Electric Hot Water Tank Trips Breaker

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by Verdeboy, Aug 10, 2007.

  1. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Jun 12, 2006
    Reliance 606--3 years old.

    Breaker trips immediately after re-setting--sometimes with a big spark in the breaker box.

    Wiring in breaker box and in HW tank all looks good.

    Replaced G.E. double 20 amp breaker. New breaker still trips. Problem not solved.

    Customer says that the tank was working fine before breaker started to trip. The water was the same temp as always.

    The bottom element appears to be very corroded. Is it possible that a bad heating element or thermostat could trip the breaker like this?
  2. Mike Swearingen

    Mike Swearingen New Member

    Jan 12, 2005
    Independent Real Estate Broker
    On Albemarle Sound In Northeastern NC
    Yep, it is more than possible.
    (I'm not a pro electrician or plumber, just along-time DIYer.)
    You should have a 30 amp double breaker with 10/2-with-ground wiring from the breaker to the water heater (both black and white are HOT...no neutral for 240v).
    Turn the water heater breaker OFF and test the wiring contacts on the water heater to make certain that they're OFF.
    Replace that corroded element. If that doesn't solve the problem, replace both tstats.
    To replace tstats:
    1. Memorize or sketch the exact number and layout of screws on the tstats.
    2. Get new tstats with the same number and layout (does not have to be same brand).
    3. Exchange wires from old to new ONE AT A TIME. Can't go wrong like that.
    Should solve your problem.
    Good Luck!
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  4. Dunbar Plumbing

    Dunbar Plumbing Master Plumber

    Apr 18, 2005
    Service Plumber, Outdoor Temperature Relief Owner
    Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati Area
    Absolutely......it was the upper thermostat that most likely is malfunctioning.

    Replace upper and lower thermostats at the same time..less than $30 and the elements if necessary.

    Bottom line, that water heater is under warranty.

    Have him call the local plumbing supply to get more info...
  5. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Jun 12, 2006
    Will a continuity test determine which is the defective part?
  6. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Jun 16, 2007
    Licensed Electrical Contractor
    NY State, USA
    Listen to this!
    That model has a six year parts and tank warranty. I found that out in 30 seconds on their web site.
    DO NOT mess with it. Let the warranty cover it.
  7. GrumpyPlumber

    GrumpyPlumber Licensed Grump

    Jun 18, 2007
    Plumber, self employed
    Licensed Grump
    Right, but he'd still have to pay for someone to install.
    (no way...did I say that?)
    I'd first disconnect one terminal on each element seperately, one at a time, making absolutely certain the end is capped...then hit the breaker...You'll quickly find out which one is bad.
    Be very sure you replace it all the same as it was..and of course..NO hot/live eletrical while you do it.
  8. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Aug 31, 2004
    Cave Creek, Arizona

    There is a burned out element, but cannot tell which without testing the heater. They do not replace heaters because of bad elements. A qualified plumber can check the heater and determine which part, or parts, are defective.
  9. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Oct 20, 2005
    New Hampshire
    Go the the place where the circuit is connected to the circuit breaker and disconnect both ungrounded conductors.

    Measure the resistance of each grounded conductor to the neutral bar. It should be an open circuit (Out of range or maximum reading) on the meter.

    If it is low resistance, record the resistance.

    If one wire has zero resistance to the neutral or ground bar, then that side is shorted to ground. The other end might read 12.8 Ohms (for a 4500 watt element) or it could read an open circuit, or something else.

    Measure the resistance between the two wires. It should be about 12.8 Ohms if the heater has a 4500 watt element.

    If it is reading much less than 12.8 Ohms then the element is shorted or there is a short in the thermostat or the thermostat is switching both elements on at the same time.

    It is possible that your control switches are incorrectly connecting both the upper and lower elements. If that is the case then the reading would be 6.4 Ohms and would trip the breaker and the defective thermostat must be replaced.

    There are two approaches to fixing something like this.

    1. If you know what you are doing, you can find the defective part or failure point and fix or replace it.

    2. If you don't know what you are doing you can tell the customer that both elements and both thermostats must be replaced, and hope that you get it right when you put it back together.

    If neither of the above work, then you can tell the customer that he needs a new water heater. The problem with that is that the warranty guy may find a short in the wiring that has nothing to do with the water heater and the customer gets hosed from both directions.
  10. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Jun 12, 2006
    "A Pretty One" To quote MP Mark

    I haven't changed out too many of these, but this element has to be about as bad as they get.

    This tank has a lime build-up that is almost as high as the lower element, so unless we address this problem, the new element will not last very long. Is there anything I can use to dissolve the lime deposits so it can be flushed out?

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Aug 14, 2007
  11. abikerboy

    abikerboy DIY Senior Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Cleaning the lime out of the tank is a pain in the a**!!! Been through that...a couple of months ago actually! Removed the tank from my house, laid it on its side in my yard, and poured 5 gallons of white vinegar in it, and rolled the tank around in the yard every half hour or so...ALL DAY LONG! I have extremely hard well water here, and no softener, but Im learning! You can buy an element called a "limeguard". I dont remember who makes them, but I have them. When I cleaned my tank, which for some dumb reason, I havent flushed in almost a year, I removed the elements, and they still looked to be in great condition. From the way it was explained to me, the lime guard elements are made out of something that has a high expansion and contraction rate, and as the element heats up and cools, the expansion and contraction cracks the lime off. Looks to be some sort of a silver or aluminum plating over a copper element. I do know this; I was replacing elements every 6 months (top and bottom), and the ones I have now are either two or three years old. Cant remember exactly, but they are still there. I was advised to turn off the power, hook up a hose to the drain, open the drain, and when the water coming from the hose gets cold, allow it to run for another 10-15 minutes, and to do this every third month. For some dumb reason, Ive neglected this for almost a year now! Never again!
  12. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Jun 12, 2006
    Thanks for the useful info. Have you considered switching to a gas tank?
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