heater tanks. These steel rods are encased in an aluminum, magnesium or zinc/aluminum alloy. Also known as sacrificial anode rods, they exist solely to attract sediment and other corrosive elements that would otherwise rust water heater tanks.

When anode rods fail, water heaters themselves aren’t far behind them. To prevent this from happening, homeowners should have these components inspected every six to 12 months and replaced every two to three years. Regularly replacing your water heater’s anode rods is the best thing that you can do to ensure a long and largely problem-free lifespan for this appliance. Water heaters that never have their anode rods changed frequently fail before providing even just 10 years of service.

Hard-Water Problems and Accelerated Tank Wear

Hard water, or water with an excessively high mineral content, can wreak havoc on your home appliances. Your water heater is certainly no exception. With regular hot water use, build-ups of hard-water minerals, like calcium and magnesium, quickly develop on tank bottoms. These accumulations have an insulating effect that prevents fresh water from being efficiently heated by the unit’s burners. As a result, water heaters with sediment-covered tank bottoms tend to run longer than normal, use more energy and sustain accelerated wear.

Although calcium and magnesium compounds usually represent the majority of hard-water build-ups, hard water can also contain a variety of dissolved metals that also set the stage for rusting, including:

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Barium
  • Manganese
  • Strontium

As water heaters work overtime to combat the insulating effects of hard water, their anode rods rapidly decline. Other built-in rust prevention measures fail, too.

You might have hard water in your home if your glasses and other dishes have hard-water spots no matter how thoroughly they’re cleaned and dried. Check for hard-water build-ups around your faucets, in your tubs and sinks, as well as your faucet aerators and showerheads. Due to bathing, cooking and laundering with hard water, this problem often leaves residents with tight, dry and itchy skin, brittle and breakage-prone hair, as well as freshly laundered clothing that’s stiff and unyielding. Hard water frequently has a strong metallic smell, or it may smell like rotten eggs. It also has an unpleasant taste and can negatively impact the outcomes of baked, boiled and steamed meals.

Glass Liners and Rust

Sacrificial anode rods are water heaters’ first defense against rusting, but water heater manufacturers also line tanks with a thin, protective layer of glass. Glass liners prevent water from coming in direct contact with steel tanks. Unfortunately, many of the problems that contribute to sediment build-ups and rust also cause problems with overheating. Water heaters that are ill-maintained and overworked tend to run quite a bit hotter than their manufacturers intended.

When anode rods aren’t replaced in a timely fashion, excess sediment can cause these liners to split and crack. Once their integrity is even slightly compromised, the metal that lies beneath them will gradually degrade. To prevent your tank’s glass liner from cracking, it’s important to both remove hard-water sediment and treat hard water itself. Having a plumber flush your water heater every six to 12 months is a great start. You should also explore your options for water-softening equipment.

Installing a whole-house water softener will stave off rust and extend the lifespan of your water heater. It can also prevent hard-water problems at your taps, dishwasher, washing machine and refrigerator-mounted ice maker. If you decide not to install water-softening equipment to treat your hard water, you should flush your water heater every three to six months instead.

The Benefits of Having Your Water Heater Flushed

Water heater flushing is a standard part of annual water heater maintenance. If you haven’t been scheduling yearly tune-up services for this appliance, this is a good reason to start. Flushing removes all sediment at the tank bottom so that the insulating barrier between tank burners and water is eliminated. After having been flushed, your water heater will take less time to heat water and require less energy to keep it warm. You’ll see a noticeable decrease in your home energy bills, and you may even see an improvement in your hot water pressure.

Regularly flushing your water heater can also extend the lifespan of your anode rods by limiting the amount of corrosion-causing materials present. Moreover, these services are also an excellent opportunity to have your anode rods inspected and replaced before they fail.

Loose Connections and Leaks

During annual, whole-house plumbing inspections, plumbers check for slow and hidden leaks. These leaks are often found in crawlspaces and basement areas, behind drywall and around plumbing fixtures. However, they’re also common at the backs of water-reliant appliances. Loose connections at or around your water heater can leave outside elements exposed to rust-causing moisture and minerals.

Unfortunately, the external tank surfaces and components that are affected by loose, leaky connections lack the protection of anode rods and glass liners. Worse still, when leaks are small in size and incredibly difficult to spot, they can fester for months before they’re identified and resolved. Whether rust undermines the integrity of your water heater tank from the inside out or from the outside in, the result is the same. With enough time, your water heater tank will rupture, and you’ll have water pooling on your floors.

Among the best ways to avoid rust caused by loose, leaky connections is having your water heater installed, maintained and repaired only by licensed professionals. Even attempting to flush out your water heater could result in a poorly tightened valve and just enough moisture to cause problems. Scheduling whole-house plumbing inspections and water heater maintenance each year will ensure that if leaks develop, they won’t go unnoticed for long.

Since 2008, we’ve been proudly serving Plainfield, IL, and the greater Chicago area. We offer heating, cooling and plumbing installation, maintenance and repair services. We also provide water heater installation, tankless water heaters, sump pumps and toilet replacements and repairs. To schedule an appointment, contact TR Miller Heating, Cooling & Plumbing now.

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