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    Lambert John's Avatar
    Lambert John Posts: 2, Reputation: 1
    New Member

    Mar 2, 2008, 08:09 PM
    Brown water keeps returning to hot water heater
    Several months ago, our hot water began turning to a reddish brown sort of color. Fill the bathtub up, reddish brown. Fill any of the sinks up, reddish brown. We're city water (Dallas) and the gas hot water heater was installed in 1994.

    I got on this excellent board and learned all about draining the hot water heater to "push" out any sediment and other foreign materials that may have settled at the bottom of the hot water heater. And it worked... for about a day. So I did it again, and it worked... for about another day. Now the water is back to reddish brown.

    I guess I could keep on draining the water heater, but I suspect I have a deeper problem. I'm wondering if any of you experts out there might know what's going on inside of my water heater to cause the reddish brown water to keep returning, even after I flush the water heater repeatedly. Do I simply need a new water heater? Or do I have a problem in another part of the house?

    Thanks everyone. I appreciate it.
    ballengerb1's Avatar
    ballengerb1 Posts: 27,379, Reputation: 2280
    Home Repair & Remodeling Expert

    Mar 2, 2008, 08:24 PM
    If your heater was installed on 1994 you have gotten your money's worth out of that baby. If your cold water is fine and clear your hot should be the same if everything is operational. Open the boiler drain at the botom of the heater with a hose attached running to a drain. Open the drain valve and allow to run for 20 minutes with your supply line also open to keep refilling the tank. Now close the valve and allow th etank to heat your water. Test your hot water every 12 hours and come back here when it starts to turn red again.
    massplumber2008's Avatar
    massplumber2008 Posts: 12,780, Reputation: 1210
    Senior Plumbing Expert

    Mar 3, 2008, 04:45 AM
    Hi John...

    Tell me, have you ever changed the anode rod in your heater? It sounds to me like the magnesium anode rod may be totally spent and the tank/tappings are staring to corrode (gives that characteristic reddish color you mentioned). Anode rods are sacrificial rods that break down readily and help slow the breakdown of tank tappings (increases tank life).

    You could try removing the anode rod and inspect it... if it has not already fallen to the bottom of the tank. Here, you would shut water into the heater and drain off about 5 gallons of water from the boiler drain (open hot side of a two handle faucet if you have one to allow water to drain from hot pipes a bit).

    Then that anode rod is either under that LARGE 6 sided nut on top of the heater or it is part of the dielectric nipple on the hot water tapping of the water heater. If no separate nut up top, you will need to shut cold water off (drain 5 gallons off) and then cut the hot water pipe to be able to remove the nipple and anode rod combination.

    If a large separate nut, then you will need a 1-1/16" six-sided socket (or 1-1/8") socket and a persuader bar (a piece of pipe or something to extend your leverage... THESE are hard to loosen, and usually make a snapping sound... but go for it... and it will come right out) to remove that anode rod plug on top of the heater.

    Inspect the rod... what do you see.. Is there even a rod left?

    Then , if looks as bad as I suspect it does, you are off to the plumbing supply house to purchase an aluminum anode rod (less reactive than magnesium rod... so better for your type of water supply). Replace the rod by reversing steps, then purge/flush that tank like bob (ballangerb1) suggested... flush out all remaining sediments left behind by old anode rod. Hopefully, that will fix all these issues and give you another 5 years out of that water heater.. ;)

    Otherwise, time to replace that water heater...and then in 5 years replace the anode rod....up to you though.

    I have provided pictures of the two different types of anode rod (collapsable and dielectric nipple types).

    I also added a pic. Comparing new anode to old anode.

    Hope this helps.

    If it does, please RATE THIS ANSWER. Thank you.
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    Lambert John's Avatar
    Lambert John Posts: 2, Reputation: 1
    New Member

    Mar 6, 2008, 12:09 PM
    Thanks Massplumber2008 and ballengerb1! You guys are an immense help! I flushed out the water heater again as suggested by ballengerb1. I did exactly what he told me to do (which I've actually done before two separate times) and within 24 hours, the water was reddish brown again. It's interesting, but it seems like it takes a couple of showers before it gets that way. But it does get that way within 24 hours.

    In response to massplumber2008, no, I have never changed the anode rod. I've heard the terminology, but on my water heater, I can't seem to locate it. Maybe you can help? I've posted some pictures at this Web site:

    Click here for pics of my water heater

    From what you're telling me, it sounds like the anode rod is located under the hot water tapping of the water heater, which I take to mean the hot water pipe leaving the water heater? If that's the case, do I really need to cut it? Can't I just unscrew it with a crescent wrench? Again, check out the pics. It looks like it's screwed into the water heater.

    I'll wait for your answer before I proceed. On another note, how do I know which anode rod to buy when I shop the plumbing store? Do I take them the model of water heater? Or are they all pretty standard (the anode rods that is)?

    Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.
    ballengerb1's Avatar
    ballengerb1 Posts: 27,379, Reputation: 2280
    Home Repair & Remodeling Expert

    Mar 6, 2008, 01:16 PM
    It may be too late to get much improvement from a new rod. Seems like the rod is gone and your water has attacked the tank liner and is rusting it. The scraficial anode rod, or stink rod as some call it, is on top of your heater. One large nut about 1 1/8" in many cases. You will not budge it with a crescent wrench. You need a socket and a ratchet with a piece of pipe added for leverage. In many cases that nut is so tight you can accidentally start to rotate your tank and twist the pipes so have a helper who can hug the tank. Once the nut comes out you'll see it has a long rod attached to it, likely most of it is gone. Depending on ceiling height you may need to buy an articualted aluminum rod to be able to get it in. If it were me I'd be shopping for a new heater with a 12 year warranty. Otherwise you will have a 14 year old heater that is rusting but has a new anode.
    massplumber2008's Avatar
    massplumber2008 Posts: 12,780, Reputation: 1210
    Senior Plumbing Expert

    Mar 6, 2008, 03:18 PM
    I'm right on board with Ballenger (Bob), John... Replace the water heater... flush it regularly... Go with the 12 year like Bob said... you won't regret it (check on anode rod location(s) when new heater installed so you can swap out in the future if you need, too-->> If buying 6 year warranty heater change anode rod in 4 years, if purchasing the 12 year warranty it should have dual anode rods and then maybe just need to check on them in 6 years... or so.

    Anyway, it is what I would do as well. Take care.
    JSC's Avatar
    JSC Posts: 1, Reputation: 1
    New Member

    Jul 8, 2012, 10:47 AM
    We have an issue with rusty-brown water. What is the possibities that I could have a hot line broke and the pressure changes is allowing dirty in the line which turns up in the hot water but not cold. It has to run for a while to see it... Thanks
    massplumber2008's Avatar
    massplumber2008 Posts: 12,780, Reputation: 1210
    Senior Plumbing Expert

    Jul 8, 2012, 04:02 PM
    Hi Jsc

    If you have hot water pipes that go underground then it is certainly possible that dirt could be the issue here, but most likely you would find your faucet AERATORS clogging up so I'd bet you that dirt isn't the issue.

    More likely is that the anode rod is used up and the water heater is starting to rust at the tank tappings... not a good thing, for sure!

    How old is your water heater and do you have hard or soft water in your town/city?

    Let me know, OK?


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