Water heater query

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by engie, Nov 15, 2006.

  1. engie

    engie New Member

    My water heater runs out of hot water too quickly. My assumption is that the lower element needs replacing. How do I know if it is the element and not the thermostat that is bad? Thanks
  2. Turn the electric off to the water heater, remove the upper and lower panels to the thermostats, remove the two wires to each element and check for continuity. If they don't show continuity then you know one of them is defective.

    If the tank is around 10+ years old you might have a defective dip tube.

    If you have hard water or haven't drained the tank in some time the bottom element might be sitting in sediment/buildup fighting to heat the water.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    The most positive/accurate tests are made with the power on to the heater, so I would be hesitant to tell you how to do it, unless I knew you were capable of doing it.
  4. the easy way to test element

    testing the elements is a pain in the neck....

    you can still get a good reading from that bottom element
    even if it is bad becasue sometimes it " grounds out..."

    I have even rigged up a special "tool" with a light bulb
    in the line that will let me know when the element is grounded out...
    but I have not used it in years...

    I find the most easy way to check that bottom element is
    to simply take both side panels off the heater....

    ##turn the power off to the heater if you are a moron and have 6 thumbs....

    then simply feel the metal wall of the exposed steel inner tank with
    your bare fingers........ the top and bottom should be pretty hot
    and their should be very little difference in the heat levels.

    9 times out of 10 you will find that the bottom steel wall is
    going to feel very cold, almost ice cold to the touch......
    and it shouldent be that way...it should feel warm to hot.....

    In conclusion......therefore ....I surmise......,
    by calculated reasoning and sound plumbing
    logic ....
    that the lower element has bought the farm...,
    ate the big one.....shot its wad.....ect..ect

    and should be changed out
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2006
  5. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Just to add to what MPM said..... since your there and working on the heater perhaps without the aid of testing equipment, and if it is an older heater, just replace the 2 elements and the 2 thermostats. Total cost would be around $50.00 and you will have all bases covered. Just a suggestion. If it is a dip tube the tank will be hot top and bottom.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2006
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    In conclusion......therefore ....I surmise......,
    by calculated reasoning and sound plumbing

    logic ....
    that the lower element has bought the farm...,
    ate the big one.....shot its wad.....ect..ect

    and should be changed out

    Good surmising, now all they have to do is figure out whether the upper thermostat is stuck so it does not turn on the bottom element, or the lower thermostat is defective, or they have a hot water leak that is draining the heated water faster than the element can heat it, before they decide that the element has to be changed.
  7. ToolsRMe

    ToolsRMe New Member

    What's the recommended maintenance on a gas water heater? Do they need to be drained, too?
  8. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    The only WH that does not specify regular draining (normally only a few gallons to flush out accumulated deposits) is an indirect one - the localized temperature does not get hot enough to cause deposits, or at least enough to worry about. Normally annually. Now, they all also say to regularly check the T&P valve. If you do that on a regular basis, you'll remove or break up most crud that can prevent it from working. But, if you've not done it on a regular basis, it may never close properly again.

  9. Gas or electric I recommend at least once a year draining. If there is any sediment that is building up on either style tank, both can cause problems.

    The gas type more than electric since the way it heats.

    You won't get it all out but you are better off doing it than not.

    I have to change lower elements on a water heater in my area that pratically takes brute force to get it out due to all the buildup inside the tank. It wouldn't be so bad if the customer drained it periodically.

    No way that electric heater is operating efficiently like that.

    Just like a garbage can, you consistently don't clean the bottom out it causes failure and that includes plastic as well.
  10. molo

    molo Member

    cold new york
    Draining the tank

    1. Wouldn't he want to drain the tank if it is sediment build-up around the lower element that is preventing it from heating?
    2. Also, I have a 30 gallon gas tank that only provides about 5-minutes of hot-water for a shower. I doubt it has been flushed in years. Can I drain this off and get the sediment out so that it will provide more hot water? Will the sediment come out by draining it?

    Thanks for any help,

  11. 30 gallon water heater produces 18 gallons of ready to use hot water. If you are taking extremely hot showers with a 2.5 GPM flow restrictor from the shower head @ 5 minutes, well, you are close. If the flow restrictor was removed then it is right on target.

    Definitely you would want to drain the tank regardless, any prevention to protect any device from premature failure is recommended.

    Usually every water heater I drain that has been installed for some time always comes out with buildup. As I repeat, you will not get it all.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2006
  12. I can just feel the love

    thank you for correcting my errors HJ....
    criticism from someone of your stature
    is always appreciated....

    please let me restate myself.....

    If I were doing the reapirs to a ele water heater I would

    change everything on the unit .. both elements and both

    upper and lower thermostats.....

    so you dont have to chase ghosts....

    I install Stainless Steel heavy duty elements
    Normal Rheem Thermostats....

    I usually like to change the elements with the tank totally full
    of water ......

    when I take out the bottom element, I reach into the unit
    with a special copper scrapeing tool and pull out all the lime and
    sediment as the water is pouring out of this hole......

    In this area I usually can more than half way fill
    up a 5 gallon bucket
    with lime and sediment.....

    its a fairley wet process and I need lots of old
    towells to contain the water...

    and I wont do it without a floor drain near by...

    but its usually the best way to do
    a complete job.....flushing out the lime....

    I usually charge about $250-75

    I have done this three times this week already...

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention...I usually turn off
    the water and power to the unit before I start.
  13. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    And I'll bet the rude awakening you get when you don't, helps remind you the next time! How many lives of the cat have expired?
  14. I have lit my self up before

    I have lost one or two lives.......

    the absolute dumbest thing

    that I ever did .....

    I did not realize that the 220 volt prong type tester

    that lights up orange had gotten soaked in the bottom

    of my wet tool box.....not good.....

    when I knelt down to test the 220 volts at the

    thermostat on the water heater it literally blew up

    in my face....

    I was completely insualted and safe because of the insulated

    prongs , but the glass bulb in the tester exploded something

    like a bright orange cherry bomb , and it sort of singed my

    eyebrows........it all hapenned in an instant.....

    but I had glasses on......

    now that was a rush......
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2006
  15. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    I always test with the power on so I can tell if the elements should be heating and then if they are heating. That gives me all the information I need to tell where the problem is so I don't replace good parts.
  16. chage them all, and let god sort out the good ones

    I simply cant afford to do that anymnore

    a $6 dollar lower thermostat and a $12 dollar upper

    cost a lot less then the gas and time lost

    driveing 35 miles back up to someones house......and

    I dont feel right chargeing them another service call,,,

    so my gimmick is to "completely clean and refurbish"

    all the working parts to the heater.......

    I know I am not comming back out there on that problem
    again and the customer knows it too....
  17. vaplumber

    vaplumber Guest

    Just replace the lower element and if that doesnt help, replace both thermostats. If youre getting any hot water, then the top element is good. If it were bad, it would never heat up enough to switch on the lower element which fires last, hence cold water from your faucets only. In my area, elements are about $9 each, and thermostats are about the same. If you replace the lower element and both t-stats, youre only spending about $36, so its really not worth the trouble of testing. Just make sure yoy flush the tank out well, change the parts and forget it. You'll need an inch and a half socket (if it's a standard unit) to unscrew the element.
  18. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    I'm with MPM on this. Lets say I test and the lower stat is out and everything else is working and tests fine. I don't want to have to explain to the customer why his old upper stat was working fine but now 1 month later it has gone bad. He will then ask me why I didn't just change it then knowing it was old. I would just rather charge him for all the work now be done with it and have a happy customer.
  19. Credibility Issues

    I agree with you Cass----

    you end up looking like a total dumb ass if you wont simply

    hit the home run when you could have....

    and the customer gives you funny looks, like you dont

    know what you are doing and it takes some nerve to

    charge him again for what should have been done right

    in the first place...
  20. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    1. I use "lifetime" Nichrome elements when I replace the lower ones, so they do not sell to the customer for $10.00
    2. The next heater that I replace a lower element, after testing everything else, that then needs a thermostat next month, will be the first one.
    3. Replacing everything does not insure you against installing a defective part.

    Is that what they cost or what you sell them to the customer for. If it is the selling price it might pay to have you come and repair the heaters here and then I would rebill to the customer at my rates.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2006
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