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Old 05-22-2013, 11:01 AM   #1
DrJ
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Water heater trips breaker

My Sunline Solaris T-2370 has been sitting stored for several years. Finally able to take it back out and was checking everything out. When I put it up several years ago, everything was working fine. This model has an Atwood LP with DSI 6-gal. water heater (Model G6A-8E). I plugged the unit into 120 VAC (I don't know the amps at the storage place) and the circuit breakers immediately tripped (no power at all). If I turn off the water heater circuit breaker before powering up, everything is fine. The on/off switch to the water heater was off so the heater shouldn't be drawing any electricity. The LP gas was also off and there was no water in the tank. Any ideas what might be going on here and how I might test/fix it?

Thanks in advance for any help.
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Old 05-22-2013, 12:23 PM   #2
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Hi Jim,

Recapping your note, when you turn the water heater breaker "off" and then power up the camper all if fine. However, with the water heater breaker "on" yet the heater itself is off, then the main 30-amp breaker feeding everything trips when you plug in? Please confirm.

From reading your note, it seems to point to a potential dead short on the HW heater wiring down stream of the HW heater breaker.

Maybe a mouse or other critter chewed through some insulation and exposed the hot wire to become grounded and creating the dead short. It can be in the hot wire or the ac neutral returning to the power panel.

Are you electrically friendly? If so and you have an ohmmeter, with the camper unplugged, you can check that the hot wire and the AC neutral starting at the breaker panel is not connected to earth ground. You may have to unhook them to separate out the commons. Odds are high it may be, and then the "hunt" begins to look at every connection and path the hot wire takes where it is some how tied to ground or AC common.

Note: There is only about 10.3 ohms of resistance through a HW heater element. So do not get fooled by this low resistance if you check from AC hot to AC neutral. Just unhook 1 wire at the heater element if needed to break the connection through the element.

Or start by hunting along the wire for broken insulation or "something" across the termails at the HW heater electric element. We have had a lizard short out an air conditoner board before so maybe now something on the HW heater. Squirles have chewed LP rubber lines too... Those darn critters wanna play with our campers....


Hope this helps and good luck

John
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Old 05-22-2013, 01:09 PM   #3
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WH breaker problem

Hi John,

Thank you for the quick response. Your recap of my problem is right on the money. When powering up with WH breaker on, nothing works. With WH breaker off, everything works (except the WH of course ). I used to be a little electrical friendly but am old now and haven't really done much multimetering in years. I can probably read the directions with my meter and figure out how to check ohms. Then, I will just need to figure out what wires to test on. Any further assistance in this regard would be greatly appreciated. Two additional bits of info I can provide that might help narrow down my search. First, this problem only occurs on 120 not when I am running on battery. Second, when I am on battery, the red reset light lights up if I put the WH switch to on.

Again, thanks a million for the help you have already provided. I was thinking I might have to get a new WH (and maybe that is still the case).

Thanks,
Jim
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Old 05-22-2013, 02:00 PM   #4
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WH breaker problem

In looking over the past posts on my problem, I remembered something that might be important (or not). In thinking back on it, it was not the circuit breakers in the trailer that would trip with the WH breaker on. Instead, I was plugged into a GFI plug and it was the GFI that tripped. Powering up with the WH breaker off did not trip the GFI. Hope this helps.

Thanks again,
Jim
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Old 05-22-2013, 05:05 PM   #5
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what amperage is the GFCI? Try plugging into a non GFCI protected outlet. Preferably a 20 amp outlet
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Old 05-22-2013, 05:34 PM   #6
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Thanks Jim. The unit is in a storage lot and I won't be able to get to it before Saturday. I plan on going on Sat. and look for a short and while I'm at it I will try another plug. I don't know the amperage of the available plugs in the storage lot however.

I am learning stuff none the less. I gave the wrong model number in my initial post. It should be Atwood GC6AA-9E which means it runs on EITHER LP or on 110 without the gas turned on. I didn't realize it would run without LP. I have always run it on LP because the on/off switch only works with LP. From what I have picked up online, the newer units have two switches...one for LP and one for 110V. Mine is a 1999 and only has the one switch on the back wall of the rig. Apparently, on mine, there is another switch down near the WH tank itself that must be flipped to us straight 110V operation. I did not know that.

I will gladly accept any other suggestions you guys may have. Thanks a lot for all the help.

Jim
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Old 05-22-2013, 08:14 PM   #7
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If you turned electric water Heater on without water your element will burn out or short out
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Old 05-22-2013, 11:50 PM   #8
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Thanks Jim. I believe the element is the first place to start looking. Since I didn't know the electric only switch was even there, I never turned it on back when I was camping regularly. I always used the LP method. But, the fact that I never had any electrical problems until now would seem to indicate that the switch/element were off unless it takes those elements a long time to burn out. It is possible that I turned it on by mistake recently while getting the camper up to par again. I was putting stuff under the sink and taking stuff out...I could have hit the switch and then when I powered up I might have fried the element. If it turns out to be the element, I suppose the best thing would be to keep the electric only switch on and control it through the circuit breaker in the electrical panel.

Thanks again guys for all the helpful comments. They make me think I may not need to replace the water heater and there may be a fairly inexpensive fix. If I find the answer I will post it and if you have any other suggestions, I would gladly take them.

Jim
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Old 05-23-2013, 06:26 AM   #9
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Hi Jim,

If there is no water in the HW heater, the electric element can burn out very quickly as there is no water to cool it. Burn out may be, 1 to 2 minutes pushing maybe 5 to 10 minute tops but that is about it.

Now some answers to these questions and maybe some more puzzle pieces fit here some how.

You gave us this,

Quote:
Two additional bits of info I can provide that might help narrow down my search. First, this problem only occurs on 120 not when I am running on battery. Second, when I am on battery, the red reset light lights up if I put the WH switch to on.


The 120 VAC part of the water heater is separate from the 12 VDC battery part on your older vintage heater. While LP gas can work OK just fine, the 120VAC part can work or not work. This fits and makes sense. The same goes for the gas side. If you have no 120 VAC the 12 volt gas side can work fine by itself. On the newer ones, 2004 and beyond, they need 12 VDC to run the control board for the 120 VAC part.

The red resets lights are only for the LP gas part of the HW heater. They are there for a flame safety check. If it is suppose to start on gas and if does not light in 3 firing sequences, the unit shuts down on safety and throws a fault light. There is no fault light for the 120 VAC part. If the camper was not purged of air in the gas lines, it can take a few attempts to get the heater to work on gas. OR from sitting over the years there may be an issue in the gas side of the heater not lighting.

Quote:
In looking over the past posts on my problem, I remembered something that might be important (or not). In thinking back on it, it was not the circuit breakers in the trailer that would trip with the WH breaker on. Instead, I was plugged into a GFI plug and it was the GFI that tripped. Powering up with the WH breaker off did not trip the GFI.


This may be a “big” piece of info. There is a difference between tripping a main 30 amp circuit breaker in the camper taking out all lights to tripping a 15 or 20 GFI outlet. I now see 2 different possibilities based on what you told us.

1. To trip the 30 amp main breaker instantly can point to a dead short in the system that was active at the time of power up. However you now state, it was “not” the breakers in the camper that tripped taking out all the lights and everything, it was a GFI outlet. If you never tripped a circuit breaker in the camper, then this now points to the GFI system and how does the HW heater fit in with this with the heater breaker off everything is OK. This was why I was asking specifically about tripping the 30 amp main in the camper as you said everything went out. We now put this to the side.

You stated you where plugged into a GFI wall plug, now maybe 1 of 2 things going on.

2. “If” by accident you flipped on the electric part of the HW heater and you plugged the camper into a 15 or 20 wall outlet protected by a GFI, you may have overloaded the power draw on the outlet. The HW heater can draw 1,400 watts of power, the power converter can draw several amps of power pending the level of the battery charge. Then there is how long an extension cord you where using. All these can create a high inrush of current. Basically, you may have had too much turned on in the camper and tripped the GFI from over current.

3. OR There is a short still in the wiring of the 120 VAC HW heater system. The GFI will trip for a short.

There is a level of hope that you did not burn out the HW heater electric element. If you did burn it out, it would remove the current draw that may have tripped the GFI.

At this point lets start simple. Make sure that the little rocker switch buried on the back of the HW heater is “off” and the 15 amp breaker for the HW heater in the camper is “off” before plugging in. Then flip on the 15 amp breaker. If it trips immediately, then odds are high a short exists in the wiring. If it does not trip, then the wiring is OK up to the box on the back of the water heater.

Also odds are high you cannot run the electric part of the water heater and the rest of the camper on a long lead cord, or short cord, plugged into a 15 amp GFI circuit. A 20 amp GFI has more chance.

Hope this helps and good luck

John
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Old 05-23-2013, 07:26 AM   #10
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Good morning John and thank you very much for your thoughtful comments on my problem. You (and Jim) have been a huge help to me since I am a real novice when it comes to this stuff.
Number one on my list will be to see the position of the AC switch on the WH to see if, somehow, I mistakenly flipped it on. When I had this problem, I was connected to the GFI directly with the unit's power cord and a small adapter plug. As I mentioned to Jim, I don't know the amperage rating of this receptacle but it in in a very old box so it may not be high enough if the switch was on. One problem for the time being is I may have to use an extension cord (probably @ 50') to do any testing until the owner of the lot returns after the holiday. I would turn everything else off during any testing. If this is a major issue, I guess it can wait until he returns. We could test for the short without power. As you said, this should let me know if there a short or not.

One other question comes to mind. Could this problem result from a corroded element. I have never used the AC side of the WH but the element is original and so is 14 years old. I would not be surprised to find it is badly corroded just from being submerged and dried out as I filled and emptied the tank over the years and then let it sit for several years. Just wondering.

My brother-in-law, who is "electric friendly", will be going with me next time and I will take a copy of all these posts along as well.

Thank you guys. You have been a huge help.

Jim
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Old 05-23-2013, 12:02 PM   #11
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Hi Jim

I'm laying odds everything is ok. It was to much of a spike for the GFI. A 50' extension cord could be used BUT it needs to be a 12 guage cord. Use only minimal current. Don't use Air conditioner or microwave. I wouldn't try the AC side of water heater till you can get a better hookup.
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Old 05-23-2013, 12:15 PM   #12
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Outcome of the tests

John and Jim,

So, with the help of my brother-in-law, I have now tested out the circuit breaker problem and it was the simplest of all possible outcomes. It turns out that the 110 switch on the tank was ON. There were no shorts and the element checks out fine. Basically, with the switch on the other day, as soon as we plugged into the GFI, the HW heater started drawing larger amounts of current than the circuit could provide and the GFI immediately tripped. I suppose I was lucky that the GFI was weak or I might have burned up the element. Anyway, I turned off the switch and, even on a 50' extension cord, everything continued to run normally with the HW heater breaker on. The puzzle for me is how the switch got turned on in the first place. I have never used the 110 side of the water heater and I often would plug in the power first (before connecting the water and filling the tank) so I have lights to do the rest of the setup. Since I never had any problem, I'm guessing the switch was always off. Ghosts perhaps?

Anyway, a big, big "THANK YOU" to both of you for all your help. If our paths ever cross in a campground, I insist on buying each of you several beverages of your choice.

Best regards,
Jim
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Old 05-23-2013, 12:35 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrJ View Post

As I mentioned to Jim, I don't know the amperage rating of this receptacle but it in in a very old box so it may not be high enough if the switch was on.

One problem for the time being is I may have to use an extension cord (probably @ 50') to do any testing until the owner of the lot returns after the holiday. I would turn everything else off during any testing. If this is a major issue, I guess it can wait until he returns. We could test for the short without power. As you said, this should let me know if there a short or not.

One other question comes to mind. Could this problem result from a corroded element. I have never used the AC side of the WH but the element is original and so is 14 years old. I would not be surprised to find it is badly corroded just from being submerged and dried out as I filled and emptied the tank over the years and then let it sit for several years. Just wondering.


Hi Jim,

This is an "if" situation. I have not seen a heater element do this, but it is not beyond impossible knowing enough about water corrosion, If the coating on the element has cracked or has created a path for the AC hot wire OR the AC neutral to find earth ground , then yes when you turn the heater on it will trip the GFI from a short on the hot side or that is senses current flowing on the ground wire. This means however, the rocker switch in on.

This is a GFI situation as they trip for several reasons. One being a dead short or current flowing on ground line when it is supposed to be on the AC neutral.

A lot of this right now hinges on "if" that switch was flipped on by accident.

The extension cord, this will not affect the trouble shooting. A GFI will gladly trip on a full power supply as a weaker one. Just try not to intentionally run the heater on 120 VAC for any length of time or worse, the roof AC unit and the microwave on hi.
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Old 05-23-2013, 04:10 PM   #14
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Glad it all checked out ok. Rocker switch not hard to flip. You could have tossed something in there and hit the switch.
One little tip when out camping, running water heater on electric and propane will give faster hot water recovery.
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