Water Heater Trips Breaker: Causes and Solutions Explained

Anthony Barnes

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A water heater is an essential household appliance that provides hot water for various tasks, including cooking, bathing, and cleaning. However, like any electrical device, water heaters can sometimes experience issues. One common problem homeowners face is the water heater tripping the circuit breaker, which can cause inconvenience and even pose a safety risk.

When a water heater trips the breaker, it’s usually an indication of an electrical issue that needs attention. Addressing the problem as soon as possible can prevent further damages and keep your home safe. There are several potential causes for this situation, ranging from a faulty thermostat to an overloaded circuit. By identifying the cause, you can take appropriate measures to resolve the issue and restore normal functionality to your water heater.

Common Causes of Water Heater Tripping Breaker

Faulty Heating Elements

One of the primary causes of water heater breakers tripping is a faulty heating element. Over time, the heating element can accumulate mineral deposits, making it less efficient and more likely to overheat or short circuit. This can result in the breaker tripping. To fix this issue, consider replacing the heating element.

Loose Wiring

Loose wiring in your water heater can also lead to breaker trips. Incorrect or ineffective wiring can cause increased resistance and generate excessive heat, which can trip the circuit breaker. To remedy loose or poorly connected wires, ensure all connections are properly tightened and replace damaged wiring.

Corroded Components

Corrosion can develop over time in various water heater components, causing them to malfunction. Rust and other forms of corrosion can weaken electrical connections and reduce their effectiveness. If you notice that your water heater shows signs of wear such as rust or leaks, it’s a good idea to address these problems before they lead to a tripped breaker.

Defective Thermostats

A faulty or malfunctioning thermostat can also be responsible for tripping the breaker. When thermostats fail to regulate temperature correctly, they can allow the heating element to overheat, which can trip the breaker. To resolve thermostat-related issues, consider replacing the thermostat.

Short Circuits

Lastly, short circuits are another reason for water heater breakers to trip. Short circuits occur when electrical current flows along an unintended path, generating excess heat and causing the breaker to trip. This can result from various issues, such as loose wiring, defective components, or problems with the electrical panel. To fix short circuits, you may need to consult a professional electrician for proper diagnosis and repair.

Troubleshooting Tips for Detecting the Cause

In this section, we will cover various troubleshooting tips to help you detect the cause of a water heater that trips the breaker. This guide will examine the use of a multimeter, checking heating elements, inspecting wiring and electrical components, and testing thermostats.

Using a Multimeter

A multimeter is an essential tool for detecting electrical issues within your water heater. Firstly, ensure that the power is turned off before performing any tests to avoid electrical shock. Use the multimeter to measure the voltage and resistance of your water heater’s components. Typical voltage levels should be within the expected range for your device, whereas unusual readings might indicate a fault or short circuit.

Checking the Heating Elements

The heating elements within a water heater are often the primary cause of tripping breakers. To check the heating elements, power off the water heater and remove the access panels. Use a multimeter to test the elements for continuity. If there is no continuity, it means the element is faulty and needs to be replaced. Moreover, check for any visible damage or signs of wear on the elements.

Inspecting the Wiring and Electrical Components

Faulty wiring or damaged electrical components can cause water heater-related issues. Inspect the wiring for any signs of damage, loose connections, or corrosion. Replace any damaged wiring or secure loose connections. Additionally, examine other electrical components such as fuses and circuit breakers to ensure they are functioning correctly.

Testing the Thermostats

Lastly, it is important to test the thermostats of your water heater. A faulty thermostat may cause the water heater to continuously heat the water, leading to repeated tripping of the breaker. To test the thermostat, disconnect the power supply and use a multimeter to check for continuity. If the test indicates a lack of continuity, the thermostat should be replaced.

By carefully following these troubleshooting tips, you can confidently and efficiently detect the cause of a water heater that trips the breaker. Remember to always prioritize safety by turning off the power supply before performing any tests or inspections.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Breaker Trips

Taking preventive measures can help you avoid breaker trips caused by your water heater. In this section, we’ll discuss three major areas: proper ventilation, regular maintenance, and temperature setting adjustments.

Proper Ventilation

Ensuring adequate ventilation for your water heater is essential. Poor ventilation can lead to a buildup of heat, increasing the risk of breaker trips. To maintain proper ventilation, make sure the vent and air intake are clean and free of obstructions. Also, check the insulation around the heater—insufficient or inadequate insulation can affect the heater’s performance and cause it to overheat.

Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance of your water heater can be crucial in preventing breaker trips. This includes checking the thermostat, heating elements, and electrical connections. A faulty thermostat might cause the water to overheat, triggering the breaker to trip. Similarly, a worn-out heating element can draw excess power and cause the breaker to trip. Ensure that you periodically inspect your water heater for any signs of wear, rust, or leaks. Address any issues you find immediately to avoid further complications.

Temperature Settings Adjustments

Adjusting the temperature settings of your water heater can help to prevent breaker trips. Keeping the temperature within a safe range (typically below 120°F) reduces the risk of overheating and tripping the breaker. To adjust the temperature, locate the thermostat on your water heater and adjust it to the desired temperature. Remember that lowering the temperature not only helps prevent breaker trips but can also save you money on energy bills by reducing the demands on your water heater.

By focusing on proper ventilation, regular maintenance, and adjusting temperature settings, you can minimize the risk of your water heater tripping the breaker and ensure a consistent and safe supply of hot water in your home.

How to Fix the Problem

Replacing a Faulty Heating Element

A common reason for a water heater tripping the breaker is a faulty heating element. Over time, the element can accumulate sediment, which can cause a short circuit or make the element overheat. To fix this issue, first, turn off the power to the water heater. Then, drain the tank, remove the old heating element, and replace it with a new one. Make sure the new element has the correct wattage and voltage specifications.

Repairing or Replacing Wiring

Another potential cause of a tripping breaker is damaged or burnt wiring within the water heater. Worn or loose connections can lead to short circuits, which will trip the breaker. To resolve this issue, begin by turning off the water heater’s power supply. Inspect the wiring, paying close attention to connections and visible damage. Repair any damaged wiring or replace it if necessary. Always consult with an electrician if you are unsure about performing this task on your own.

Servicing or Replacing Thermostats

Malfunctioning thermostats can also lead to a tripping breaker. The thermostat is responsible for regulating the water temperature inside the tank. An improper setting or a faulty thermostat may cause the water heater’s elements to overheat, tripping the breaker. Check the thermostat’s settings and adjust them if necessary. If the issue persists, consider replacing the thermostat. Consult a professional for proper installation.

Upgrading the Circuit Breaker

In some cases, the circuit breaker itself may be the problem. An outdated or malfunctioning breaker might not be able to handle the load from the water heater, causing it to trip. First, check the breaker’s specifications to ensure it is compatible with the water heater. If not, upgrading the breaker may be necessary. Consult an electrician to verify the best course of action for your specific situation.

When to Call a Professional

Complex Electrical Problems

If you’re dealing with a water heater that keeps tripping the breaker, it might be due to a complex electrical issue. An electric water heater requires a significant amount of electricity to function, and any disruption in the power supply can lead to tripping the breaker. In such cases, it’s best to call a qualified electrician to assess and resolve the situation. They can identify potential hazardous electrical problems and ensure your water heater is functioning safely and efficiently1.

Water Heater Repairs or Replacement

Sometimes, a water heater might trip the breaker due to a malfunction within the heating unit itself. This could be related to the thermostat, heating element, or other internal components. Rather than trying to diagnose and fix these problems on your own, it’s advisable to seek the help of a professional plumber or water heater repair service2. They’re trained to navigate these issues and can determine the best course of action without risking further damage to your breaker and water heater. Additionally, they can identify if a repair or replacement is necessary to restore your home’s hot water supply.

In conclusion, if you encounter persistent issues with your electric water heater causing the breaker to trip, don’t hesitate to contact professionals. Electricians can handle complex electrical problems, while plumbers and water heater repair services can tackle issues related to the heating unit itself. By seeking their expertise, you can ensure a safe and efficient hot water supply for your home3.

Safety Precautions and Tips

Turning off Power Supply Before Working

Before working on your water heater, it is important to turn off the power supply at the main electrical panel. Doing so will help ensure your safety and prevent any potential electrical hazards. To turn off the power, locate the circuit breaker that corresponds to your water heater and switch it to the “Off” position.

Avoiding Electrical Hazards

When dealing with a water heater that trips the breaker, electrical hazards must be taken into account. Take these precautions to minimize risks:

  • Use rubber gloves and insulated tools while working on the electrical system.
  • Keep the area around the water heater dry to prevent water and electricity from coming into contact.
  • Inspect wiring for any signs of damage, such as frayed or exposed wires, and address these issues before proceeding with any maintenance or repairs.
  • Pay attention to any potential sources of leaks and fix them promptly to avoid moisture-related electrical hazards.

Hiring a Certified Electrician

If you have little to no experience working with electrical systems, or if you are unsure about how to proceed, it is recommended to hire a certified electrician to diagnose and repair your water heater. Attempting to troubleshoot and fix the issue on your own without the proper knowledge and experience can pose risks to both yourself and your home’s electrical system. Moreover, an electrician will be more familiar with relevant codes and safety regulations and ensure that your water heater and electrical panel are up to standard, thus minimizing the risk of fire and other hazards.

In conclusion, taking adequate safety precautions and considering the assistance of a certified electrician will help ensure a safe and efficient repair process for your water heater’s breaker tripping issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my water heater keep tripping the breaker?

Water heater tripping can be caused by several factors such as a malfunctioning thermostat, a short circuit due to a broken heating element, or an overloaded circuit breaker. A faulty thermostat may cause the heater to exceed its temperature limit, drawing more electricity and overloading the circuit breaker 1. If the heating element is damaged, it can expose electrical components to direct contact with water, resulting in a short circuit and tripping [^4^].

How do I reset the breaker on my hot water heater?

To reset the breaker, first, turn off the main power supply to your water heater. Locate the circuit breaker box and find the breaker connected to the water heater – it should be in the “off” or “tripped” position. Flip the breaker to the “on” position to reset it. Make sure the water heater is connected to a dedicated two-pole circuit, as sharing with other appliances can cause tripping 2.

Is it safe to continue resetting a tripping breaker for water heater?

No, continuously resetting a tripping breaker can be unsafe, as it may indicate an underlying issue with the water heater or the electrical system. Repeated tripping can cause additional damage to your water heater or pose a risk of electrical fires. It is best to consult a professional to diagnose and resolve the problem.

How can I tell if my heating element is bad and causing a breaker trip?

A faulty heating element can lead to a short circuit and cause your water heater breaker to trip. Signs of a bad heating element include inadequate hot water, fluctuating temperatures, or the presence of a burnt smell near the water heater. If you suspect a faulty heating element, it is recommended to contact a professional to inspect and replace the element if necessary 3.

Why won’t my water heater breaker reset after tripping?

If your water heater breaker won’t reset after tripping, there could be an ongoing issue such as a short circuit, malfunctioning thermostat, or inadequate breaker size. It’s important to address the root cause of the problem to avoid further damage. Consult a professional to diagnose and fix the issue [^6^].

How do I know if the thermostat is causing the breaker to trip?

A faulty thermostat may exceed its temperature limit, causing the breaker to trip. To check if the thermostat is causing the problem, start by turning off the power supply to your water heater. Remove the thermostat cover and use a multimeter to test its continuity. If there’s no continuity, the thermostat may be faulty and needs to be replaced. To avoid incorrect diagnosis, consult a professional [^5^].


  1. HVAC BOSS 2
  2. Simpson Plumbing 2
  3. Upgraded Home 2
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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