I purchased a 2008 SnowRiver camper in August. When I winterized the camper I discovered that the anode had never been changed and was bare wire, with a lot of white sediment at the bottom of the tank. I used a spray wand to flush the tank and at that time I noticed a lot of black flaky paint (porcelain?) washing out of the tank. I looked inside the tank with a camera and saw places that were white where the black had flaked off. How do I know whether my water heater is still usable? I have heard that the concern with an unchanged anode is rust in the tank, but I could not see inside well enough to know whether there was any rust. —Toni
If your water heater has an anode rod, it is probably a Suburban since the Atwood model has a stainless steel tank and does not use one. The Suburban tank is steel with a porcelain lining similar to a residential water heater. The electrolytic action in the operating of the water heater will attack metal components and require protection of the tank. Typically, the original anode rod was made of magnesium and acts as a sacrificial metal for the galvanic corrosion. However, if the rod becomes deteriorated, the tank will start to corrode. Here is a photo of a new anode rod.
Water heater was probably not maintained previously
From your description of the sediment, anode being just a wire, and the black flakes, it’s obvious the water heater was not inspected and maintained by the previous owner. I would also be very apprehensive about how the unit was winterized as the anode rod is the drain plug. Surely the previous owner would have had to remove that and noticed the deterioration of the anode.
I applaud you for the inspection with the camera in the tank and desire to diagnose the tank. Since you stated the anode you removed looks like a wire, I would assume the tank has been compromised and the black flack pieces you are seeing is the porcelain coming off. The white sediment is most likely the calcium and lime from hard water. Since the drain hole is typically higher than the bottom of the tank, it will settle at the bottom unless flushed out, as you have done.
How do I know my water heater is still usable?
That is a very good question. In my opinion there would be three areas I would be concerned about: heating efficiency, water quality, and leaks.
The Suburban tank is steel and lined with porcelain, which they claim creates a superior insulation to keep the water temperature warmer longer. Depending on how much of the porcelain insulation has flaked off, how long will the tank retain temperature before the water heater will have to cycle again? Plus, how much of the sediment settled to the bottom of the tank and hardened? You did not mention if it’s a standard LP water tank or dual 120-volt/LP. However, the flame and heating element are located near the bottom of the tank so the more sediment, the less heating efficiency.
With the porcelain flaking off, the steel parts showing will rust. Who knows what other minerals could be inside that tank. I would suggest filling it with water and let it set for a day or two, then get a pack of Safe Home, a water testing kit, from a home improvement store and test for the various minerals and impurities.
Again, with all the porcelain flaking off and thin steel exposed, I would be most worried about the unit leaking eventually.
It would probably be worth the effort to remove the pressure relief valve to get a better look from the top with some light. This will probably be hard to remove as I’m sure it has never been removed prior and is hard to get at. A crow’s foot is typically a good tool to use; however, I usually use channel lock pliers.
Above, you can see a Suburban model that has a metal drain plug with some rust. The Atwood is plastic… or at least it is from the factory. Notice the pressure relief valve at the top—hard to get a wrench in there.
Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.
Read more from Dave here.
HAVE A QUESTION FOR DAVE?
We have started a new forum link for Ask Dave. Please be as brief as possible. Attach a photo or two if it might help Dave with his response. Click to visit Dave’s forum. Or send your inquiries to him using the form below.