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Old 01-03-2010, 08:24 AM
Location: Central Fl
2,903 posts, read 12,544,864 times
Reputation: 2901


Hello all.
About 6 months ago I installed a new electric hot water heater in a friends home while I was down in Florida. All this time it has been working fine.
I just got a call from my friend telling me that he took a shower this morning with no problems, and now his wife tried to take one, and the water was cold.

He said that there was more then enough time for the heater to recover.....that something is wrong.

He checked the circuit breaker, it was fine, not tripped. He reset it anyway. He does not have a tester to check if there is power going to the elements, etc. I feel bad because I'm 1300 miles away, freezing here in NY.

I told him to check the connection to the tank to see if perhaps that loosened up, which I highly doubt, I'm sure I made secure connections.

The tank is still under warranty, and was installed properly and has been working perfect for months. If it were just warm water, I would think one of the elements went bad. I told him to turn up the thermostat to see if that made a difference. With me not being there and with no tester, there is little I can do. The chance of both elements going bad at the same time is slim...so I'm thinking a bad thermostat? Any thoughts? I've installed many water heaters, but have not had to "fix" any of them before......

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Old 01-03-2010, 08:34 AM
Location: Las Flores, Orange County, CA
26,329 posts, read 93,833,357 times
Reputation: 17835
Six months seems such a short amount of time.

Did he have lightning near his house recently?

Are both thermostats set for the same temp?

Do the thermostats apply power to the elements when their settings are transitioned from low to high? (This is a little dangerous - careful not to touch those hot wires.) Also, you would need to set the top thermostat to low in order to do this test on the lower thermostat.

Are you sure the water heater is not doing it's job? Maybe the water heater works fine (producing hot water) but the shower isn't producing hot water. There's an anti scald valve in the shower which may have gone out of adjustment. Some mixing may be occuring in such a way that the shower is only providing colder water. Go to the closest faucet to the hot water heater and see if there is really hot water there. Maybe the heater is producing hot water - it's just not getting to the shower head.

There may be mixing elsewhere. Does he have a hot water circulator? Those have a one way bypass somewhere on the far side (from the hot water heater) house to allow hot water to flow into the cold lines. If water is going in the wrong direction (cold to hot) then cold water may be mixing.

Turn the water supply off to the hot water heater; Now there should be no hot water available in your house. Go to several faucets in the house and see if any water comes out when only the hot water faucet is turned on. If water comes out, it has to be cold water and there must be mixing.

Replacing thermostats is the easist, cheapest thing to do. Make sure you disconnect power. Tip: Take a photo of the thermostat before you disconnect the wires so you are sure how the wires need to be re-attached.

I hate electric hot water heaters.
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Old 01-03-2010, 08:59 AM
Location: Central Fl
2,903 posts, read 12,544,864 times
Reputation: 2901
Thank you for the kind help. Those were good ideas, some of which I did not think of.
Actually, He just called me back. I told him to first check the double pole 30 amp breaker, that sometimes they do trip without looking like they are tripped.

He rechecked, and sure enough, it was tripped. He reset it, and it stayed on and the water got hot. I told him to keep an eye on it, because we do not know why it tripped. There is either still a problem with the heater we need to address, or the 15 year old breaker is getting weak.

It's never tripped before, but he said that it has been very cold for Florida this week....not that the outside temp should matter much. So for now, he is happy and has hot water again. We'll see what the next few days show us....

Thanks again!

I'll be back down there in April, and may replace that breaker if it happens again, if it can wait that long.

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Old 01-03-2010, 09:19 AM
29,939 posts, read 39,502,845 times
Reputation: 4799
Make sure the thermostats are very firm up against the tank of the water heater. Have him turn the breaker off and tighten the screws for the wiring making sure there is a tight connection. If the breakers are bad or have some debris on the post that it connects into you might see white residue on the post. He might want to look at the breaker and make sure the gap on the breaker is not too wide also. If it is too wide it will be effectively like a loose connection. There is a little reset button on the top thermostat -- red button -- that sometimes trips. If that's tripping the water is getting too hot. Also there is a check valve in the heat traps that go into the water heater. It might be a good idea to make sure it's not getting stuck. If for some reason the water there is very hard the water heater might have enough buildup on the elements already to make them have a higher resistance. If you check the resistance for the elements it should be around 13.1 ohms for both of them.

Those are just some things to check. I've found that sometimes there is just a fluctuation in the voltage coming into the WH which cause higher amperage, sometimes high enough to trip the reset. After resetting it it'll run fine for over a year with no problems, or at least no calls.
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