7 Year old hot water heater

flyingtim01April 4, 2012

Hey Guys,

I just moved into a house with an electric hot water heater, an AO Smith ProMax installed in 2006. I don't have an odor with the cold water, but the hot water is a little rusty smelling, and it fills the tub with reddish water. I'm sure the issue is with the heater. My question is: is it worth it to flush the tank and replace the anode rod, or should the tank just be replaced at this point in its life? I don't know what, if any, maintenance was done on it since it was installed (I'll bet none) and add to that the hard water in the house, I'm wondering if the rust will return in short order no matter how many times I flush it.

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I have personally had water heaters last anywhere from 6 years up to 32 years- not necessarily at the same premises. Get a pro to look over your situation. What is the piping material?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 3:38PM
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I would flush things out first. Seven years isn't all that old. I usually say between 12-15 years for a standard tank heater. (YMMV).

You have nothing to lose by flushing it out and see how it goes.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 3:40PM
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Is the house on a municipal water system or a well?

Is there any water treatment equipment installed?

What is the temp on the WH set at?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 3:45PM
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Lurker, I'm on a well. No treatment equipment except for a UV filter. Copper plumbing. You gave me some things things to think about in another thread in regards to my water quality. (A little on the hard and iron-y side, with a PH a touch low) The heater was set at 120, though the other night I turned it up to 140 so my fiancee and myself could both take reasonably hot showers in the morning. For a 40 gallon tank, it didn't seem like the hot water was going all that far. We previously lived in a two family home that has a 40 gallon gas heater, and the hot water seemed much more plentiful, using the same shower head, a Delta In2ition.

Anyway, thanks for the info guys. I guess Jake is right, I don't have anything to lose by flushing it and seeing how it goes. I'll report back.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 3:56PM
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Agree thorough flush (capital "T" on that) and see what you've got. However, since you say you've got city water and copper pipe, I'd wager your WH tank is compromised and the color will return.

Please c'mon back and tell us what found.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:01PM
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Your water quality, or lack of quality, will have a direct effect on the operation and service life of your appliances, plumbing, and fixtures.

The fact that your hot water is a little rusty smelling and not the cold is a hint.

Based on your other thread and this one it seems that you want to treat symptoms instead of cure the disease.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:06PM
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    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:09PM
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That's very true...we're on a very limited budget with our new house and trying to make it as liveable as we can until we can afford to buy all the recommended equipment. Thanks for all the advice everyone!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:14PM
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Ooops.....completely misread the "well" part. Sorry. Please disregard my previous post.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:15PM
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Flushing the WH will cost you nothing other than the water so do that. A planned and systematic approach to solving these problems will keep the money you'd waste by a hap-hazard approach to a minimum.

In other words... it'd be smarter to cure the water conditions BEFORE you buy a WH you might not need and would have the same problem..

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 5:00PM
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Totally agree lurker, I wouldn't install a new water heater just to have it fail again in a few years because of untreated water. I didn't mean to make it seem like I was in the market for a new hot water heater to cure my rusty water problem. I'm not going to be buying anything for the next few months. I guess my question was more along the lines of, if the rusty water will just return in 3 days, is it worth it to flush it? It's good maintenance anyway, so it's on the to-do list for the long weekend. I got sidetracked last night with a leaky diverter valve on the upstairs shower that produced a lovely water stain on our freshly painted living room ceiling.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 9:20AM
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"I guess my question was more along the lines of, if the rusty water will just return in 3 days, is it worth it to flush it?"

The problem is that no one can tell if it will return in 3 days.

It might, it might not.

Only flushing it will tell.

If it comes back quickly start thinking about a new water heater.

If a leaking heater will not cause a lot of damage (like on a concrete floor in a basement with adequate floor drains) you might just wait til lit fails.

If is is in a place that can cause damage, a little more care is needed.

Do NOT count on a drip pan to confine a failure.
They are for drips, and not all failures are just drips.

Over the years I have seen enough full water pressure cracks with no previous symptoms to be very careful if a major leak can cause significant damage.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 9:52AM
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You also mentioned that the hot water doesn't last long.

In a 7 y/o electric heater, I'd look at the following in order of more likely to least likely:

1. burned out bottom element - usually due to lime buildup
2. Thermostats not adjusted properly or faulty
3. massive amount of lime buildup reducing tank capacity (this is usually on a gas heater)
4. dip tube gone
5. hooked up backwards

I would test the bottom element with an amp clamp when there has been a significant amount of hot water use. (Bottom element comes on first, then switches to top element)

If the bottom element is bad, pull it and check for lime buildup - if there's a lot of lime consider replacing the unit.

Good news is that new heaters aren't that expensive if you DIY. BTW: Get at least a 50 gal electric heater, not another 40 gal.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 10:19AM
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Brickeyee, thanks for the advice. It's not leaking, but it's also in the basement on a cement floor (that has had at least 3" of water in it somewhere in the past 10 years) so if it fails, the only thing that will be ruined is the heater itself.

Jake, thanks for the tips about the hot water. Maybe this weekend when it's drained I'll take a look at the elements and see if the bottom element is toast.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 11:16AM
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uh, is there a floor drain or sump pump? If the heater fails, it will continually fill with water...

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 3:26PM
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Well, good news/bad news. Good news is the water heater is flushed, and nice clear water comes out. Bad news is the well is all but dry and the pump is losing its prime. Out of the skillet, into the fire.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 2:38PM
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Okay, I think we're good. Towards the end of the day, I was able to get the well pump to fill the heater, but it sounded like it was sucking a lot of air, so I think my problem was that the well pump had lost its prime for a bit. I had a local well company come out this morning to confirm that, and confirm that I had plenty of water in the well. He also got the rest of the air out of the system and gave me some pointers specific to my system out here.

So, crisis averted, and and we have nice clean hot water now. We'll see how long it lasts.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 12:31PM
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So you have a jet pump? Two pipes between the pump and the bottom of the well?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 8:19PM
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It's a single line jet pump.

Before we closed on the house, the well company installed a UV filter and chlorinated the well and house, due to bacteria that turned up in the water test. What no one mentioned to me was that apparently while chlorinating the house and flushing a thousand gallons of water out of my well and through all the plumbing, the pump also lost its prime then. The well company had to come out and had a hard time re-priming it (it probably didn't help that the priming plug on the pump is rusted in place, the hex head is broken loose and you'd need an ez-out to remove the important part)and he told me on Saturday that he thinks the well line probably looks like a roller coaster, and there is air trapped in the high spots that would be very difficult to get out and would waste a lot of water.

Not the bad news I was expecting (your well is dry) but still information I would have liked to know before I flushed 80 gallons of water out through the water heater.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 9:00AM
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The recently chlorinated well can cause a lot of iron to break loose from the plumbing - not sure why that is, I just know that it happens.

The iron in the hot water heater may simply have been the iron in the water that had broken loose and collected in the tank when they flushed the chlorinated water though.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:23AM
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Yeah, they mentioned that about the chlorine to me too, with the same explanation. We're not sure why, but that's what happens.

I have my fingers crossed that this holds for a while. We can live with rusty hot water for a little while, but it would be a little disappointing to have it come right back.

I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the water quality from this well. Laundry stays a nice bright white, the inside of the dishwasher isn't all dingy (and its every bit as old as I am)and our glasses don't come out all cloudy with hard water stains. We've cooked quite a bit with the cold water, and the drinkability of the cold water (albeit through the Brita pitcher filter) is great.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:38AM
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The loss of prime indicated a jet pump. Single pipe jet pump is either a very shallow well, not more than 20' or a small diameter well, probably 2", in which the well casing serves as one of the pipes with water flowing between the inside of the well casing and the outside of the inner pipe. I never worked on one of the jets for those wells but am told that they can be tricky to install correctly.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 5:43PM
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You're correct on the shallow well. Looks to be about 20-25' or so, and about a 36" diameter. The water table is very high where I am, so even though its an older well (I'm guessing it was installed sometime in the 60's) the well company tells me that it's typical of what they see in our area, and should be more than adequate for our needs. Ask me about that again in a few years when we have a few more heads running around...

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:23PM
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