While anode rods themselves may be a part of the water heater that not all homeowners understand, powered anode rods can be even more difficult to comprehend. Despite their seemingly complex nature, they can be a major asset to the workings of your water heater and the level of maintenance required.
Before investing in a powered anode rod, the curious consumer should first understand its anatomy, how and how well they work, how long it lasts, etc. We have answers to all the important powered anode rod questions you have.
On average, powered anode rods cost $170, last 15 years, and use minimal power. They emit electrical currents that stop tank corrosion without the need to corrode themselves. Reviews support their effectiveness. They can be used in all water types. Corro-Protec is a notable brand of good powered anode rods.
How Do Powered Anode Rods Work?
Anode Rod Anatomy
In order to fully understand how powered anode rods work, you must first understand their anatomy.
The thin metal rod visible at the bottom of the device is titanium. This is connected to a wider steel portion, which does not sit in the water but rather has a threaded surface, which allows it to be screwed into the anode port of the water heater tank.
Atop this stainless steel body is a hex head, which is what your tightening/untightening tools will grip onto during installation and removal. Attached to this is the terminal. This is what allows the anode to be powered.
A wire joins the rod’s terminal to an electrical control module (current rectifier), which is plugged into the wall socket and supplies the rod with an electrical current.
Anode Rod Operation
The basis of the operation of powered anode rods is that they release a small electrical current into the tank. This protects the water heater tank from corrosion while allowing the anode rod itself to stay intact, unlike sacrificial anode rods that corrode over time.
Fundamentally, corrosion is an exchange of electrons with oxygen-containing molecules. The material losing electrons oxidizes (corrodes).
In the presence of water and air, reactive metals, like the steel of your water heater tank, lose electrons naturally. However, the electrical current from the powered anode rod stops this loss. Furthermore, the pulses help to prevent individual corrosive elements from being in contact with the tank long enough to react.
The pulses also stop minerals like calcium from building up on the tank and causing damage. This is the reason why powered anode rods are great for use in homes supplied by hard (mineral-rich) water.
Powered anode rods also can adapt to whatever type of water they are placed in.
If you are interested in reading about this mechanism in more detail, I have a whole article dedicated to how powered anode rods work, which you should find helpful.
Powered Anode Rods Aren’t Shock Risks
With all this talk of current and electricity in a water storage tank, it is valid to be concerned that powered anode rods are a health and safety risk.
Although it is true that anode rods send an electrical current into water, one of the most well-known conductors of electricity, they do not have health risks associated with electrical shock. This is because the electrical current generated is far too small to electrocute someone if they were to come in contact with it.
Despite this low amount of current, though, it is important to make sure that the proper precautions are met when doing maintenance or installation, including cutting off power to the outlet into which the anode rod is plugged and the outlet supplying the water heater (if it is an electric model).
Do Powered Anode Rods Really Work?
The technology of the powered anode rod sounds wondrous and far better than sacrificial anode rods. Although it may seem like a miracle product, it is important to investigate whether the powered anode rod actually does what it says it will do.
I’m always very skeptical when it comes to the claims a manufacturer makes. Their interest is firmly rooted in selling their product. Yes, they want it to work so that they can make their customers happy, ensure repeat clientele, and contribute to society’s technical advancement, but the bottom line is the top priority.
So, in order to determine if a device like this works, you have to look at three things:
- The science behind the device.
- The results of scientific studies into the device’s effectiveness.
- The reviews of customers who have purchased and used the device.
We’ve already looked at the science behind powered anode rods. In my opinion, it’s pretty sound, but you can make up your own mind in this regard.
I cannot find any official scientific studies that research the effectiveness of powered anode rods. This doesn’t really surprise me. If every new appliance released onto the market was first subjected to rigorous scientific study, we would be without many of today’s modern conveniences, the blueprints of which would be stacked in some virtual list, waiting for more researchers and money to test them.
This means that we must move on to customer reviews to help us decide if powered anode rods work as they claim they do.
Most people report that they are happy with their powered anode rods, particularly in the ability of the rod to rapidly eliminate the eggy smell that can develop in water heater tanks. Few come back after years of use to confirm that the water heater tank has been adequately protected. However, I would hardly expect this.
What I would expect, based on human nature is for someone to come back in a few years’ time and edit their review to say that they just had to replace their water heater because the tank had been eaten away. As I can find no such reviews, I’m going to go ahead and say that this has not happened.
There was, however, a different kind of update or review from a small portion of users. A few reviewers report that the powered anode rod failed prematurely.
I wouldn’t say this is a representation of the technology’s effectiveness but rather design standards and quality control slips.
However, it is a concern that manufacturers seem to have remedied in a satisfactory way. They have attached a long warranty (up to 20 years!) to their devices. Before we get too philosophical about the integrity of manufacturers, we would need to read the fine print of the warranty, but to me, they’ve put (some) of their money where their mouth is.
How Long Do Powered Anode Rods Last?
Powered anode rods are much more expensive than their low-tech contemporaries. That’s fine if they last as long as they are supposed to because this cost is often lower than what you would pay on replacement sacrificial rods throughout a water heater’s life.
The overall consensus is that powered anode rods at least six years. At their minimum, they surpass sacrificial anode rods by at least one year since sacrificial anode rods last about three to five years.
If this was the average lifespan as opposed to the average minimum lifespan, then I would probably say we should all stick to the cheap sacrificial anodes.
Thankfully, it’s not the average lifespan. This is more around the 10-15 year mark. Corro-Protec, a Canadian powered anode rod company, is confident that their powered anode rods will last at least twenty years and they give you a 20-year warranty to give credence to their claims.
Considering that water heaters last about eight to fifteen years, it is likely that your powered anode rod will only have to be replaced once. It may even outlive your water heater, and if it does, there is nothing stopping you from transferring it to your new water heater.
Despite what seems like a miraculous lifespan for an anode rod, there are some factors that can limit the lifespan of a powered anode rod.
Powered Anode Rod vs Sacrificial Anode
The mode of corrosion prevention is not the only difference between powered anode rods and sacrificial anode rods. There are many more differences between powered and sacrificial anode rods. Below is a summary of these.
|Powered Anode Rod||Sacrificial Anode Rod|
|Uses electric current to prevent corrosion.||Uses sacrificial corrosion of the rod to prevent corrosion of the water heater tank.|
|Replaced when they malfunction.||Replaced when depleted.|
|Average lifespan of 10-15 years.||Average lifespan of 3-5 years.|
|Cost up to $170.||Cost between $15 and $75.|
|Typically made from the same materials across brands and models.||3 main materials (magnesium, zinc alloy, and aluminum).|
|The rod does not corrode.||The rod does corrode.|
|Requires electricity to function.||Functions without a power supply|
The two most common materials that sacrificial anode rods are made from are aluminum and magnesium. These are used in different circumstances because of their differing properties.
In addition to the above general differences, further differences can be revealed when powered anode rods are compared to aluminum and magnesium individually.
Aluminum Anode vs Powered Anode
One of the most noticeable differences between aluminum anode rods and powered anode rods is the large price difference. Aluminum anodes often cost only $20 to $40 while powered anode rods can cost more than $150.
Another stark difference between the two is how they operate in different kinds of water. While powered anode rods can work well in hard, soft, and softened water conditions, aluminum anode rods only work well in hard and naturally soft water conditions.
If the water has been artificially softened, then aluminum is not going to be the best protection for your tank.
Magnesium Anode vs Powered Anode
Although less extreme than the cost comparison for aluminum rods, a notable difference between magnesium anode rods and powered anode rods is the price. While magnesium anode rods are about $75 on average, powered anode rods can cost more than $150.
Magnesium rods are also more limited than powered anode rods when it comes to the variety of water qualities that they can work in. Magnesium rods are best suited to artificially softened water. Their extreme reactivity is sufficient to handle the excessive quantity of corrosive ions in this water, but it is a decided drawback in naturally soft or hard water.
Are Powered Anode Rods Worth It?
Powered anode rods are pricey compared to their sacrificial counterparts. You saw this in the previous sections. However, a larger outlay can often save you time, trouble, and even money in the long run. Is this true of powered anode rods?
Well, the science is sound, customer reviews indicate that powered anode rods work well and deliver on benefits like removing odors from hot water, and many manufacturers give long warranties to support their claims.
This means that they will save you the time and hassle of replacing the anode rod every few years. Some may immediately consider this to be worth the extra outlay of money for the powered model. Some require a bit more convincing—or dollar sign proof.
So, let’s look at whether they are more cost-effective than sacrificial anode rods.
- They are likely to last the water heater’s lifespan; let’s call it an average of 12 years.
- If normal anode rods are used, they have to be replaced every 3-5 years; let’s call it 4 years for the sake of our calculations.
- So, the rod will be replaced 3 times in the water heater’s life.
- The average cost of a regular anode rod is $45.
- Multiply this by 3 and you get $135.
- This is still less than the average cost of $170 for powered anode rods.
- Moreover, it costs about $1.36 to power the powered anode rod each year.
- Over the water heater’s 12-year lifespan, this will add up to $16.32.
- This makes the total difference $135 compared to $186.32.
Looking at it like this, powered anode rods are not more cost-effective than regular anode rods.
However, if you consider the extra $51.32 to be a cheap price to pay for never having to wrestle your old anode rod out of the tank or even remember to do this, then go for the powered option.
Additionally, if you are not someone who feels capable of changing your anode rod yourself (or doing so voids the water heater warranty), then you add to each $45 dollar replacement rod cost, a $200 plumber installation fee.
Who Makes the Best Powered Anode Rod?
At this point in the article, you may or may not have decided whether you’d like to invest in a powered anode rod.
If you have decided to purchase one, then allow me to steer you in the right direction. In order to get the best powered anode rod on the market, I recommend Corro-Protec.
Their powered anode rods promise to protect your water heater tank from corrosion, reduce sediment build-up in the tank, and eliminate odor from your water.
Along with these benefits, the Corro-Protec powered anode rod also comes with a twenty-year warranty.
Their powered anode rods are also fairly universal since they work with several makes, models, and brands of water heaters. They also come in a variety of different sizes.