40-Gal Elec. Hot Water Heater running out too soon

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by Little Ree, Oct 15, 2009.

  1. Little Ree

    Little Ree New Member

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    North Carolina
    My hot water heater is starting to run out of hot water sooner than it used to. I can't make it thru a "normal" shower without having to adjust the temp.

    Two people have told me that it sounds like an element is going bad, and that it's something I can replace myself.:eek: My experience in plumbing is limited to jiggling the toilet handle when it occasionally keeps running.

    So do I want to try this on my own? The most advice I got so far is a) shut the breaker off BEFORE emptying tank. Ok, that I can do.

    What next?
  2. FloridaOrange

    FloridaOrange Plumbing Designer

    Messages:
    1,317
    Location:
    SW Florida
    You don't have a hot water heater, why would you need to heat hot water?? <end sarcasm> "Hot water heater" is a pet peeve of mine.

    There are other reasons your heater may not be performing as good as it was. Did the change happen gradually or all at once? Has your heater ever been serviced? (Drained/flushed) If it is indeed the element you can likely look up the owner's manual online which will give you a better idea of what you need to do for your brand/model of heater.
  3. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,395
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Perhaps you should consider a few things about your water heater. How old is it? What brand? A 40 gallon electric heater is woefully small. You consider these thing to judge whether or not it's time for a new heater. Now, the problem very well could be an element, but if the tank has never been flushed as is should be yearly, it very well could be sediment in the bottom of the tank that is shorting out the element. For that there is no cure other than a new tank. There are electrical tests than a professional can make on the tank to determine what is wrong as well as what can be done, if anything, to repair it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 15, 2009
  4. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    15,412
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    When the upper element goes bad, you will have no hot water.

    When the lower element goes bad, you will have some hot water.
  5. faucetman886

    faucetman886 DIY Junior Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    near Atlanta
    The element is a good guess but it could also be a broken or deteriorated dip tube. The dip tube is the tube that carries cold water from the top where the hot water is to the bottom to be heated. If it isnt going down deep enough it ends up forcing more cold water into the tank. Either way, element, dip tube or debris your probably better off seeking professional help and consider the answers here a good education on how things work.
  6. Little Ree

    Little Ree New Member

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    North Carolina
    thanks for the quick replies everyone. my HEATER (response to sarcasm ;)) is approximately 10 years old. I bought the house as a foreclosure in Feb 08, and it wasn't working then, I had a plumber come and (if I remember correctly) he replaced an element.

    Unit had been working fine; over the summer after a shower I had a strange thing happen. I heard a loud electrical buzzing noise and the lights dimmed for a second. Since my bathroom is located directly over the sewer ejector pump, it sounded like the source of the noise. Luckily my BF works for the power company and knows a "little" about electricity :p so first he checked the breaker and found that the breaker for the water tank had tripped, but not for the sewage ejector. After much head scratching we decided to get on with life and see what happens.

    The ejector pump has worked fine ever since, but little by little my hot water has been running out sooner. As far as flushing the tank, no I have not had that done. Didn't know I had to <embarassed to admit>. So the sediment shorting out the element could definitely be possible (which may explain the strange incident over the summer?). As far as the tank size, 40-gal is a bit small but I live alone and until now it hasn't been a problem. Unless you're implying that by being small it is forced to run more often, thereby causing it to die sooner.

    Ok, I think I've over-analyzed enough for one post. And boy I've learned alot already! thanks!
  7. FloridaOrange

    FloridaOrange Plumbing Designer

    Messages:
    1,317
    Location:
    SW Florida
    :D

    Don't be embarassed. Most homeowners don't flush the tank yearly. I know I should and I don't and won't be suprised when it does die on me.
  8. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,313
    Location:
    New England
    An electric WH is pretty simple...normally two heating elements and a thermostat. If the lower one is bad, it can be tested, and since they aren't very expensive, might solve your problem. The tools needed to test it aren't all that expensive, but it takes some knowledge on how to use and interpret the results. But, thowing new parts can get more expensive than it should. If you need to call a pro, you might save some money since you wouldn't arbitrarily be replacing parts that are still working. But a 10-year old tank could last another 10-years, or it could die tomorrow from a leak. WH also have a (sacrificial) anode rod in them that literally gets eaten away over the years, and if not replaced, that aggressiveness of the water on the dissimilar metals will then start to eat the tank up. Big metal boats use them too. So, since that probably never was replaced either...at 10-years, it may be time to budget for a new one.
  9. Little Ree

    Little Ree New Member

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    North Carolina
    But at least you'll know how to fix it and won't have to pay for somebody's kid's braces to do it! :D
  10. FloridaOrange

    FloridaOrange Plumbing Designer

    Messages:
    1,317
    Location:
    SW Florida
    I'll just replace it then. I have mfr. reps offer to give me one for free so it's almost a no-brainer.
    :D
  11. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,395
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    I would bet that if you pulled the lower element, you would find crud filling the bottom of the tank and that has shorted the element. As previously stated, no fix possible. New heater in you future. Annual flushing would have helped, but flushing never gets everything out, and 10 years is considered very old age for a water heater. My son and I recently attempted to replace a lower element in his mother's (my exes) mobile home. It was a major effort just the get the element out because it was so jammed up with debris. Of course we knew immediately that a new tank was the solution. Another problem you will get with that debris in the tank is plugged aerators, washer screens, and shower heads. Little white grains. I sure look at a new 50 gallon tank. Not that much bigger, so space should not be a problem. Electric tanks heat much slower than gas, so having an extra few gallons could be a plus. Also, newer tanks are better insulated than the old ones. And, don't worry about call this a "hot water heater". Yeah, it bugs me too, but it is so commonly done I just go on with life.
  12. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,459
    Location:
    MD
    The elements should read about 13 ohms end to end and infinity from either end to the shell.
    From what little data I have on electric heaters you have a 50% chance to make it to 17 years.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2009
  13. Little Ree

    Little Ree New Member

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Considering the filthy dirty condition of the rest of the house when I bought it, I seriously doubt the first owner did any flushing or maintenance either, so I'm going to save my pennies and hold out until I'm down to 3-minute showers, then go for the bigger unit. (Of course well all know that will occur on the coldest day of the year:eek:!)

    And you're right - it DOES take longer than a gas heater! :(
  14. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,237
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    heater

    As soon as the "cold water" heater is turned on it becomes a "warm water" heater, and just before it turns off it is heaing "hot water" so at that point it IS a "hot water heater". But since your plumbing AND electrical skills are ZERO, get a plumber. Before you do ANY changing of ANYTHING, you need to test EVERYTHING to see where the problem, (if you have one other than a heater that is too small), is. Once you know WHAT the problem is, then you can replace that part, or parts.
  15. ChuckS

    ChuckS New Member

    Messages:
    96
    Location:
    Aurora, CO
    It doesn't cost you nothing but time to flush it and it may solve the problem. You can try it, shouldn't hurt and it might help.
  16. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    Well that is not true...the drain valve could develope a constant drip and if he uses the T&P to allow air into the heater that may also need to be replaced before he is done if the heater is old...If you decide to rebuild the heater you could install new 4500 W elements which would give you a faster recovery time...
  17. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,237
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    heater

    What makes you think he does NOT have 4500 watt elements, or did I miss something? At least he is in NC so I do not have to worry about him calling me for help if he rounds off the corners of the element while trying to remove it.
  18. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    15,412
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    If the tank is 10 years old, and you have a bad electrical component in it, the best advice would be to replace it.

    Tanks tend to last 10 to 20 years.
    So if you get a plumber out to fix it at half the cost of a new tank, you really haven't saved much.

    If the tank goes bad while you are at work, the costs could run thousands of dollars.
  19. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio

    Why would you have to worry....all I would do is tell him he needs a new heater...
Similar Threads: 40-Gal Elec
Forum Title Date
Water Heater Forum, Tanks Di electric union keeps corroding Monday at 4:39 PM
Water Heater Forum, Tanks Most efficient gas water heater that works without electricity Nov 9, 2014
Water Heater Forum, Tanks Cap blown off top of electric water heater Sep 2, 2014
Water Heater Forum, Tanks Rheem Performance 30 gal. Short 6 Year 4500/4500-Watt Elements Electric Water Heater Jun 13, 2014
Water Heater Forum, Tanks BradfordWhite elec not so hot anymore May 16, 2014

Share This Page