Saturday, February 1, 2014

RV Maintenance - changing out the Anode Rod step by step

This whole post is about changing out the old anode rod in The Palms' hot water heater tank.  Pretty exciting stuff!  I checked various places to make sure I did it all correctly, so now I have the steps here in one post for next year.  :)

Last Tuesday I changed out my hot water heater's anode rod.  I had checked it early September 2013 and it looked pretty good so I left it in place, but I knew I should check it again in a few months.  It's now almost four months later, and I was glad I checked it.  It has deteriorated quite a bit since September.

I went through all the steps I did in September, except this time I put a new rod in.  I always have my water off unless I'm using it, so I didn't have to turn it off, but I did double check the switch.  I also never heat water unless I need it, so there was no hot water to worry about.  All I did to start was turn on all the taps so there was no water in the lines.

Suburban hot water heater:

Old rusty head of the anode rod below - it's normal for the head of the anode rod to be rusty after a year of use. 

Using my special 1 1/16 wrench to remove the anode rod:

I used the closed end first, from the side, and then came at it from the top.

There isn't much room to maneuver and I use both ends of the wrench to get things started, so next I used the open end and got it a little looser from the side.

Then I used the open end from the top.

Little by little, using both ends of the wrench switching from the side to the top, it started really loosening, and finally I was able to unscrew the last part by hand and take out the anode rod.  I was really curious about how much more would have worn away in the last four months, and there was a definite difference.

As soon as the rod was out, the water in the hot water heater tank came flowing out, and with it some residue from the inside of the tank.

My tank holds 6 gallons, and here it is on the desert floor.

The water flows out until the tank is empty.

I have the tool that attaches to a hose that can be used to REALLY flush out the tank.  It shoots water into the tank, and you wiggle it around to hit all the sides, top and bottom, dislodging anything that's attached to the walls.  You're supposed to do that for 15 minutes.  Since I don't have a water spigot here in the site, I didn't do that this time.  The water coming out was pretty clear, so while there was still water flowing, I decided to get my small bottle brush and wiggle IT around and pull it back to bring out additional debris, and it seemed to work well.  More while flakes came out with the water.

Wow, look at that huge piece!

Then I got the new anode rod ready.  I wrapped some plumbing tape around the threads and brought it outside.

Here it is, ready to install.

And in it goes - perfect!

Unfortunately I couldn't get it to start screwing in, so I got out a little wire brush to clean away some of the rust inside the opening.

The brush didn't fit inside the opening, but the little bit at the top worked well to clean around the threads in the front.

I used a water filled catsup squeeze bottle and shot some clean water onto the threads.

Meanwhile, I gave myself this badge for thinking of the wire brush and catsup bottle to flush out the rust:

So then I tried again, and it still wouldn't start threading.  Oh yeah, I remembered then - When Ron changed the first one for me, he said to put the tape on the outside half of the threads, otherwise it won't screw in. So I took the tape off the inside threads . . .

. . . and it worked.  I couldn't get the entire head of the rod screwed in, though, I think there is just too much rust inside for the threads to go any further, but it looks like this is going to work.  I'm going to have to find something to clean away more of the rusted threads, but it looks like this will work.

Looking good:

Then I turned on the water switch inside The Palms, and turned off the  kitchen and bathroom faucets.  When the water heater seemed full, I checked for leaks, and there were a few drops, less than in September, though, so I put a small piece of paper towel under the rod so I could monitor it and make sure it is only a little and will stop.  When I checked later, there were no leaks.

I turned on the taps in the kitchen and bathroom.  Some air in the lines came sputtering out, and then a good stream of water started flowing.

Below are the three anode rods we've used so far in The Palms.  The top one was removed on October 4, 2012 by Ron, the RV Master Tech who checked out The Palms when we were at Bluewater Lake State Park in NM.  We thought it was the original rod.

Here's the anode rod for my model Suburban hot water heater in it's package.  I already have a link to on the right side of my blog if you need to order one.  Check your user's guide, though, and make sure you get the right model number for your Suburban HWH.

That's a good job done - for another year.  If your hot water heater uses anode rods, make sure you check it every year.  The first rod was changed out on October 4, 2012 and lasted 15 months, so I think checking them once a year is about right for the places I've been and the water I've used in my tanks from those places.  Note to calendar - Check Anode Rod every January.  :)

NOTE:  After reading Andy Baird's comment (thanks Andy) - and please read his comment on this post about the tape on the threads - I thought I'd better repeat this warning and not just leave a link to the first time I had my anode rode changed out in October 2012: 

There are two kinds of RV water heaters, Atwood and Suburban.  I have a Suburban and this kind uses the anode rods that wear away instead of the inside of the tank wearing away.  I need to check mine at least every six months.  The Atwood water heaters don't use these, and although Atwood makes anode rods for their tanks, according to Ron, they shouldn't be used.  They are not needed and will eventually cause problems with the Atwood tanks.

This is confirmed by info posted on the RVing message boards; Tech Talk.  A question was asked about using an anode rod in an Atwood water heater:

"The principal behind the sacrificial anode is that it attracts the charged water particles which cause rust.  Those particles then corrode the anode instead of the walls and seams of the water heater, thereby extending the life of the water heater. Atwood tanks are aluminum and should not need an anode rod. Suburban's are not and do need the rod. Talk to Atwood. I recall the the new tanks are aluminum and do not need an anode. It also may void your warranty. Check with Atwood."

If you're still reading, you love this stuff as much as I do.  LOL   Thanks for reading to the end.

Welcome to our newest Follower, Jan Mains! Jan and her husband, Bill, live in Casa Grande, AZ in a Stick and Bricks house, and travel part time in their RV, a Montana.  This year they stayed in Pilot Knob, Parker and Quartzsite, and in her last post about this season, she said this was the perfect year, and I couldn't agree more.  Jan, I've enjoyed the posts I've read in your blog, and plan to go back further to catch up a little more.  It looks really interesting!  I'm happy you are following along with me and Katie, Jan.   Welcome Aboard!.

From me and Katie, have a great Saturday, everybody!  I hope your team wins tomorrow!   :)


  1. Ah yes, routine maintenance!! Been there done that with the white flakes and the other crud that builds up...but just good insurance for the RV.....

  2. I hate to tell you to redo the job, Barbara, but... an anode rode can only function if there's metal-to-metal contact between it and the tank it's protecting. Using Teflon pipe tape prevents this, because Teflon is an electrical insulator, so you should never install an anode rod with tape.

    By the way, for your readers with Atwood water heaters (e.g., Lazy Daze owners): anode rods should NOT be used in Atwood heaters. Their tank design makes the rods unnecessary, and if used, they can corrode and jam in place. Only Suburban water heaters like Barbara's need anode rods to prevent tank corrosion.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Andy. I only have tape on half the threads, so I DO have metal-to-metal contact. I didn't realize that's probably why Mike said to only put the tape on half the threads. If he told me, I had forgotten. I figured he had a problem starting the threads in like I did, and so only taped the outer threads.

      I left a link to the post where I explained the Atwood situation, but I just copy/pasted that part onto this post, too. I've talked to Atwood people who INSIST they need the rod, one was just recently. Mike explained to me that Atwood makes them, so people think they need them. Anyway, the warning is there now, and they should call Atwood and check for themselves if they have questions about that kind of HWH. :)

  3. You can use liquid anti-seize compound on the threads too and get good contact... glad you did pics of step by step, great blog post!

    Karen and Steve
    (Blog) RVing: The USA Is Our Big Backyard

    1. Karen, User beware. Anti-seize compounds are not designed for use as a sealant and tend to contain carcinogenic and other highly toxic ingredients. Refer to Safety Data Sheet for any product you are considering for any use with ingestion potential. Perhaps you are thinking of pipe thread compound, which is used most commonly on gas line threaded pipe connections. These generally are not designed for use on potable water lines either. RectorSeal No. 5 is one sealant the manufacturer claims is safe to use on potable water lines.

  4. WOW ! Excellent post !! Good job Barbara !! I have an Atwood so therefore, as Andy said, no anode rod.

  5. Good job. Next year I'll make sure you meet Jan and Bill. They are really good friends of ours.

  6. Fortunately that was one job I didn't have to worry about when I had a 5th wheel - my water heater didn't have an anode rod. You did a great job and sound like you really understand that stuff. It's just one more thing I wouldn't add to my already stuffed-to-the-gills aging brain!

  7. We are so thankful that this is not one task we need to do. We have an Atwood...thus no anode rod! BUT....good work, my friend! One problem averted!

  8. Great post Barbara. This is an easy job that anyone can do. You will find it even easier to do if you get a socket to fit your anode head and a handle. The socket sticks out far enough from the heater to make it much easier to turn. You can buy sockets and handles separately so you won't have to buy a whole set.

    1. Colleen, that sounds like a good idea, I might look into that. Thanks! :)

  9. Smart cookie! We checked mine last week and it looked surprisingly good. Had a devil of a time removing it though. Now I can't recall if we put the tape on the proximal end or not. Note to self: check tomorrow.

  10. Great job explaining and showing how to replace an anode rod. I agree with the previous commenter about using a socket wrench - it sure saves wear and tear on the old knuckles.

  11. i'm behind on my blog-post reading; but, thanks, Barbara. I have an Atwood and do not use an anode rod, but am having some little issues with my heater. Once in awhile the electronic starter doesn't click in when I turn it on inside my Fleetwood Flair. I go out and juggle the wires and then it starts. Then other times, the electronic starter goes on but the gas doesn't start. That's usually a pretty easy fix. Just turn the burners on the stove on for a few seconds and the water heater whoooshes on. But, for two days now I've had the electronic starter work, the gas comes on, then turns itself off in about 5 seconds. I turned off the breaker switches (all of them 'cause I wasn't sure which one was for the water heater) and used fine sand paper to clean up the connections on the water heater. Well, it worked - for today anyway. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  12. That was interesting reading, Barbara. I make sure that Peter checks the heater as soon as we are "home". :))
    Bye the way, I heard that the "biker weirdo" is parked near our "old spot", so I guess we go way down to the end. Hope to see you soon!

  13. Good job. Detailed explanation about changing rod in water heater...

  14. It wasn't until I bought a new anode rod that I realised how badly mine needed to be replaced, but it NEVER got close to the one at the top of the photo. Wow.
    I too had the idea that there needed to be metal to metal contact in order for electrolysis to take place. Same goes for any sacrificial rod, be it on a boat or wherever.
    Good for you for doing it all by your lonesome.

    1. Yes, Bob. Wow. I've been really lucky that my Newbie errors haven't caused any permanent damage, but it takes a while to learn all these things. I was told about the anode rod, but had no idea what it was and promptly forgot about it until last year when Mike changed it for me. I'll never forget again!!

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    1. Sorry, Gunter, your comment looks like an ad, so I had to delete it. :(

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    1. Sorry, Josef, your comment looks like an ad, so I had to delete it. :(

  17. Why don't you use a 1 1/16" socket and ratchet to make things easier. You won't risk stripping the threads when tightening.

  18. Make yourself a thread chaser to clean up those rusty threads in the anode mounting hole thusly. Break or cut off the old anode rod leaving you with the nut. Using a hacksaw or grinder with a thin disk, cut into the threads of the nut perpendicular to the threads. These cut edges when threaded into the rusty hole should clean up the threads pretty well, acting as a thread chaser. You can do the same thing with a nut making a thread chaser for a bolt. Hope this helps someone.

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  20. I had a similar issue and no matter what I would do, I could not loosen that nut. Rather than strip it out and make matters worse, I soaked in in a penetrating oil for an hour and went back. It was able to easily loosen with a pair of needle nose snips, and I got it out without issue.

    Carmelo @ PRO Hot Water Service

  21. Thread chaser
    Get a 3/4" NPT nipple 6" cut 3 groves in threads on nipple lengthwise
    Hand thread into drain hole then work it back/forth using pliers

    Threads are tapered so the edges of threads will cut thru tape and make contact

    Boxed/open end wrench
    Buy a 1 1/16" SIX point socket....much easier


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