Replacing anode rod

kookoo2January 17, 2010

Now that our "6-year" gas water heater is approaching 12 years of age, it's probably time to change the anode rod! (hopefully, not too late). When I looked online for directions, there were a few discrepancies, so I have a few questions. Some said to turn off the gas, others didn't mention that. Neither does the instruction manual that came with the water heater. Can I just turn it way down so it doesn't fire up while I work on it? If I do have to turn it off (there is a valve-cock at the heater, so I'm just talking about the supply to the water heater, not the main gas supply to the house),I'm not sure if it would be o.k. to turn it back on by myself (and light the pilot). Or should the gas company come and do that?

I assume, based on my research, that I just need to drain some of the water, not all of it. Right? how much is enough (it's a 40-gal heater)?

Finally - any tips for loosening what is sure to be a super-stuck hex? Will I need a heavy-duty ratchet, or just a big head for my regular one?

Thanks everyone!

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Every time I work on my WH I turn off the gas. A little extra work cause you'll have to light the pilot light when you're done but the largest safety factor.

After you shut off the water supply to the WH and relieve the pressure, You'll want to drain some water down so it doesn't overflow.

The least problematic way to remove the anode HEX is to get an electric 1/2" drive impact gun and a 6 point 1/2" drive IMPACT grade socket. Harbor Freight sells a decent electric impact for about $40 and less when on sale.

WEAR SAFETY GLASSES. If you screw up the hex you're screwed so a 6 point socket (not a 12 point) is a MUST and an impact grade socket won't shatter.

The anode hex unscrews counter-clockwise looking down on the hex. Repeated trigger pulls on the impact gun will ultimately spin the hex (with anode) out.

If you try to do it with a breaker bar you'll need a couple friends to hold the WH and a long cheater bar on the breaker bar and you'll probably go buy the electric impact anyway cause you can't apply the torque and impact shock with a breaker bar that the impact so easily does.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2010 at 8:34PM
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Thanks, justalurker. If I just turn off the gas valve at the WH, can I turn the gas back on and relight the pilot myself? Or does that have to be done by someone from the gas company?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 12:15AM
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Koodles, lighting the pilot is a fairly simple procedure. After turning the gas back on, turn the water heater temperature all the way down (I have skipped that step in the process, but it's not recommended) press and hold the reset button (or combination control knob / reset button) while holding a long-tip lighter to the pilot. After the pilot lights, continue to hold the reset button for a few seconds and then release, the pilot should stay lit. Replace the access panel at the base and turn the heater back up to the temperature you prefer and you are finished.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 10:50AM
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I would hook a hose up to the drain and relieve the pressur that way. That is, if you feel lucky with drain valve.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 2:03PM
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You will have to drain all the hot water lines that are above the top of the heater.

Turn off the cold inlet to the water heater, hook up the drain hose, and open some hot water faucets.

If you have a single valve faucet make sure it is all the way on to the hot side.

Air will enter the facets as the water drains form the system.

If you have a hot water faucet on the smae floor as the water heater, open it.

When water stops coming out the faucet you have drained below that level.

Be sure to have a hacksaw handy.

Many original rods are one piece and there is often not enough head room to remove them without cutting them into pieces.

Segmented replacement rods are available to deal with the clearance issue.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 4:46PM
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Luckily, there is plenty of open space about the water heater, so I don't think we'll need to go for the segmented rod.

Has anyone been able to remove the old rod without the "heavy duty" tools?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 7:08PM
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"Has anyone been able to remove the old rod without the "heavy duty" tools?"

You mean without the RIGHT tools?

All one needs to do anything are the tools and the knowledge... without either you're asking for trouble.

The cost of the right tool is far less than the cost of a replacement water heater.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 8:20PM
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When I tried to remove anode tube ran into brick wall!!! But then I thought of my air compressor and tool chest had a 1/2 impact wrench! Hammering action of impact made it simple to remove!!!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 8:44PM
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For sure an air impact especially if it's a 1/2" CP or Ingersoll and the compressor has enough volume, but most people don't have that in the toolbox and that's why I recommended the Harbor Freight electric impact @ under $40 and even less on sale plus the cost of an IMPACT rated 6 point socket.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 10:10PM
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Thanks. Yes, I know the right tools always make a job easier, but it's not always easy to find at that good price, and I've seen some on-line "How-To" videos using simpler tools, so I wondered if REAL people ever succeeded with those. I'll check to see if I can rent the RIGHT tool, since I'm unlikely to need it often, and like to avoid having to buy (and find a place to store) more stuff. If not, I'll buy it since it will certainly be less than a new water heater, or paying someone to do it for me!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 4:11PM
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I've actually watched a well respected and knowledgeable plumber grunt and groan for 4 hours trying to remove a hex headed anode from a gas WH with a 4 foot cheater bar on a 1/2" breaker bar with his apprentice and another guy holding on to the water heater.

His apprentice remarked "wish we had a big impact gun, that's break this puppy loose".

The plumber promptly sent the apprentice to the Sears a couple blocks away to buy an electric impact and the appropriate 6 point impact socket.

The apprentice returned and the impact removed the anode withing 3 minutes of the first trigger pull.

The plumber smiled and made out an invoice to the homeowner for the 4 hours the plumber wasted plus apprentice, the time it took for the apprentice to go to and return from Sears, the cost of the electric impact and the socket, AND for the subsequent time it took the plumber and apprentice to actually swap out the anode... about 6-10 minutes.

The homeowner went BALLISTIC... understandably. The homeowner offered to pay the actual cost of the 6-10 minutes of time it actually took to R&R the anode and then offered to pay a one hour minimum for that 6-10 minutes. The homeowner offered to pay for the electric impact and socket if it was his to keep.

It always looks easy in web videos cause they are usually working on brand new, never been used, appliances that weren't repeatedly heated and cooled for years and most times, they break the anode loose IN ADVANCE off camera so it looks super EZ and you'll buy an anode from them.

The moral of the story is... "...I know the right tools always make a job easier" no, the right tool is the way to do the job, period. For sure, there are people who replace anodes with the wrong tools but there are far more who buy a new WH and/or have to explain to the boss why there will be no hot water till the new water heater is installed.

As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force "A man has got to know his limitations" and in Dirty Harry "Do you feel lucky?". The whole idea of DIY is to do it successfully yourself not screw it yourself.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 4:56PM
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You've convinced me!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 5:05PM
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One more detail: What size socket do I need? Are they a standard size?

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 5:20PM
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Yes they are standard - 1 1/16'. I used a 5 foot long pipe over the socket, had a helper hold the heater, and removed the anode without much trouble. No need for an impact wrench. There is a good this old house video showing Rich Trethewy doing this job.

Here is a link that might be useful: Replacing anode rod

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:51AM
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With respect to all the competent plumbers out there who know how to use tools...

A cheater pipe on a RATCHET... and a cheap ratchet at that. Rick is lucky that cheap fine toothed ratchet didn't slip and he didn't eat that pipe or bounce it off his bald head and that was on a BRAND NEW water heater not one that had been is service long enough to eat an anode rod. I wonder if Rich uses a torque wrench on his truck's lug nuts or a ratchet and a 5 foot pipe?

So rather than use the right tool for the job some plumbers would rather use the wrong tool and justify the unnecessary expense of a helper to the homeowner.

I guess it's true... you can't teach an old dog new tricks and some times you can't teach an old dog any tricks at all. Ignorance can be cured but stupidity is a lifelong affliction.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 1:24AM
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A cheaper impact alternative is the manual kind you get at an auto parts or tool store. You use an impact socket and you hit it with a hammer (see link for a sears example). You could use one in places where you couldn't even fit an electric or air impact wrench, much less a cheater bar. The only reservation I have is that you wouldn't want to have the impact socket come down and smash the insulation so you might have to put a large nut or something else as a spacer above the top of the anode tube hex head.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sears Impact Tool

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 9:09PM
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I've used the hammer impact for over 40 years in both 3/8" and 1/2" drive and they have their uses, but it's is not the tool for an 1 1/16" anode with plumbing thread on top of a sheet metal cylinder. You need the repeated hammer of an impact gun and the $40 Harbor Freight one is a steal for the price... not much more than the hand impact @ Sears. You'll find many uses for it once you buy one.

If a DIYer isn't willing to buy the right tool for the job then they ought to hire a professional. If a pro doesn't have the right tool for the job then they are an amateur or a hobbyist, not a professional.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 9:40PM
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If you go to Harbor Freight web site you can find a 20% off coupon for one item that you can use if the item isn't on sale anyway. Some times the cashier will let you use it on a sale item (one did for me an a big, deeply discounted item). Your local paper may have a flyer with the coupon in the Sunday edition.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 7:42PM
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You're right... I snagged mine on sale @ $39.95 and used a 20% coupon to boot for only $32 + tax. I've had it about 5 years and it hasn't failed to do the job when I'm too lazy to fire up the compressor and it sure is a lot quieter. One of the better things I've bought at HF.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 8:35PM
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Something up the line in our water supply supplied a reasonable amount of debris into our system.

Upon noticing it I went around cleaning out various filters on faucets etc.
I then I decided I would clean out the water heater.
Upon draining I was quite shocked at the Red Tint. A little reading up and I decided it was time to replace the anode rod.
Like so many people before me I couldn't get the damned thing off.
My wife wasn't strong enough to turn the torque wrench even with a pipe extension. My next option was to use my air impact wrench. I didn't have an impact 1 1/16th socket so I went out and purchased one, hooked it but to no avail - it wouldn't move. I put it down to my air compressor/impact gun being more on the amateur side.

So I got a buddy to help me, resorting back to muscle power and using an extension on the torque wrench whilst I held the heater and sure enough it eventually gave way.

So onto the the next step, remove the rod, trim down the new one to same length and job done....
Only trouble was that when I removed the existing rod it was only about an inch in length!
I can only assume that the rest of it is sitting at the bottom of the heater.

I figured the option open to me at that point was to put the new rod in and at least have hot water again.

So my post is 2 fold.
Firstly, can some one tell me if I'm screwed? Should I replace the heater, or should I wait until the heater or water does something less than desirable? We moved into the house 2 Years ago, the heater is apparently 6 years old.

The second point and one I would ask people to seriously consider is that I can't help but wonder if my attempt at removing the anode using an air impact driver actually caused the rod to break? What was left of the rod was probably about 1/4 inch thick, but when I tried to break it more it was sturdy enough.

Hopefully anybody coming across this post might think twice about using impact wrenches when replacing Anode rods!!!!


    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 11:46PM
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Did it look like the anode had corroded to that short length or was there a clean end where it appeared to have just broken off? with aggressive water and time anodes can all but disappear.

This post was edited by justalurker on Thu, Jan 17, 13 at 0:26

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 12:23AM
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I had a rod break off once. I believe there is a period of time when mineral scale builds up on the rod to make it too big to remove -- or the rod is on the big side to start with. When you use lots of force to unscrew the rod, the rod simply shears off. My theory is that you are taking the rod out too soon if that happens, but of course by the time you know it is too late to go back!!! For sure mine broke as there was a fresh break.

I left the broken off rod in my heater for over 10 years and experienced no trouble. I would ignore it.

For what it is worth my heater lasted a total of 31 years with two rod replacements. It never did fail, I just decided to replace it with a more efficient one.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 12:11AM
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