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Water heater question -- Chumly?

 
 
Reply Tue 28 Jul, 2009 07:37 pm
OK, folks who might know. I've got a problem with the water heater.

First off, I do plan on calling an electrician to check out our breaker box anyway, because four circuits appear to be unassigned, and our home inspector did say something about re-organizing the box when we bought the place.

Also, I do plan on replacing our rather aged hot water heater with something more efficient at some point in the future.

But, in the short term, this has started to get aggravating, and I'm wondering if it might be a straightforward problem I could address effectively and safely (and relatively cheaply) in the short term.

So, the problem:
The circuit on our electric hot water heater trips frequently. It seems to be at its worst in humid conditions, and seems to do it pretty reliably when the dryer runs for a long time or there is a thunderstorm. There may be an association with other circuits under sudden heavy load in the house, as well -- I'm pretty sure I heard it trip when the basement dehumidifier kicked in the other evening.

The heater element appears functional, as we get hot water quickly when the circuit is complete.

No other circuits have tripped since we moved into the house 1 1/2 years ago.

The problem seems to have been especially frequent over the past few days, but there has been a lot of window AC, basement dehumidifier, and laundry action the past few days as well.

Anybody got any thoughts?
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panzade
 
  2  
Reply Tue 28 Jul, 2009 07:47 pm
@patiodog,
same thing happened to my water heater...it started tripping the breaker and I wasted money on bringing in my electrician who told me the heater had rusted and was arcing...that'll be $ 60 thank you very much.
Replaced the hot water heater and problem solved.

Since you're bringing out the electrician(good idea) to look over the panel, have her look at the water heater.
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 Jul, 2009 09:49 pm
@panzade,
Our work schedules are insane right now, so trying to cross paths with an electrician before, say, October is going to require special effort.

Mebbe I'll just move up the already-planned heater replacement to a Sunday afternoon and see if that resolves the problem...
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 05:48 am
@patiodog,
Looked closer -- the water heater is on a 20 amp circuit! Man, that's dinky.

I'll have to dig up the specs on the heater or take of the insulation and check out what it's supposed to be installed on, but given that in the winter the circuit will sometimes go a month without breaking (if it lucks through the laundry cycle), I'm guessing it's actually rated at 20 amps.

I wonder, though, if it's not tripping during low fluctuations of voltage coming off the grid? W = VA, volts go down, amps go up, breaker trips?

Damn it, though, looks like I'll have to have someone put in a new breaker box before modernizing the water heater...
0 Replies
 
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 06:42 am
Circuit breakers wear out. Try replacing the breaker. (Turn off the master breaker, first....)

(We once thought we'd have to replace our outside A/C unit, but replacing the breaker solved the problem.)
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 09:01 am
@DrewDad,
sound advice...sometimes I forget about the fact that houses in other areas can be 100 years old. In my neighborhood nothing was built before 1975.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 09:02 am
@panzade,
Heck, my house was built in '95.
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 09:07 am
@DrewDad,
I would guess the place I live was built in the 30's or 40's. (been re-worked some)

Most folks here use natural gas heaters.
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 09:24 am
@DrewDad,
Quote:
my house was built in '95.


I was thinking the dawg's house might have ancient wiring
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 05:04 pm
@panzade,
I don't think the wiring is original to the house -- house built in 1946 and all outlets have ground. Most of the wiring (except where renovations were done upstairs) probably dates to 1978 at the latest -- that being the year of the schematic in the breaker box and when I'm assuming service to the house was brought up to 100 amps.

I had been considering switching to a gas water heater -- we do have gas, but the heater is electric -- but wanted to keep it DIY, and I've got zero experience playing with any gas line more involved than a backyard grill or campstove.

Today I'm hearing knocking from the heater for the first time and it's worked it's way up to tripping at least daily (from once or twice a month in the winter). And the dehumidifier was turned off today.

Guess I'll drain it and take a look at the elements this weekend, maybe consider replacing the thermostats. A short-term fix is needed, and I can't just swap out a new electric water heater onto a 20 amp circuit. (Or won't, anyway; there's enough hot water for about a shower and a half in the morning in the winter.)



Or maybe try replacing the breaker, like DD suggests. That's at least cheap and not very labor intensive...
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 05:56 pm
@patiodog,
patiodog wrote:
it's worked it's way up to tripping at least daily

That's what happened with the breaker I had to replace. Started tripping once a week or so, then more and more often until it was a daily occurrence. Didn't follow any pattern, like tripping every time the unit turned on.
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jul, 2009 05:58 pm
@patiodog,
Quote:
Or maybe try replacing the breaker, like DD suggests. That's at least cheap and not very labor intensive...


Sounds like the plan...
0 Replies
 
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Oct, 2009 05:35 pm
Finally got back 'round to this. Replaced the 4500 watt heating elements with 3800 watt ones, no more problem. Just a W=VA problem after all...
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 2 Nov, 2009 03:20 pm
@patiodog,
Quote:
Looked closer -- the water heater is on a 20 amp circuit! Man, that's dinky.

I'll have to dig up the specs on the heater or take of the insulation and check out what it's supposed to be installed on, but given that in the winter the circuit will sometimes go a month without breaking (if it lucks through the laundry cycle), I'm guessing it's actually rated at 20 amps.

I wonder, though, if it's not tripping during low fluctuations of voltage coming off the grid? W = VA, volts go down, amps go up, breaker trips?

Damn it, though, looks like I'll have to have someone put in a new breaker box before modernizing the water heater...


I hope you're in hot water, Patiodog, of the good kind.

20 amps isn't dinky, if the load matches the circuit rating.

Near as I can figure, and I may well be wrong, but I think that the H2O heater elements were too large for the 20 amp/[12 gauge wire ?? circuit]

20Amp x 240 volt = 4800 watts x 0.8 = 3840 watts

30Amp x 240 volt = 7200 watts x 0.8 = 5760 watts

My guess, and it's only a guess. In winter, with the cooler temps, the 20 amp circuit was better able to carry the "overload".

When more load was put on it ---> more laundry being done ---> more hot H2O required ---> longer H2o heater run times ---> more chance for an overload and then the breaker pops.

High humidity --> higher ambient temps --> circuit wire heats up more --> more chance for a breaker tripping.

I hope you replaced the 20 amp breaker with a 20 amp breaker.
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Mon 2 Nov, 2009 07:46 pm
@JTT,
Quote:
Near as I can figure, and I may well be wrong, but I think that the H2O heater elements were too large for the 20 amp/[12 gauge wire ?? circuit]

20Amp x 240 volt = 4800 watts x 0.8 = 3840 watts

30Amp x 240 volt = 7200 watts x 0.8 = 5760 watts

My guess, and it's only a guess. In winter, with the cooler temps, the 20 amp circuit was better able to carry the "overload".


Hence replacing the 4500 watt elements with 3800 watt elements has done the trick. Not one trip in the weeks since replacement. Apparently no problem with breaker, just whoever put in the water heater (mfg date of 2007, it turns out; I'd assumed older) didn't pay attention to the circuit or didn't know what they were doing. Given that we had to have them address a short circuit (supposedly "just a nail through a wire") before we moved in, I'm not surprised.

It being the upper midwest, I'm thinking local voltage fluctuation during AC season had a lot to do with the regular trips over the summer. I also suspect the power company is being a little stingier with the voltage now. They're hounding people after nonpayment of bills after 30 days now -- it used to take months before they would threaten to send an account to collections. I don't imagine coal is getting any cheaper...
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