Electric Hybrid Water Heater Install & Rotten Egg Smell

It all started with noticing the water heater chimney was leaking a bit of water.

Leaking water heater chimney

From an energy efficiency standpoint this chimney was a giant leaky hole.

Not only was it leaking water in… but also creating a stack effect that was leaking air out from the basement and main floor and sending it out through the attic.

Air sealing and fixing the leaky flashing could have solved these problems, but it’s better to eliminate potential failure/maintenance points in your solutions if possible.

Let’s look at the situation and what we came up with.

Problems:

  • Leaking flashing at roof
  • Old natural gas tank water heater entering its elderly years of 9 years old
  • Stack effect on air movement
  • Chimney was taking up square footage in main floor bathroom and basement
  • Chimney needed brick maintenance
  • High humidity levels in entire house

Solutions:

  • Remove chimney to solve water and air leakage, brick maintenance, and increase usable square footage in bathroom and basement
  • Install an electric hybrid water heater to boost energy efficiency. Does not require venting in this installation which means it also dehumidifies air. Can be powered by solar panels instead of gas.

Less is more…

Taking out the chimney and using a different type of water heater led to a better solution than if we would have just patched up the old chimney.

This did require running a 30 amp 240v circuit over to the heater though.

Installing the Rheem Electric Hybrid Water Heater

rheem hybrid electric water heater

Based on research and recommendations we ended up selecting the Rheem Prestige 50 Gallon electric hybrid water heater.

Home Depot seemed to have the best price and was located nearby.

Tip: Load boxed water heater with label side up to avoid damage to water fittings if you will be laying it on its side to transport.

The drain pan needs to be purchased separately (here is one on Amazon). Size it to be a few inches larger than water heater diameter.

Rheem has a leak detector wire that will shut the unit down if it detects water and the drain pan allows water to pool quickly, and divert to proper drain (instead of flooding your basement). Do not recommend installing without a drain pan.

Installing the unit yourself can be done for a moderate/advanced homeowner.

Although we prefer soldered copper piping, you could use shark bite push-to-connect fittings (Amazon link) to make the install more DIY friendly.

Follow Rheem instructions and the install should go pretty smoothly.

Don’t forget to recycle your old water heater at a scrap yard.

Rotten Egg Smell of Sulphur Well Water

With installation complete and the unit up and running (sounds like an aquarium when the heat pump is humming along) we noticed a smell coming from the hot water.

As the days went on the smell got worse and worse. To the point where one would have trouble brushing their teeth with hot water turned on.

The hot water rotten egg smell comes from sulfur bacteria in the water that thrive in the hot water heater tank.

Random water heater tip: The Rheem Hybrid unit comes preset to 120 degrees. While this may save you some energy.. research shows 120 temperature could allow certain bad bacteria to survive and be harmful to your health. It is recommended to set the unit at 140 degrees. This may require anti-scalding devices if children or elderly are in the home.

The main two ways to get rid of the sulphur smell of the well water are:

  • Aeration
  • Replace the anode rod inside the water heater

Aeration seemed to be a bit complex and would require more plumbing and potentially more maintenance.

Replacing the anode rod seemed to be a simple process and no added complexity.

The anode rods that come with most water heaters are magnesium. Which may work okay for some water types that are treated prior to entering the home.

For well water you will most likely need to switch to an aluminum or powered anode rod.

The powered anode rod seems to be the better solution. Although it does require a 120v outlet nearby for the transformer to plug into.

Replacing the Anode Rod in the Rheem Water Heater

We installed a Corro-Protect powered anode rod. (Amazon)

Corro-Protect Anode Rod for Smelly Egg Water

These anode rods are made in North America, reduce limescale, sulphur smell, and are warrantied for 20 years (should never have to replace it like a regular anode rod every 4-5 years).

Disclaimer: If you are concerned about your Rheem warranty have a Rheem professional complete installation, and/or check with Rheem to make sure it will not cause any problems. Factory manual seemed very vague about replacement and coverage

Just for fun checkout the old anode rod that was pulled out of the new unit. Only operating a short time and you can see it was already being attacked.

Rheem Hybrid Anode Rod
Note: The almost stripped hex head… we will get to that…

Removing the old anode rod in the Rheem unit seemed a bit of a mystery. There was not much info to be found on how the process was done.

It was actually not all that hard.

Here is a quick summary:

Shut down unit and electric. Make sure circuit is dead.

Pull the top of the tank lid off and locate rod under grey foam.

Careful not to bend condenser fins.

Rheem Anode Rod in Hybrid Prestige Water Heater

Remove the foam on the bottom completely.

Pry up on the gray plastic cover to allow your 1-1/16″ socket to fit over the hex head of the anode rod.

Now here is where things got interesting. The old anode rod seemed extremely tight and no amount of holding the tank and using a breaker bar could budge the old rod loose.

Didn’t think this would be the case since the unit was almost brand new and not rusted stuck like an old unit might be.

After a little cursing.. and much frustration… a purchasing a powerful impact was in order.

Researching options provided the 1/2″ Milwaukee impact as the answer from the heavens.

Look at the torque numbers and you will be seriously impressed. It puts most air impacts to shame.

Milwaukee 1/2" Impact Driver for removing stuck anode rod in water heater

I used an adapter to change from 1/2″ to 3/4″ purchased in this kit.

Then attached a 3/4″, 16″ long extension to get down to the rod with a 1-1/16″ socket. It is important to use a 6 point socket.. as the 12 point may strip out the head (as you can tell from the picture of the old anode rod above I found this out the hard way and almost completely stripped the head before I remembered to change to a 6 point socket with the impact).

The Milwaukee impact made taking out the old anode rod a breeze. It has a cool feature the detects the bolt break loose and slows down as it comes out.

Next wrap some teflon and/or pipe dope on the new Corro-Protect anode rod and install with a 1-3/8″ socket.

Reinstall bottom gray foam around new powered anode rod.

Drill a hole in the top of the tank to allow the anode power. Line it with something to protect the wire insulation from vibration (used a piece of old rubber o-ring) and tuck in the foam to avoid the wire getting sucked into fan.

Apply an antioxidant or dielectric grease (Amazon) to the connection to limit corrosion.

Rheem powered anode rod power wire
Dielectric grease on powered anode rod

Finish putting the lid and electrical connections back together.

Flush air out of system.

Plug-in Corro-Protect anod rod transformer.

Turn unit back on.

Enjoy hot water without rotten egg smell! 🙂

Now we just need to rip down the chimney and patch the roof.