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Thread: Electrial Requirements for Hot Water Heater

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  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member safeire's Avatar
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    Default Electrial Requirements for Hot Water Heater

    I just had an electrician check out my hot water tank because it has flipped the breaker since it was first installed. This gentleman is telling me I need to have a new line put in between the hot water tank and the panel. All he did was walk around the basement but never actually checked anything with any meters or other diagnostic tools. He is highly rated on Angie's list but it seems odd that putting a new hot water tank that is the same size as what I had before would require additional power.

    I'm asking this question on this forum because I'm trying to confirm how much power is needed for my electric hot water tank. Ever since it was installed, it flips the breaker. I have 240 coming into the house and the tank is an 80 gallon tank which is the same as I had before. The label on the tank shows single phase 208V and single phase 240V.

    Is there a test that I can run or somewhere I can look up the power requirements myself? I don't want to spend the money to put in a new line if it isn't necessary.

    Thank you.
    Safeire

  2. #2
    Nuclear Engineer nukeman's Avatar
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    It should say on the WH what the requirements are. However, nearly all full size electric WH use a 30A 240v circuit with 10/2 wire (assuming copper). Look at your panel and see if the WH breaker is 30A (or whatever the plate on the WH says).

    Even if the breaker size is correct, you still might have the wrong size wire (hard to tell without being there).

  3. #3
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    Check the watts rating on the water heater. It will either be 4500 watts, which requires a 25 amp breaker, and usually a 30 will be used. Or it is 5500 watts which requires the 30 amp breaker. #10 wire would be ok for either, unless it is a very long run.

    Undersized wire, if that was the issue, might overheat, might cause the water heater to not heat up fast...but why would that trip a breaker???

    Personally, I don't put great faith in the "list". You need an electrician who will tell you why the breaker is popping. That will explain what needs to be done.

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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    CB do fail on occasion, too. If it is the proper size for the wiring and is sufficient for the WH, then you might pop in a new CB (best left to an electrician unless you are conversant with the proper safety standards). It could also be someone was sloppy when installing the thing, and the connection is shorted. This would certainly pop the breaker.
    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 safeire's Avatar
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    Thank you. The label says for the 208V, 4125 and for the 240V 5500.

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    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by safeire View Post
    Thank you. The label says for the 208V, 4125 and for the 240V 5500.
    OK so you definitely should have a 30 amp breaker, #10 wire. Still don' t know why the breaker pops

  7. #7
    Nuclear Engineer nukeman's Avatar
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    Okay. Now let's check the breaker. Find the one for the WH and it will have a number on it (25, 30, etc.).

    It may be that the old WH had a smaller element and the thing is on a 25A breaker, although 30A breakers are typically installed for WHs. Your new WH would take a 30A breaker.

    After you check the breaker size, take a look at the wiring coming into the WH. If it is Romex (flat looking cable), it should have some numbers printed on it. Look for numbers such as 10/2, 10-2, 12/2, 12-2, etc. and see what it says. If you aren't sure, you could take a couple pics and post them up on here and we might be able to help you figure it out.

    If the breaker and wiring are both correct, then I would get someone (other than this guy) to come out and take a look. Maybe have him replace the breaker (if it is weak) and have him look the WH connections over and make sure something isn't shorting out.

    Although not as likely, it could also be a defect in the WH with a bad t-stat or element causing a short when that t-stat cycles on.

  8. #8
    DIY Senior Member BobL43's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nukeman View Post
    Okay. Now let's check the breaker. Find the one for the WH and it will have a number on it (25, 30, etc.).

    It may be that the old WH had a smaller element and the thing is on a 25A breaker, although 30A breakers are typically installed for WHs. Your new WH would take a 30A breaker.

    After you check the breaker size, take a look at the wiring coming into the WH. If it is Romex (flat looking cable), it should have some numbers printed on it. Look for numbers such as 10/2, 10-2, 12/2, 12-2, etc. and see what it says. If you aren't sure, you could take a couple pics and post them up on here and we might be able to help you figure it out.

    If the breaker and wiring are both correct, then I would get someone (other than this guy) to come out and take a look. Maybe have him replace the breaker (if it is weak) and have him look the WH connections over and make sure something isn't shorting out.

    Although not as likely, it could also be a defect in the WH with a bad t-stat or element causing a short when that t-stat cycles on.
    Good post!
    I am definitely not a pro plumber, but I am a pro crastinator

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    DIY Junior Member safeire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nukeman View Post
    Okay. Now let's check the breaker. Find the one for the WH and it will have a number on it (25, 30, etc.).

    It may be that the old WH had a smaller element and the thing is on a 25A breaker, although 30A breakers are typically installed for WHs. Your new WH would take a 30A breaker.

    After you check the breaker size, take a look at the wiring coming into the WH. If it is Romex (flat looking cable), it should have some numbers printed on it. Look for numbers such as 10/2, 10-2, 12/2, 12-2, etc. and see what it says. If you aren't sure, you could take a couple pics and post them up on here and we might be able to help you figure it out.

    If the breaker and wiring are both correct, then I would get someone (other than this guy) to come out and take a look. Maybe have him replace the breaker (if it is weak) and have him look the WH connections over and make sure something isn't shorting out.

    Although not as likely, it could also be a defect in the WH with a bad t-stat or element causing a short when that t-stat cycles on.
    Thank you, Nukeman, for the recommendations. I will take a look and see what I can find.

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    DIYer, not in the trades LLigetfa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by safeire View Post
    All he did was walk around the basement but never actually checked anything with any meters or other diagnostic tools.
    If a qualified electrician sees a serious deficiency such as an undersized wire, there is not much point in up-sizing the breaker since it all has to be code compliant. There is no point in playing with meters or any diagnostic tools until the most expensive part of the deficiency is dealt with.

    So, who installed the new water heater and connected to a purportedly undersized wire?

  11. #11
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    Find someone who knows what he is doing to check the breaker and wire size. The new heater has 5500 watt elements, but that would NOT have been the common one for your former heater. It would be unusual for the wires to the heater to be smaller than #10, even if a smaller breaker was installed.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

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    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    Well here we are flapping our collective gums...and no response from the OP! Nobody has said his wires are undersized. Everyone says they need to be CHECKED. We unfortunately have no idea why the breaker trips....is it too small for the 5500 watt, is it worn out?????

  13. #13
    DIYer, not in the trades LLigetfa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimbo View Post
    Nobody has said his wires are undersized.
    This is true. I at least used the term "purportedly" since the OP leaves us with very little detail, saying only that he will "need to have a new line put in between the hot water tank and the panel".

  14. #14
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    Undersizedl wires would NOT trip the breaker,but they could overheat. The breaker COULD be undersized, regardless of the wire's size.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

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    DIY Junior Member safeire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LLigetfa View Post
    If a qualified electrician sees a serious deficiency such as an undersized wire, there is not much point in up-sizing the breaker since it all has to be code compliant. There is no point in playing with meters or any diagnostic tools until the most expensive part of the deficiency is dealt with.

    So, who installed the new water heater and connected to a purportedly undersized wire?
    Thank you, LLigetfa, for your response. He is a licensed electrician with 35 years experience so my expectation was that he would do some testing to diagnose where the problem was coming from. But, if 35+ years (or really, any # of years since I'm not a licensed electrician) experience allows him to eyeball the problem, I guess that's good enough then. I'm just trying to do my due diligence so I don't waste my time or set my house on fire because I didn't do my homework.

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