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Friday, October 23, 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere

I have a water heater that seems to be leaking although I cannot actually see it leaking. But I have a towel placed close by the heater and it does get wet. All the water lines seem okay. Can the water heater tank be soldered? Is there any kind of cement to seal the leak once I get the tank out? The water heater is only two years old.
Thomas, (Dallas, PA)


Thomas, you are seeing the negative effects of electrolysis inside the water heater tank. Electrolysis, sometimes called galvanic corrosion is quite common in RV water heaters. Whenever water passes through a container, the minerals suspended in the water supply begin to react inside the inner tank of the heater. Even microscopic particles contribute to this natural phenomenon. 

Atwood water heaters are glass lined while Suburban’s water heaters are metal, but come equipped with a sacrificial anode rod to offset the effects of this electrolysis. But when the heater is exposed to higher concentrations of mineral content, the corrosion inside becomes accelerated. This results in tiny pinholes all the way through the tank wall (see photo). But it does seem odd that your tank has corroded through in just two years. 

If your water heater is manufactured by Atwood, the inner tank is replaceable. If you have a Suburban water heater, it is not; a new water heater is in order. Be sure to check all the fittings and components attached to the water heater tank before condemning it, however. At the rear of the heater (inside the coach) you’ll find the cold inlet and the hot outlet and perhaps an anode rod. Threaded into the front of the heater will be the pressure and temperature relief valve, drain valve/plug, gas control assembly (pilot models), and on some models, an anode rod. If your heater has an electric heating element option, that too is threaded into the inner tank. Be sure to physically check each fitting that may be leaking. Leaks at the above-mentioned fittings/components may eventually find its way to the floor area inside the RV. 

Additionally, if you have the motor-aid option, whereby coolant from the engine radiator is passed through the heater to heat the stored water, look at those connections closely. Though they are not actually threaded into the inner tank, they could still leak causing you to believe the leak is inside the water heater. 

Water heater inner tank replacement on an Atwood heater is relatively easy for the handy do-it-yourselfer, though it does mandate a complete removal and disassembly of the heater. Replacing a like-sized Suburban heater is straightforward and again, easily performed by the handy RVer. Both tasks, however, require the LP line to be disconnected and reinstalled so be sure you understand the dynamics of checking the coach for LP leaks if you attempt either.

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