Can you help troubleshoot my hot water/high electricity bill issue?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by dwschwartz, Dec 13, 2010.

  1. dwschwartz

    dwschwartz New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Seattle, Wa
    So here's what I know:

    1. Started noticing the the temperature of my shower water was fluctuating...generally warm but with patches of cool water.
    2. Replaced the dip stick (the old one turned out to be fine) and the lower heating coil, which in hindsight was probably OK too.
    3. Increased the temp by 5-degrees to 130. Water temp still fluctuates, but not as annoying as when cool water was coming in.
    Then,

    Received my electric bill with a huge spike in use. (Huge, as in $400 for two months--crap!)

    One more thing,

    I noticed that at one end of the house, the hot water tap is always primed with hot water. Even first thing in the AM, after not being used for 6 or 8 hours, it takes no time for the tap to deliver hot water. The hot water tank is on a different floor and the other end of the house, so it would normally take 15 or 20 seconds. The tap on the other end of the house seems to be normal, that is delivering hot water only after discharging several seconds of cold water.

    Somehow this has all got to be related, right? Anybody care to speculate what is going on?

    Thanks in advance and happy holidays!
  2. rmelo99

    rmelo99 Network Engineer

    Messages:
    349
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Any hot water recirculating pump/system?

    I'll let the pros chime in but I think if there is bad valve @ a fixture/tub you could be mixing hot water into the cold. This would consume hot water meaning you have to heat your water more and it could also explain how that tap has hot water instantly even after not being used for a while.
  3. dwschwartz

    dwschwartz New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Seattle, Wa
    @rmelo99

    Yes, have an on demand recirculating pump, but unplugged it to eliminate it from the problem. Also, we can hear it running when it's working. I've also checked the cold water line coming into that sink, and it's cold, which leads me to think the hot water is not finding its way down that cold water line.

    Now your second suggestion is interesting. We did have some work done on a tub, probably about the time this problem started, although the tub has separate controls for hot/cold water, not a single control that would have a valve. Of course, I don't know much, or really anything about plumbing, so maybe there is a valve and I just don't know what it is. Thanks for your reply.

    UPDATE: I just ran the water in the sink again, and this time it was a normal cold discharge before getting hot. So, I'm going to dial-back what I said about the on demand pump and see what the situation is in the morning. If things seem to be normal in the AM with the pump unplugged, then I'll completely remove it from the look and see if that makes a difference long term. Thanks again for your message.

    UPDATE 2: Just as in past days the hot water was right at the tap for the upstairs bathroom. I think what happened last night was that the downstairs tap and been used, thereby draining the plumbing of hot water.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2010
  4. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,298
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    How about a leak in a hot water line? It wouldn't have to be huge to make the water heater work overtime. I don't think the recirculating system would cause very much of an increase. It seems to me you're using losing hot water somewhere
  5. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    Check the water meter to see if it is moving when you know no water is being used in the house. Do your pipes run in a slab, or through the framing? If in a slab, are there any spots that are warm if you walk around in your socks?
  6. Jerome2877

    Jerome2877 In the Trades

    Messages:
    397
    Location:
    BC
    I would also guess slab leak. Close the valve that feeds the hwh, wait 1 min and turn it back on. If you hear water running through the valve you have a leak. A digital thermometer is usefull to locate the leak if you don't feel a hot spot with your foot.
  7. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,245
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    1. You have a hot water leak under the floor.
    2. It is probably at the end where you get hot water immediately.
    3. The heater is operating 24 hours a day, which is why the electic bill is high
    4. Your water bill will also be higher.
    5. When it gets bad enough, and it appears to be near that point, you will NOT have any hot water, but the electric meter will be spinning at full speed.
    6. Contact a plumber who knows how to work with a leak locator AND your homeowner's insurance to find and repair the leak, and your house.
  8. dwschwartz

    dwschwartz New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Seattle, Wa
    Thanks for your comments

    I appreciate everyone's thoughts so far.

    Fortunately the plumbing is either exposed or between floors and I haven't seen any sign of water--either coming from the exposed pipe or causing any damage to the downstairs ceiling. There is one area where the pipe rises vertically between the two floors, in the wall. I'll guess I'll have to take a look at that next.

    Please keep any ideas/suggestions coming. Thanks.
  9. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    Water heater elements do weird things. For the 10 bucks, change the top one too. It does the most work. I had a few elements that pulled 20 amps each and yet put out just a bit of heat, and would trip the breaker maybe once a month or less. Testers do not seem to give readily interpetable readings.

    Learn how ro read your meter daily, and do a day without hot water.

    Have the electric company replace the meter. You'll likely get an easy to read digital one.
  10. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,453
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Humor us and with no water in the house running check the water meter to see if it is moving...

    Yes I know you should see a leak but just humor us this once....
  11. Jerome2877

    Jerome2877 In the Trades

    Messages:
    397
    Location:
    BC
    Turn the valve's on each toilet supply off to eliminate any toilets running when you do what redwood suggests.
  12. arfeller

    arfeller New Member

    Messages:
    77
    Location:
    Port Angeles, WA
    That sounds pretty weird... I'm not really sure I understand.
  13. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    Neither do I. I think thatguy gve it a shot in another thread.
  14. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,245
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; the 10 bucks, change the top one too. It does the most work. I had a few elements that pulled 20 amps each and yet put out just a bit of heat, and would trip the breaker maybe once a month or less. Testers do not seem to give readily interpetable readings.

    The top on does almost NONE of the work, unless you are continually depleting all the hot water from the tank. The bottom one does 95% of the work the rest of the time, or until it burns out and then the upper one does ALL of the work. IF the element is pulling 20 amps, it had better produce a lot of water, otherwise you have a bad thermostat. "Testers/instruments" DO give reliable readings, it is the "testor/person" who interprets them incorrectly.
  15. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,460
    Location:
    MD
    Or there is tarnish/oxide on the terminals which cannot be penetrated by the low voltage that modern ohmmeters put out.
  16. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,245
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    1. I NEVER test an element with an ohmeter
    2. You should ALWAYS remove the wires from the element if you are testing with an ohmeter, which should eliminate any problem with corrosion, since you would NOT test on the screw.
  17. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,460
    Location:
    MD
    After prepping the contact points with fine sandpaper I use ohmmeters because of zero shock risk, but they do have their limitations.
  18. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    I have elements with holes in them that apparently leaked the electricity to ground rather than heated the water. Just not enough to trip a breaker. Go figure.
  19. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,460
    Location:
    MD
    So there was current flow in the pipes to ground. 10' of half-inch ID copper pipe has a resistance of . . .I forgot. When this wine wears off I can probably tell you. :)

    Or not. :(
  20. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,245
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; I have elements with holes in them that apparently leaked the electricity to ground rather than heated the water.

    When that happens one part of the element operates at 120 v. If it is the WRONG half, then it bypasses the thermostat and overheats the water until the "ECO" pops out. It is a COMMON problem, but is easily detected with an ammeter. WHich is why I use that instead of an ohmeter.
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