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Old 05-18-2013, 11:29 AM   #1
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Water heater tripping breaker

Last weekend, I turned on the WH and it did not get hot. I found that the breaker had tripped. Not having the time or energy to fix it, I waited till later. I checked the wiring and could find nothing wrong. I also ohm'd the element and it checked out good. I decided to try it again this morning, but it tripped again. I am going to keep usin LP until I can figure it out, but I am puzzled.

Could an element that is going bad cause the breaker to trip? I have no way to see what kind of amperage it is drawing and don't want to just throw parts at it..

Any ideas?





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Old 05-18-2013, 12:41 PM   #2
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Gary,

Does the breaker trip as soon as you turn the heater on? Or it take a while and if so approx how long?

The ohm check, maybe try this

With the AC power off/unpluged, and turn the breaker off too so this isolates everything upstream of the incoming to the breaker.

On the 120 VAC element, do an ohm check to earth ground from AC neutral and AC hot. You can do this at the element or at the load side of the breaker. What do you get? Both should be an open circuit or darn close to it. means many mega ohms. Ideally should say OL on your digital meter. You are checking that the element has somehow internally starting to short to ground. Or the wire is finding ground, skinned etc.

OK if you passed this, now on DC only, fire up the heater on gas. Let it heat all the way until it shuts down. Now try the ohm test to ground again on both wires. It may be the heat is expanding the element and then creating a path to ground.

If you get past all that and do not find anything, what is the actual ohm reading across the element? I can check agaisnt a spare new one I have.

Technically if it is a 1,400 watt element at 120 V, that is 11.7 amps. 11.7 amps X R = 120V solving for this is 10.3 ohms resistance for the element if I did that right. It may change a little by the amount of voltage used/original designed to. But that is the league you are in.

If your past all this and still nothing, then the breaker may have a problem. For a test, unhook another 15 amp breaker and put the HW heater load lead on that test breaker. Try again.

This sort of boils down to.

Element starting to short when hot or cold.
Loose wires at either end drawing more current
breaker is loose on the buss bar drawing more current.
breaker itself is going bad.
Some how there is a short in the wiring bleeding off excess current.

Those are what comes to mind quick. Got to go mow the field at the new place. Be back late tonight

Good luck

John
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Old 05-18-2013, 02:50 PM   #3
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I had an in house electric water heater. Water heater elements would lime up so bad the would pop fuses. Always kept spares around. Hope thats all it is.
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Old 05-18-2013, 04:40 PM   #4
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If the element shell beaks inside the tank it can leak to ground and still have resistance. Disconnect the power side of the element and close the breaker. If it does not trip replace the element.
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Old 05-18-2013, 07:45 PM   #5
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I ohmed the element and got 10.6... I replaced it anyway. New element heated water just fine. 45 minutes after turning it on, the breaker tripped again. Going to tear into the breaker panel next....
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Old 05-18-2013, 08:30 PM   #6
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When I got my 2363 the water heater breaker would trip after about 10 minutes. No shorts, grounds etc. I used it the first Summer on LP only. I tried it from time to time and the 2nd Spring I looked at it again. I noticed the breaker got VERY warm and when I opened the converter/breaker cover I saw some insulation melted at the screw terminal. I replaced the breaker (and cut off the burned section of wire) and it has been good since then. I don't know if it was a bad connection of the wire at the screw terminal or just a bad breaker.
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Old 05-18-2013, 10:15 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EMD_Driver View Post
I ohmed the element and got 10.6...
Well I'm glad Ohms law still works.... And me too...

If you want to "test" before you replace or move the wire to another breaker, pull the shore line power. I thought your breaker box was close by to the HW heater. Or maybe that was the prior 5'er. Assuming it is

Unhook the hot and neutral at the HW heater. Use that ohm meter again. Put 1 test lead on the 30 amp buzz bar or main 30 amp terminal breaker.
With a long enough reach or extra wire piece, put the other test lead on the black load wire at the HW heater. The ohms should be close to 0 meaning no Resistance. If there is a level of ohms, that means a bad connection somewhere or a faulty breaker possibly.

OR skip this and check the breaker. Take it out and sniff, arcing/electrical burn has a unique smell to. Sort of like rotting wood, once you smell it you know what it smells like and do not forget. Look for signs a black soot and melted anything. The buzz bar connections on some converter panels are less then to be desired.

If that turns up good, well a different breaker is next.

By chance, did you do the ohm test in the post above to rule out the wring? Odds are lower it is the wire with a skinned insulation, but after you change a breaker, and that is not it, the wire is next to rule out.

Good luck

John
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Old 05-18-2013, 10:19 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim44646 View Post
I had an in house electric water heater. Water heater elements would lime up so bad the would pop fuses. Always kept spares around. Hope thats all it is.
Jim,

H'mm never realized this. Any idea on what the lime buildup does? I can see it not doing much water heating with it being so insulated but cannot figure out how it pops the breaker. H'mmm...

Or is it that the build up is so bad, the element overheats as it cannot cool itself by the water and then shorts itself out from a melted path to ground? And that then pops the fuse
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Old 05-18-2013, 10:21 PM   #9
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Thanks John...

I did not test the wire, as were getting ready for the potluck dinner.. I will have to wait till one evening this week to test it out... I do want it fixed before Buttonwood!
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Old 05-19-2013, 07:44 AM   #10
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Quote:
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Jim,

H'mm never realized this. Any idea on what the lime buildup does? I can see it not doing much water heating with it being so insulated but cannot figure out how it pops the breaker. H'mmm...

Or is it that the build up is so bad, the element overheats as it cannot cool itself by the water and then shorts itself out from a melted path to ground? And that then pops the fuse
The area I lived in I had a well that the water was so hard it would build up on the elements so bad you couldn't pull them out of the mounting hole. You had to pry them out. The elements were so limed you could see no separation between between the rods, Looked like a solid white rod. The first time it happened I kept blowing fuses. The first time I pulled the elements there was so much lime build up in bottom of tank it was higher than bottom element. I had a heck of a time flushing it out. I believe your right on the over heating and to hi of resistance. A set of wash machine mixing valves would last 3 months
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Old 05-19-2013, 09:45 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim44646 View Post
The area I lived in I had a well that the water was so hard it would build up on the elements so bad you couldn't pull them out of the mounting hole. You had to pry them out. The elements were so limed you could see no separation between between the rods, Looked like a solid white rod. The first time it happened I kept blowing fuses. The first time I pulled the elements there was so much lime build up in bottom of tank it was higher than bottom element. I had a heck of a time flushing it out. I believe your right on the over heating and to hi of resistance. A set of wash machine mixing valves would last 3 months
Jim, wow

A solid white rod.... oh my goodness....

A water softener may be the only saving grace in this situation and sized big enough to not have to back flush constantly....

We have had hard water, but never anything that bad... wow

Had to deal with sulfur water back in NY in my uncles rental house, that was bad too...
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Old 05-19-2013, 12:53 PM   #12
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I did end up getting a water softener but moved in a few years. Well was only 50-60 ft deep
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Old 05-19-2013, 06:51 PM   #13
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Ok.. I got to doing some more troubleshooting this afternoon. I did an ohm check of the incoming wire from the breaker panel. 0.4 ohms.. I get 0.3 ohms, when I touch the two leads together. I also checked from the hot wire to both neutral and to ground. I got an open circuit on both.

The tandem breaker itself does not smell charred. My temporary "Fix" was to switch the wires between the tandem breakers. The old WH breaker now feeds the microwave and vice-versa. I let the WH heat, until it shut off. It never tripped the breaker. I also put some water in the microwave and heated it for a while. Everything still Ok...

I'm ordering another breaker, because I just don't trust one that seems to trip for no reason.
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Old 05-21-2013, 05:41 PM   #14
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Glad you figured it out.... At least it was not something expensive to fix...
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Old 05-21-2013, 05:49 PM   #15
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By any chance did you use breaker as an on/off switch for your HW tank? That may have weakened the breaker. Reason I ask my HW heater electric switch is buried and hard to get to so I use the breaker as an on/off switch.
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Old 05-21-2013, 05:50 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Glad you figured it out.... At least it was not something expensive to fix...

I ordered a new breaker on ebay, for $10 and free shipping....

In case anyone needs it, the 2003 vintage tandem breakers are Cutler Hammer BD1515. The main tandem breaker is a BD3020. The 30AMP is for the incoming shore power and the 20 side is for the air conditioner...
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