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Thread: Bradford White Electric 80 gallon tank - Scalding hot water before shutting off

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member annelisemcl's Avatar
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    Red face Bradford White Electric 80 gallon tank - Scalding hot water before shutting off

    Hello all and thank you in advance for your replies.

    I am going to attempt to replace the bottom element (or maybe both top & bottom) on my BW electric tanked water heater but I have some questions for the experts. I am pretty sure the bottom element is inoperable because the bottom of the tank remains cool to the touch, every few months the hot water becomes scalding hot and then the upper safety shut-off shuts off and I reset it, and just now I have even lowered both the top and bottom thermostats and the water continues to be very hot (meat thermometer in glass of water from the kitchen hot tap put the water at 140degrees).

    I am not a plumber nor an electrician. I have done some minor electrical & plumbing repairs. Here are my questions:

    1.) I know I have to drain the tank completely to begin work on the element replacement. Instead of dumping 88 gallons of heated water outside on the lawn(we have a septic so I don't like to unnecessarily put water into the system) can I turn off the circuit at the breaker & shut off the cold water entry on the tank to use up some of the tanked water in showers & sinks? Will this damage the internal house plumbing or tanked WH in any way? Will I have a problem with excessive air in my hot water lines if I do this once I go to recharge the hot water tank and turn the electrical power back on?

    2.) I have read some of the threads on this site and without having a certified plumber coming to diagnose an element verses a faulty thermostat, do you recommend I replace the lower thermostat at the same time as the lower element (a 2 pack for the correct element is $25 and I will need to purchase the removal tool for $10) or as many of you have stated you rarely see the thermostat go but often see the bottom element go as it is the "workhorse" of the WH tank? Should I replace both upper & lower elements at the same time (is this why BW sells it as a 2 pack)?

    3.) As this will be my first time ever doing this, are there any things you suggest I do, don't do, be aware, or insider tips only a person who often works on a WH would know?

    4.) Lastly, is this beyond a DIYer? Be honest now, I can take it. One thread had 2 pros debating and my impression by the end was that if someone unfamiliar with electrical wiring tried this themselves the potential was for sudden death! Other threads makes it sound relatively simple as long as I am sure to copy the wiring before I undo it so I put it back exactly the same (and BW has a wiring diagram on the backs of both my panel covers).

    Thanks,
    AnnElise

  2. #2
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    You don't seem to understand how hot water leaves the tank and into your pipes. It is the cold water entering the tank at the bottom of the tank through the dip tube that forces the hot water out the top of the tank. So, you're plan won't work. Either drain into the sewer or if your tank is not in a basement, just use a garden hose to drain it outside. 88 gallons of water will quickly soak into the soil. You will need to open a hot water faucet in the house to allow air into the tank so it will drain. Be very sure there is no power to the heater. Changing elements without test them is folly. Your tank may be filled up with sediment or the thermostat may be faulty. In fact, I would suspect the thermostat as the first probable cause. There is a very good axiom in the electronics business. "Test, Don't Guess". Unless you have the test equipment and know how to use it, you are likely to spend a lot of money needlessly which will quickly use up any savings realized by DIY. I'm not going to predict "sudden death", but you could cause a short that could really toast the electrical components in the heater. Sometimes the best DIY advice is to call a pro when there are technical aspects that you understand.

  3. #3
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Just turn the power off before people in the home start their normal day of showers, baths, washing clothes, etc. Once it gets cold, you could then drain the tank. But, that might save all of maybe $1-2 in electricity verses dumping it when you want. A clamp-on ammeter is handy when trying to determine what's working and what isn't. Using it on volts or ohms is a little problematic if you don't understand what's going on and how the thing works.
    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 annelisemcl's Avatar
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    Thanks Gary & Jim for your replies. I'm going to call my electrician and ask him about testing the thermostats and the elements. I am trying to learn how things work and have been reading as much as I can about electric water heaters, thermostats and elements. I want to do as much as I can myself while also protecting myself and my home.

    I am surprised to read you saying it is most likely the thermostat when other thread replies have plumbers saying the next to never replace the thermostats but often are replacing the heating element.

  5. #5
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    It could be either or both...the only way to know for sure is to test. A more expensive alternative is to just replace them all.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

  6. #6
    DIY Junior Member annelisemcl's Avatar
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    Gary & Jim, After talking with my electrician & he discussing with 2 fellow plumbers, I took the route of replacing both elements and both thermostats and cut-off switch. Those materials plus the element tool cost me $60; while a new 80 gallon tank with install would cost $1000.

    I know this water heater will need to be replaced sooner than later but with me out of work, a home reno project contracted to start in April, and my husband working for a college that has great benefits but low-pay; we just don't have the $1000 now. I'm hoping to get another year out of the WH for the $60 and my time (and some blood-gee those elements are sure hard to remove). In that time I can research either a tankless system or if we can install an indirect on our Burnham Propane boiler.

    Thanks for all your guidance.
    annelise

  7. #7
    Plumbing Contractor for 49 years johnjh2o1's Avatar
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    From your description I would say you have a bad upper thermostat. It's not sensing the water temperature in the top of the tank causing the water to overheat. This will kick out the reset button. What is also taking place is if it's not sensing the temperature it won't switch the power to the lower element.

    John

  8. #8
    DIY Junior Member annelisemcl's Avatar
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    John,

    Thanks for your reply. I decided to replace both the upper thermostat and reset button, the upper element, the lower thermostat, and the lower element. This morning after hitting the reset button last night, the hot water was at 170 degrees out of my kitchen faucet before replacing all these items. The top element was covered with tons of yellow muck and scale. I actually heard the old reset button "pop" once I had removed it from the very hot tank skin. I kept both thermostats at the manufacturer's preset and the hot tap is hitting 110 degrees. I'm giving it a day and then I might adjust it a bit to get closer to 120 degrees but staying far below the scalding 170 degrees.

    annelise

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