GE electric water heater, lower element not in use?

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by Mastiff, Jan 29, 2012.

  1. Mastiff

    Mastiff Member

    Sep 6, 2010
    Tucson AZ
    I installed a new GE 50 gallon electric water heater recently, replacing a very similar unit (not GE, and it lasted about 16 years). While it has been working, we've noticed we run out of hot water really fast, like one long shower and it's gone. This was never a problem before.

    I got to poking around with my multimeter (right after the thing was depleted). Well, first I turned everything off, just to reset it. Feeling the tank near the heater elements, the upper one was warm, but the lower was cold. With it on, I can measure 240 volts across the upper element, but nothing across the bottom one. But it looks like no voltage is even being sent down there from the mechanism at the top. Is this normal? Looking at the circuit diagram in the book, it kind of looks like it's an either/or thing, but I can't tell for sure: (GE Elec).pdf

    I'm kind of hoping there is a problem here because otherwise I'm just stuck with this poorly performing water heater.
  2. Mastiff

    Mastiff Member

    Sep 6, 2010
    Tucson AZ
    Okay, the water heater answered my question. It toggled down to the bottom element. Seems that the bottom element makes noise and the top one does not. That doesn't mean anything right?

    My main question is still unanswered though; why does my brand new water heater perform so much worse than my 16 year old one (except for the leaking)? One theory I had is that new models don't go up as high in temperature and mark a different spot as normal. This one goes 90-150 with 120 marked as normal. Maybe my other one went way hotter and had some other spot normal, so I had it making 150 degree water and everything seemed great? This would be consistent with the fact that I seem to be keeping the shower set to a hotter setting now than before. I know I didn't have the old one maxed out.
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  4. Hackney plumbing

    Hackney plumbing Homeowner

    Jan 6, 2010
    Thermostats can vary 10 degrees or so in either direction.
  5. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Aug 17, 2004
    Bothell, Washington
    An electric water heater first satisfies the upper thermostat, and then powers up the lower element.

    Your old heater may have been set higher. New units come set low from the factory. That can be adjusted.
  6. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    Where I live, all new WH are required to be installed with a tempering valve that can limit the water temp distributed to 120-degrees or less. They are adjustable, though, but few people need more than 120-degree hot water in their homes (a dishwasher can, but many have heaters if it isn't hot enough built-in). One way to make a WH look like a bigger one is to raise the thermostat so you can mix more cold into the stream. But, if it gets too hot, it's dangerous, thus, at least where I live, they require a tempering valve to bring it back to a safe temperature.
  7. JerryR

    JerryR Member

    Jul 27, 2011
    You might want to check out THIS Recent THREAD

    While you can simply crank up the thermostats your WH you then run the risk of scalding.

    An alternate solution; By installing a "tempering valve" you can increase the effective capacity of the heater. I just did this last week.

    You crank up the thermostats and the tempering valve mixes cold water with hot water to feed tempered water to the house hot water lines. It will keep safe hot water temperature delivered to shower, sinks, bath tubs etc..

    My 50 gallon heater with tempering valve has equivalent capacity of a 90 gallon heater. I have the Heater thermostats set to about 150 degrees and the Tempered water set to 116 degrees. I now can fill the roman tub and have hot water to spare.


    Edit: I was typing same time as Jim and did not see Jim's reply bofore sending mine.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
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