Are Powered Anode Rods Better than Sacrificial Anodes?
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Powered anode rodPowered anode rod
(photo: amazon.com)

Do you have a problem with stinky hot water that smells like rotten eggs, or corrosion, or sediment build-up? Are you looking for a long-term solution and want to prevent water heater failure and expensive service?

Here are some facts about powered anode rods, their advantages and disadvantages, and why you should install one.

What is an anode rod, and what does it do? What are the options?

An anode rod is a vital part of your water heater, designed to extend the life of a heater by protecting it from corrosion.

If you have a tank-type water heater powered by gas or electricity, and you have an issue with the stinky hot water smell or premature rusting followed by a leaky tank, your anode rod might be failing you.

Sulfur smell, often described as rotten egg odor, is a common issue, especially if you live in an area with low-quality and hard water.

While the awkward smell is not a huge problem, rusting is. It can produce leaks and decrease units' life significantly.

A typical water heater comes with a metal tank covered with a protective glass coating, and an anode rod, as a secondary method of protection.

The anode rod is also called sacrificial because it deteriorates over time (it sacrifices itself) for the greater cause - protecting metal components from water, oxidation, and corrosion.

Most models come with magnesium, zinc, or aluminum anodes, depending on the brand and model.

For better protection and a longer warranty, homeowners also have an option to buy advanced models with built-in powered anodes or replace an existing anode with this non-sacrificial one.

The advantages and disadvantages of various types, including installation tips, can be found in our article about anode rods.

Here we will focus on the powered anodes, pros, and cons and see if they are worth buying and installing.

What are powered anodes, and why should I consider installing one?

As said before, anode rods are basically metal rods that protect a metal tank when they erode. Over time, as the rod wears down, it loses the ability to protect, so it has to be replaced.

Powered anodes do not work like that. They are made from harder material such as Titanium, as found in Corro-Protec anodes, and include a current rectifier to send a small amount of electrical current to the water heater.

This is how corrosion can be prevented entirely, bad odor eliminated, and an anode saved from disintegration.

Note that as the DC current reaches its highest value, it is just a matter of time before your water tank breaks down.

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Powered anode rods vs. sacrificial anodes - Pros and cons

Most tank-type water heaters will last 10-15 years, while typical sacrificial anodes have up to a 5-year life expectancy, no matter of the material used. And that depends on the water quality, water temperature, usage, and maintenance.

So if you don't replace a sacrificial anode when it is not functioning correctly anymore, you might lose your heater earlier. Also, if you don't replace it when required, the rod might seize or break, making it harder to remove.

The good thing about sacrificial anodes is that they are affordable and can be replaced relatively easily. They still protect the metal tank efficiently and do not need electricity to work.

A typical water heater is equipped with a magnesium anode that is affordable but corrodes fast. Households with hard water should replace magnesium types with better ones.

Aluminum anodes are a better choice as they can help reduce the rotten egg smell and they last longer. But, they are not suitable for soft water, such as when using a water softener.

A better option is to install a type that can last, such as a heavy-duty or powered anode.

Price comparison

Magnesium and aluminum anodes are cheap. Depending on the brand, quality, and size, they can cost you between $20 and $50. While they are pretty easy to replace, you can always hire a contractor, costing you up to $150 per hour (in the US) just for labor, as reported by HomeAdvisor.

Powered anodes cost more and can be found at around $150 (see on amazon.com).

Powered anode rods pros

  • Powered anodes can be installed in any size of a tank-type water heater.
  • Long-lasting. Since powered anodes don't deteriorate, they do not have to be replaced every 3-5 years as the sacrificial type.
  • No maintenance is required.
  • According to some manufacturers, powered anodes can eliminate spoiled egg odor in 24 hours.
  • Corrosion protection. Some types provide permanent corrosion protection.
  • Reduce sediment build-up and hard water stains.
  • It works well in both soft and hard water... it adapts its voltage depending on the water type.
  • No need to call a plumber to clean sediments inside the tank or replace an element.

Powered anodes cons

  • Expensive to buy.
  • It doesn't work when there is no power.
  • Not found in budget-friendly models, so replacement is required.

Powered anode vs. sacrificial - Side-by-side comparison

Powered anode Sacrificial anode
Higher cost (around $150) Low cost ($20-50)
Life expectancy is over 20 years Life expectancy is from 3 to 5 years
No maintenance required Maintenance required
Requires electricity No electricity required
Removes rotten egg smell Controls the smell
Works well in soft and hard water Not suitable for soft water

How do you install a powered anode rod on a water heater?

Powered anode rods look almost the same as the sacrificial anodes with an addition of the terminal, wiring harness, and DC output module.

It comes with the hex head and threads underneath, making it easy to screw into the water heater tank and at the same location as a factory-installed one.

Removing the old anode is easy; you just have to turn the power off, shut off the water supply, and unscrew the rod.

When installing the powered anode, make sure to use the Teflon type as two dissimilar metals, stainless steel anode, and metal tank, can enhance corrosion.

The rectifier wiring harness has two lines; one is grounding and connects to the metal tank, while the other attaches to the top terminal on the anode.

Once the anode is installed, connections established, and power resumed, plug in the DC output module so the anode can start protecting your water heater.

So, are powered anode rods better?

If money is not an issue and you are looking for a long-term protection solution for your water heater, install a powered anode rod. Some manufacturers are confident about long-term rust protection and success in preventing a rotten egg smell.

Powered anodes are well worth the cost for most homeowners, but are not always the best solution for some.

Sacrificial anode rods also work well but are not that successful in controlling bacteria inside the tank; plus, they have to be replaced every 3-5 years. They are affordable, tested, and easy to install.

Either way, your tank-type water heater relies on an anode and must be functional all the time.

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