Reliance water sending electric bill sky high

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by sivright, Feb 3, 2005.

  1. sivright

    sivright New Member

    Messages:
    6
    Greetings All,

    I have a 8 yr old Reliance 501 hot water heater that seems to be working just fine until I got my monthly electric bill. I turned the heater off at the breaker and the electric meter stopped spinning, so I am sure it is the water heater. How do I track down what part in the heater is defective? The lady at the electric co. said she had a customer that had a bad thermostat in his heater and replaced it and he was fine. My heater looks to have four thermostats. Is there a way to test them? Any idea what else it could be. I am on a rather tight budget right now and I would rather not call a plumber. I installed the heater myself, so I can do some things. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Jim
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,128
    Location:
    New England
    Is the water temp as you set it?

    Is it very high? Excessively high setting can be expensive.

    How old is the tank?

    Does it recover as fast as it used to?

    Have you ever drained it? The element covered in sediment acts like an insulator making it run longer than normal.
  3. sivright

    sivright New Member

    Messages:
    6
    It was drained this fall. It is 8 years old and I have never touched the thermostat setting which was factory set at 120, I think.
    This is something that has come on in the last month or so, as my electric bill last month was normal.
    I'm not sure how to answer the recover question, except to say that it is a fairly large 30 gal? heater and this is a one person household.I am never at a loss for hot water. Does this help?
    Jim
  4. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,812
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    elecric bill

    If the heater is "heating" then even if it were a thermostat or element, eventually the water would get too hot and trip the high limit switch. More than likely you have a concrete slab floor and you have a broken hot water pipe under it so the heater is working 24/7 tying to keep up with the demand. If it is not a leak under the floor there is one somewhere draining the hot water from the tank.
  5. sivright

    sivright New Member

    Messages:
    6
    hj,
    Thanks for responding. No water in the utility room where the heater is, no water under the house(pier & beam) can't hear water running. I don't think it is a leak. It seems like some internal electrical part to me. Any other ideas?
    Jim
  6. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,128
    Location:
    New England
    The only thing that I can think of that might cause this, assuming your dianosis is correct, is that you have a high impedance short to ground in the heater. If it was a true low impedance short, it would trip your circuit breaker, but if there were a short circuit that didn't exceed the circuit breaker's rating, it could be constant and thus increase your electrical costs. Note, if this is the case, it is a very dangerous situation, since under the right conditions, you could electrocute yourself. If you have a multimeter, connect one side to a good ground, and probe around on the tank with the other. If you get a reading anywhere except on an electrical lead, you should immediately turn the circuit breaker off, and find or fix the problem. At 8 years old, it is probably time for a new one. My unprofessional opinion. If you have or can borrow an inductive ammeter, you could also determine the quiescent current draw (i.e., when the thermostat is not calling for heat, the thing should essentially draw nothing).
  7. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,812
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    heater

    If the heater is operating, then the water is getting hot. If it gets too hot, because the heater is not shutting off, it will trip the reset on the upper thermostat and then the heater will shut down until it is reset. If it does not get that hot, and the safety valve does not discharge, then it is going to overheat and explode, and it has not done that either. You have either misdiagnosed that the heater is always operating, or you have not found the real source of the problem. The only way for the heater to continually operate without causing other symptoms is if the hot water is "leaking" out as fast as it is heating.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2005
  8. sivright

    sivright New Member

    Messages:
    6
    Guys,
    I havn't had a chance to do much about this today, because of work, but when I was at the electric co. today to make a down payment on my bill, there was a gentleman there that said that it could be a bad element. I havn't seen where you guys have mentioned that. What do you think? I have just about eliminated the leak scenerio, because of no water anywhere, at least where it shouldn't be. If there is a leak, would it be going out the discharge pipe? I think that goes into my sewer, I guess. But wouldn't I be able to hear it?
    One more thing about the electric part of this, I read the electric meter and took it to the electric co. and showed the lady there, and when she saw it, she just about fell over. She said in the 8 days since it was read last, I had used(or wasted) as much power as I would in a BIG whole month. That sucker is using(wasting) a LOT of electricity! I have it cut off at the breaker for now, tho.
    Any more thoughts?
  9. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,812
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    element

    Bad element equals no hot water, small amount of hot water, or superheated hot water untill the high limit shuts it off and then no hot water again, and that puts us back to why it cannot be operating all the time without causing some other problem.
  10. sivright

    sivright New Member

    Messages:
    6
    hj,
    You know, I only paid 169.00 for this thing 8 years ago, and I have already paid about twice that in electric bills, so I am just about ready to just go buy another one and be done with it, but the mystery about it bugs me. If it were a leak like you think, where is the water going and why can't I hear it?Also, it has two elements, so if one goes out, wouldn't the other one keep the water hot(warm)? But, then again, what is making the meter spin so much?
  11. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,812
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    wh

    Buying a new one is not the solution. If you do not find out if you have a problem outside the water heater you will still have the problem after you replace it. It happens very frequently here, and I have even seen plumbers make that mistake. Normally, the heater will partially heat if the bottom element goes bad, and not at all if the top one burns out. There can be a situation where the element shorts out in such a way that the thermostat is bypassed and then it runs all the time at a reduced level. But the water will still eventually reach the "too hot" point and shut off the high temperature switch. Your heater cannot run constantly without either draining the hot water as it is created, or getting so hot you cannot stand it, (in which case it will either shut off the energy switch or the temperature relief valve will discharge), or the heater will blow up. Period.
  12. sivright

    sivright New Member

    Messages:
    6
    hj,
    What problem outside the water heater are you refering to? It has been working fine for 8 years. There are no discernable leaks. I am getting hot water(when the breaker is turned on), the electric meter slows to a crawl when the breaker for the water heater is flipped off, the ONLY thing wrong(that I can tell) is that it is making the electric meter spin like crazy! What else could it be, but something inside the hot water heater? And if I buy a new water heater, why would that not solve the problem?
  13. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,812
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    water heater

    You are not listening. If the heater were running all the time and there was not other problem your water would be super hot, the high limit would open, and the tank would eventually cool off. If it is true, as you say, that the heater is running all the time, then there has to be another problem, but without being there we cannot tell you if that is true and if so what it is. Chanage the water heater if you want to, but be prepared to have the same problem with the new one.
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