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Thread: 40-Gal Elec. Hot Water Heater running out too soon

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    DIY Junior Member Little Ree's Avatar
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    Default 40-Gal Elec. Hot Water Heater running out too soon

    My hot water heater is starting to run out of hot water sooner than it used to. I can't make it thru a "normal" shower without having to adjust the temp.

    Two people have told me that it sounds like an element is going bad, and that it's something I can replace myself. My experience in plumbing is limited to jiggling the toilet handle when it occasionally keeps running.

    So do I want to try this on my own? The most advice I got so far is a) shut the breaker off BEFORE emptying tank. Ok, that I can do.

    What next?

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    Plumbing Designer FloridaOrange's Avatar
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    You don't have a hot water heater, why would you need to heat hot water?? <end sarcasm> "Hot water heater" is a pet peeve of mine.

    There are other reasons your heater may not be performing as good as it was. Did the change happen gradually or all at once? Has your heater ever been serviced? (Drained/flushed) If it is indeed the element you can likely look up the owner's manual online which will give you a better idea of what you need to do for your brand/model of heater.
    Matt
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    Enjoying life in SW Florida

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    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    Perhaps you should consider a few things about your water heater. How old is it? What brand? A 40 gallon electric heater is woefully small. You consider these thing to judge whether or not it's time for a new heater. Now, the problem very well could be an element, but if the tank has never been flushed as is should be yearly, it very well could be sediment in the bottom of the tank that is shorting out the element. For that there is no cure other than a new tank. There are electrical tests than a professional can make on the tank to determine what is wrong as well as what can be done, if anything, to repair it.
    Last edited by Terry; 10-15-2009 at 10:12 AM.

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    Forum Admin, Expert Plumber Terry's Avatar
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    When the upper element goes bad, you will have no hot water.

    When the lower element goes bad, you will have some hot water.

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    DIY Junior Member faucetman886's Avatar
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    The element is a good guess but it could also be a broken or deteriorated dip tube. The dip tube is the tube that carries cold water from the top where the hot water is to the bottom to be heated. If it isnt going down deep enough it ends up forcing more cold water into the tank. Either way, element, dip tube or debris your probably better off seeking professional help and consider the answers here a good education on how things work.

  6. #6
    DIY Junior Member Little Ree's Avatar
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    thanks for the quick replies everyone. my HEATER (response to sarcasm ) is approximately 10 years old. I bought the house as a foreclosure in Feb 08, and it wasn't working then, I had a plumber come and (if I remember correctly) he replaced an element.

    Unit had been working fine; over the summer after a shower I had a strange thing happen. I heard a loud electrical buzzing noise and the lights dimmed for a second. Since my bathroom is located directly over the sewer ejector pump, it sounded like the source of the noise. Luckily my BF works for the power company and knows a "little" about electricity so first he checked the breaker and found that the breaker for the water tank had tripped, but not for the sewage ejector. After much head scratching we decided to get on with life and see what happens.

    The ejector pump has worked fine ever since, but little by little my hot water has been running out sooner. As far as flushing the tank, no I have not had that done. Didn't know I had to <embarassed to admit>. So the sediment shorting out the element could definitely be possible (which may explain the strange incident over the summer?). As far as the tank size, 40-gal is a bit small but I live alone and until now it hasn't been a problem. Unless you're implying that by being small it is forced to run more often, thereby causing it to die sooner.

    Ok, I think I've over-analyzed enough for one post. And boy I've learned alot already! thanks!

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    Plumbing Designer FloridaOrange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little Ree View Post
    thanks for the quick replies everyone. my HEATER (response to sarcasm )


    Quote Originally Posted by Little Ree View Post
    Didn't know I had to <embarassed to admit>.
    Don't be embarassed. Most homeowners don't flush the tank yearly. I know I should and I don't and won't be suprised when it does die on me.
    Matt
    Semi-professional plumbing designer
    Enjoying life in SW Florida

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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    An electric WH is pretty simple...normally two heating elements and a thermostat. If the lower one is bad, it can be tested, and since they aren't very expensive, might solve your problem. The tools needed to test it aren't all that expensive, but it takes some knowledge on how to use and interpret the results. But, thowing new parts can get more expensive than it should. If you need to call a pro, you might save some money since you wouldn't arbitrarily be replacing parts that are still working. But a 10-year old tank could last another 10-years, or it could die tomorrow from a leak. WH also have a (sacrificial) anode rod in them that literally gets eaten away over the years, and if not replaced, that aggressiveness of the water on the dissimilar metals will then start to eat the tank up. Big metal boats use them too. So, since that probably never was replaced either...at 10-years, it may be time to budget for a new one.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    DIY Junior Member Little Ree's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FloridaOrange View Post
    Don't be embarassed. Most homeowners don't flush the tank yearly. I know I should and I don't and won't be suprised when it does die on me.
    But at least you'll know how to fix it and won't have to pay for somebody's kid's braces to do it!

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    Plumbing Designer FloridaOrange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little Ree View Post
    But at least you'll know how to fix it and won't have to pay for somebody's kid's braces to do it!
    I'll just replace it then. I have mfr. reps offer to give me one for free so it's almost a no-brainer.
    Matt
    Semi-professional plumbing designer
    Enjoying life in SW Florida

  11. #11
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    I would bet that if you pulled the lower element, you would find crud filling the bottom of the tank and that has shorted the element. As previously stated, no fix possible. New heater in you future. Annual flushing would have helped, but flushing never gets everything out, and 10 years is considered very old age for a water heater. My son and I recently attempted to replace a lower element in his mother's (my exes) mobile home. It was a major effort just the get the element out because it was so jammed up with debris. Of course we knew immediately that a new tank was the solution. Another problem you will get with that debris in the tank is plugged aerators, washer screens, and shower heads. Little white grains. I sure look at a new 50 gallon tank. Not that much bigger, so space should not be a problem. Electric tanks heat much slower than gas, so having an extra few gallons could be a plus. Also, newer tanks are better insulated than the old ones. And, don't worry about call this a "hot water heater". Yeah, it bugs me too, but it is so commonly done I just go on with life.

  12. #12
    Homeowner Thatguy's Avatar
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    The elements should read about 13 ohms end to end and infinity from either end to the shell.
    From what little data I have on electric heaters you have a 50% chance to make it to 17 years.
    Last edited by Thatguy; 10-15-2009 at 12:29 PM.

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    DIY Junior Member Little Ree's Avatar
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    Considering the filthy dirty condition of the rest of the house when I bought it, I seriously doubt the first owner did any flushing or maintenance either, so I'm going to save my pennies and hold out until I'm down to 3-minute showers, then go for the bigger unit. (Of course well all know that will occur on the coldest day of the year!)

    And you're right - it DOES take longer than a gas heater!

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    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    Default heater

    As soon as the "cold water" heater is turned on it becomes a "warm water" heater, and just before it turns off it is heaing "hot water" so at that point it IS a "hot water heater". But since your plumbing AND electrical skills are ZERO, get a plumber. Before you do ANY changing of ANYTHING, you need to test EVERYTHING to see where the problem, (if you have one other than a heater that is too small), is. Once you know WHAT the problem is, then you can replace that part, or parts.

  15. #15
    DIY Member ChuckS's Avatar
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    It doesn't cost you nothing but time to flush it and it may solve the problem. You can try it, shouldn't hurt and it might help.

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