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Thread: Electric Hot Water Tank Trips Breaker

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  1. #1

    Default Electric Hot Water Tank Trips Breaker

    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. #2
    DIY Senior Member Mike Swearingen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    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!

  3. #3
    Master Plumber Dunbar Plumbing's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    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...
    Read what the end of this sentence means.

  4. #4


    Will a continuity test determine which is the defective part?

  5. #5
    Licensed Electrical Contractor Speedy Petey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    NY State, USA


    Quote Originally Posted by RUGGED
    Bottom line, that water heater is under warranty.

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

  6. #6
    Licensed Grump GrumpyPlumber's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Licensed Grump


    Quote Originally Posted by Speedy Petey
    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.
    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.
    "The biggest regrets we have in life are the chances we never took."

  7. #7
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Cave Creek, Arizona

    Default heater

    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.

  8. #8
    In the Trades Bob NH's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 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.


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