Electric Water Heater Keeps Tripping The Breaker – Why It Happens And What To Do

Electric Water Heater Keeps Tripping The Breaker – Why It Happens And What To Do

Anthony Barnes

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Does your electric water heater keep tripping the circuit breaker? Then you might well have some problems that need to be fixed urgently!

Electrical problems such as these can cause serious harm and damage, so they should be diagnosed and seen to as soon as possible.

Finding The Problem

The first step to fixing any problem is finding it, of course! If your electric water heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker, then there are many possible reasons.

This, unfortunately, can mean that you’ll have to go through an exhaustive troubleshooting process – but even these steps can save you money in the long run!

Before you start doing anything at all, you should make sure to turn the power off at the circuit breaker. You need to do this because you’re running the risk of electric shock, or even electrocution if you don’t.

It really is that simple! Electrical problems can manifest in all sorts of ways, and you have no way of knowing what’s safe and what isn’t until you’ve located the problem.

Once you’ve safely turned off the power at the main circuit breaker of your home, you can start troubleshooting.

As there could be a large number of reasons why your electric water heater keeps tripping your circuit breaker, you’ll need to check things one at a time.

And remember, just because you’ve found one cause, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve found them all.

Electrical problems in one component can cause issues elsewhere too. You’ll need to check everything thoroughly to be sure, even if you think you’ve found the fault.

Broken Heater

One of the most common things that can cause your electric water heater to repeatedly trip your circuit breaker is a fault within the heater itself.

The electric water heater is likely in use a lot of the time, and as such, is susceptible to wear over the years.

Also, heaters can be damaged, particularly during installation, as that’s when they are actually moved into place.

Construction work taking place around them can cause knocks and bumps which can cause problems with your heater.

Also, a water heater can start to fail simply because it is old. Even if it’s been well looked after, and used sensibly, there’s a point where a heater just gets too old to be able to be repaired.

Even if it can be fixed, it might well be more worth getting a replacement.

It’s only worth going for a repair if it makes economic sense to do so.

If the cost of a repair is more than the cost of a new heater of comparable specifications, then it’s a no-brainer – go for the new model rather than trying to breathe life into the old one.

And of course, a broken water heater could indicate issues elsewhere – don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ve fixed the problem without checking absolutely everything.

Broken Thermostat

Broken Thermostat

The thermostat is an important part of your electric water heater. It’s the component that’s responsible for regulating the temperature of your electric water heater.

It’s also one of the most common causes for a faulty water heater that trips the circuit breaker.

The thermostat regulates the heat of the water for safety and usability reasons.

If it wasn’t there, the heater would run and run until the water would become far too hot to use safely. Boiling water could come from your taps, which can cause serious injury.

It could potentially be even more dangerous – if water starts to boil, then steam is produced.

Pressure can build up very quickly, which could turn your heating system into a bomb!

Luckily, the thermostat guards against this, keeping your water at a safe temperature, and limiting the amount of electricity used too.

However, a broken thermostat can lead to your circuit breaker tripping, and worse.

Your electric water heater likely actually has two thermostats if it has two heating elements.

Many electric water heaters are like this. Therefore, that’s two thermostats which could potentially have a fault.

You can test to see if your thermostats are faulty with a digital multimeter, if you’re confident working with electrics.

First of all, double check that you’ve turned all of the power off at the main circuit breaker. Then, locate the thermostats on the body of your electric water heater.

Disconnect any leads that are connected to these thermostats, and probe them with your digital multimeter for resistance.

When the thermostat is open, your digital multimeter should read 0 ohms. If it reads anything else, likely your thermostat is broken and will need to be replaced.

Broken Heating Element

Modern electric water heaters commonly have two heating elements. Unsurprisingly, it’s the job of these heating elements to heat the water!

If a heating element fails, it won’t be able to heat the water anymore. Not just that, but it may well cause your circuit breaker to trip.

There are many reasons why a heating element may fail. They may short circuit, or suffer physical damage.

Physical damage can often happen during installation, or if the heater gets moved for any reason.

Heating elements may also end up with mineral deposits from water on them, which can impede their heating ability and even cause them to fail completely.

Heating elements in electric water heaters can be replaced, but they often can’t be repaired. It’s better to think of them as disposable parts.

If it breaks, get rid of it and get a working one installed. It’ll save you a lot more hassle in the long run, compared to trying to keep an old, failing element going.

Unless you’re qualified, or really know what you’re doing, changing the heating element on your electric water heater isn’t something you should tackle yourself.

It’s not an easy job, especially if you make mistakes! You’re dealing with both water and electricity at the same time, so there’s no room for error.

Better off to spend the money on someone who knows what they’re doing, rather than risking a dangerous mistake happening.

Bad Internal Wiring

Sometimes the internal wiring of the electric heater itself can have problems. This can cause issues such as short circuits, a malfunctioning heater, and can of course also cause your circuit breaker to trip.

These faults can be extremely difficult to diagnose – often, they’re easiest diagnosed by eliminating everything else first.

If everything else seems to work, then the internal wiring of the electric water is a likely culprit.

If the internal wiring fails, often it’s simply most economical to replace the unit entirely.

If the faulty wiring is easily accessible and fixable by a professional, then that’s great – but if not, they may well recommend that you replace the unit entirely.

This can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes, manufacturer defect is the cause. Othertimes, damage during installation can cause issues.

Whatever the cause, an internal wiring issue can be a very serious problem. At the very least, it can prevent your electric water heater from working at all – and can even pose a fire hazard.

Fixing the internal wiring of a boiler isn’t something that anyone but a trained professional should even think about.

The risks if something goes wrong are simply too serious for it to be safe for anyone but a professional to deal with.

The safest thing is to turn the power off, and leave it off until somebody who knows what they’re doing has a look at the problem.

Leaking Water

Leaking Water

Water and electricity are dangerous companions, and a leak can cause havoc when mixed with electric circuits.

Water from loose or damaged fittings and pipes that touches exposed wires or makes its way inside the housing of any electric parts can cause massive issues.

Not just that, but it poses an immediate danger too, particularly if there is pooling water.

In this case, it’s again essential that the power to the electric water heater is shut off completely before any work is done.

This must be done before the leak is fixed – as it’s completely unsafe to fix a leak when there’s a risk of electric shock.

Water ingress can cause shorts that completely destroy electrics and electronic components.

If there’s any water ingress to parts of your electric water heater that aren’t built for it, then you could end up with irreparable damage to the whole unit.

As always with electricity and plumbing, these are problems that require professional solutions. The best thing you can do if you’re not a professional is to shut off the electricity supply and the water supply.

Then, get a professional to see the problem as soon as possible. Don’t start fiddling about with things if it’s unsafe – you could cause a lot more harm than good, and really hurt yourself.

Wiring Problems

Sometimes the internal wiring of your home can have issues too. Sometimes wires aren’t installed properly.

Other times, they can snag when new things are installed to your house, and become detached this way.

These sorts of problems are usually pretty easy to fix – although only somebody who knows what they’re doing should tackle them, of course.

You may notice other issues with the electric wiring of your house. For example, flickering lights, switches that don’t work, appliances that turn off, and more can be signs that there are issues with the wiring of your home.

They’re things that people often accept as idiosyncrasies of their home, but can actually indicate serious problems.

There may be shorts part of the way down the line that you can’t see, for example.

Careful use of a digital multimeter can help you diagnose problems – make sure the main power switch to your home is off, of course – but actually fixing deep-seated electrical problems in your house can be a task that’s beyond the average person.

If you suspect that bad wiring is the cause of your problem, then you need to consult a professional electrician. They’ll be able to diagnose the problem for you, and fix it if need be.

Circuit Breaker

Of course, it’s a good idea not to overlook one part of the picture – the circuit breaker itself. It’s perhaps not the most likely cause of the problem, but it is possible for your circuit breaker itself to be faulty.

This is another problem that is difficult to diagnose – after all, your circuit breaker is integral to the electric wiring of your home, and it’s not as if you can just plug a spare in to check!

And the fact that it’s so unlikely means that it’s not something that most people would think to consider.

Circuit breakers are often one of, if not the single most robust piece of electrical equipment in your home.

After all, they have to protect everything else, including your safety, if there’s anything going wrong with the electric supply in your house.

Therefore, the chances of the issue being to do with your circuit breaker are pretty low.

However, it’s not unheard of – and something that only a professional would know how to diagnose and remedy.

No matter what, don’t use any methods to force your circuit breaker to keep the connection going.

If the safety feature of the circuit breaker keeps tripping and killing the connection, almost all of the time you should take it as a sign that something is badly wrong, and that your circuit breaker is trying to protect you.

Conclusion

Hopefully this guide has helped you to find the problem with your electric water heater tripping the circuit breaker!

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By Anthony Barnes

Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age