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A Guide to Sacrificial Anode Rod Replacements

During a tanked water heater’s normal operations, minerals build up on the tank’s interior metal, leading to corrosion and inefficient heating. Anode rods are designed to attract minerals from the tank’s water and keep the entire water heater working appropriately. As you try to keep your water heater in the best shape possible, find out more about what sacrificial anode rods are, how often they need to be replaced, and why replacing them is so important.

What Is a Sacrificial Anode Rod?

As their name suggests, sacrificial anode rods “sacrifice” themselves for the sake of a water heater’s tank. These long metal rods are installed at the interior top of a water heater’s tank, where they hang into the tank’s water. While they hang from the top, they’ll attract minerals in the water and away from the tank. These minerals attach to the rod, corroding the rod while the rest of the tank’s metal will be unaffected. Eventually, the anode rod will degrade entirely and need to be replaced.

How Do Sacrificial Anode Rods Attract Minerals?

If you want to understand how sacrificial anode rods work, it comes down to the rod being made out of a different metal than the water heater’s tank. Since anode rods are made out of anodic (less noble) metal, they will experience galvanic corrosion, while the tank's cathodic (more noble) metal receives galvanic protection. The basic mechanism behind the galvanic protection is that metals lower in the galvanic series of metals will corrode faster than those higher in the galvanic series of metals.

A new sacrificial anode rod next to an older, deteriorated one

How Often Do Sacrificial Anode Rods Need to Be Replaced?

It’s best practice to replace sacrificial anode rods every two to four years, as they tend to become ineffective at providing galvanic protection during that time period. After they become too corroded or surrounded by minerals, rust will begin to form on the tank walls. As a result, it’s essential to replace your anode rod on schedule. 

Typically, your local plumber can tell you how often sacrificial anode rods should be replaced in your area based on the water you use. For example, some areas have hard water, meaning they have higher amounts of minerals in their water that cause faster corrosion. Besides hard water, water softened through sodium water softeners can also corrode anode rods faster, as these water softeners leave trace amounts of sodium behind. In either of these cases, it’s usually best to replace the rod every two to three years.

Is It Okay Not to Replace Sacrificial Anode Rods? What Will Happen If I Don’t Replace My Sacrificial Anode Rod?

Some homeowners think they can get away without replacing their sacrificial anode rods, but it’s never a good idea. Find out more about what can happen if you don’t replace your sacrificial anode rod below:

  • Voided warranties: Many water heaters are protected by warranties, and part of the warranty agreement will require you to properly maintain it to keep the warranty active. Since sacrificial anode rods are crucial to a water heater’s health, you’ll usually need to replace them on schedule. If you don’t, the manufacturer could void the warranty. Review your warranty agreement to find out more about if and when it requires you to replace your sacrificial anode rod.
  • Water leaks and tank damage: If your sacrificial rod has degraded, corrosion will begin to affect your water heater’s tank. As the tank corrodes, it can cause leaks to form and water to spill out from your water heater. Oftentimes, these leaks can’t be repaired, and you’ll need to replace your water heater long before it should have needed to be replaced. 
  • Reduced water heater lifespan: When you buy a large home appliance like a water heater, you want it to last a long time. When water heaters are properly cared for and have their anode rods replaced at the right intervals, they can last for 20 years or longer. In contrast, not replacing your sacrificial anode rod will typically cause the water heater to fail within 8 to 12 years. 

Can You Inspect Inspect Sacrificial Anode Rods?

While you can technically inspect an anode rod, it’s usually not recommended as it can cause far more problems than it's worth. Since a large mass of minerals will eventually build up on anode rods, it can prevent trained plumbers from fully inspecting them and checking their condition. 

Even when the plumber can remove the rod to check it, the removal process can cause the mineral mass to break. If the mineral mass breaks off, the minerals will settle at the bottom of the water heater’s tank and take large parts of the decomposed rod with it. A plumber will then have to replace your sacrificial rod and flush the tank to remove the excess minerals and parts of the rod.

Though an anode rod usually shouldn’t be inspected when it’s covered in minerals, a plumber can check if it’s working. Very rarely, a sacrificial rod won’t work and will allow minerals to corrode your water heater’s tank. If you’ve had a rod for two or three years and a plumber finds it looks new, the rod is likely defective. The rod should be immediately replaced, as your tank is likely corroding, and your water heater could fail prematurely.

Choose Boyd Plumbing for Water Heater Repair and Replacement Services in Sacramento and surrounding areas.

Boyd Plumbing has you covered if you need a sacrificial rod replacement in Sacramento or the surrounding areas. Our team is trained to handle a variety of water heater repair and replacement services, including sacrificial anode replacements. Alongside replacing anode rods, we can flush your water heater, repair damages, and fully replace it with a tanked or tankless model if need be. We also recommend you review our coupons to find out how much you can save on our services.

Learn more about our water heater repair and replacement services today. If you have any questions or want to schedule an appointment, please call us at (916) 710-8070 or use our online form.

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