Go Back  DoItYourself.com Community Forums > Electrical, AC & DC. Electronic Equipment and Computers > Electrical - AC & DC
Reload this Page >

Is an electrical problem causing repeated hot water tank breakdowns?

Is an electrical problem causing repeated hot water tank breakdowns?

Reply

  #1  
Old 04-14-15, 06:39 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
Is an electrical problem causing repeated hot water tank breakdowns?

(Note: I posted a question about this problem in the plumbing forum in February and I'm still looking for a solution.)

Since May 2012, I've been having a recurring hot water tank problem and the latest plumber who repaired it recommended that we have an electrician take a look at the problem. Several times the tank has had to be repaired due to scalding hot water coming out of the faucets. The plumber thinks that the tank's thermostats might be getting stuck in the "On" position and that it might be caused by a power surge or some other electrical issue. Further details are below.

We bought our townhouse in October 2003 and we are the original owners. The original tank lasted about 8 and a half years. It was replaced in May 2012 with a Rheem 50 gallon electric tank. Since then, we've had to have a plumber come over four more times in less than 3 years. The second time was in February 2013 and the plumber replaced the tank with another (identical) Rheem 50 gallon tank. The third and fourth times we had to call a plumber were in May 2014 and January 2015.

To sum up, in less than 3 years since a new tank was installed, we've had to replace the tank once and repair it three times. Two of the repair jobs involved replacing heating elements and thermostats. One of the repair jobs involved replacing only the heating elements. The problem surfaces when we start to get scalding hot water coming out of our faucets. In at least some but not all of the cases, we've had very, very minor leaks from the tank with, in the worst case, a puddle on the floor less than two inches in diameter.

Does anybody think that an electrical problem could be at the root of our troubles?
 
Sponsored Links
  #2  
Old 04-14-15, 07:04 AM
Forum Topic Moderator
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Near Lansing, Michigan
Posts: 10,295
Potentially could be electrical if there's an electrolysis problem going on. I would hope a plumber would notice if there wasn't a ground jumper around the tank or if there weren't dielectric unions as those would be very obvious. Does the townhouse even have any metal water pipes? Any strange electrical phenomena in the house -- lights flickering or brightening, tingling when you touch a faucet handle, that kind of stuff?

What is your water quality like? Hard water or corrosive water (bad pH) in my mind is a more likely culprit.
 
  #3  
Old 04-14-15, 04:15 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
Thanks for the suggestions Ben. My responses to the items you've brought up are below.

1. Regarding metal pipes, I looked under the sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms and see mostly white piping which I believe is PVC. But there is a piece of metal pipe about 4 inches long which connects to the underside of the sink. It looks like copper piping is attached to the water tank. Other than that, I don't know about the hidden pipes running through the house. If the date the home was built is a factor in whether metal pipe was used in its construction, my home was built in 2003.

2. We haven't noticed any strange electrical problems such as flickering lights.

3. Regarding whether we have hard water, I live in south Florida (the town of Jupiter) and according to its website "the water contains calcium minerals, making it moderately hard." I don't know if it has corrosive/bad pH water but its website states that its "water and water treatment plant have been recognized over the years with numerous awards for quality of finished water and quality of water production."

4. Regarding ground jumpers and dielectric unions, I don't have the knowledge to know whether my system is missing these items. But I've had at least three different plumbers doing repairs and based on what you've said I imagine that at least one of them would have noticed a problem related to these items.

One thing I want to bring up is that the problem seems to have started after the new tank was installed. The tank is located in a storage closet built under a staircase. The original tank was very short. It was replaced with a taller tank and due to the increased height the plumber had to add some piping to raise the pipes up so that they could be attached to the top of the tank. Is it possible that raising the pipes is somehow causing the problems?

Jim
 
  #4  
Old 04-14-15, 04:47 PM
ray2047's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 32,646
I looked under the sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms and see mostly white piping which I believe is PVC
You don't see the pipes under the sink. That was probably nylon supply lines from the valves. The pipes are in the walls connected to the supply valves. Piping is usually visible at the water heater.
there is a piece of metal pipe about 4 inches long which connects to the underside of the sink. It looks like copper piping is attached to the water tank.
Under the sink is drain not water piping.
It looks like copper piping is attached to the water tank
Not a pipe. A supply line connected to a valve. The pipe is in the wall connected to the valve. Look at the pipes that were added when the taller water heater was added. Post a picture. http://www.doityourself.com/forum/li...rt-images.html
 
  #5  
Old 04-14-15, 05:02 PM
PJmax's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: NJ - USA
Posts: 43,468
Usually when you have a scalding hot water problem it's directly related to a defective element. What happen is that the element operates on 240vac. When the element is shut off one leg of the 240v is still connected. The element thru an internal leak connects from the live leg thru the water or to the metal element and continues heating.

You may need to look into a different anode for your tank if this is a repetitive problem. The thermostats very rarely go bad.

The shorted/leaky element can be found with an ohmmeter. The wires get removed from the element and each terminal gets checked to ground with the ohmmeter set to a high resistance scale. No continuity should be measured at all.

To answer your question directly.... I do not think you have an electrical issue causing the tank failures.
 
  #6  
Old 04-14-15, 05:13 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Nova Scotia
Posts: 750
Have you tried contacting Rheem? The tank should be under warranty. I see no reason why a properly functioning tank would do this. The only thing worth checking is that you are getting 240V to the tank. But even if it is not wired up right, it should not cause this type of problem.

Definitely sounds like an element/thermostat issue. I assume you or your plumber have already turned down the thermostats for both elements?
 
  #7  
Old 04-14-15, 05:28 PM
PJmax's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: NJ - USA
Posts: 43,468
With a water heater..... the exact voltage is really inconsequential. A water heater will work just fine on 200v and also on 250v. It will just heat slower or faster.

I think the real issue is that something is attacking the elements.

Rheem should be able to help and I would think that a local plumber would be privy to this information already.
 
  #8  
Old 04-14-15, 06:30 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Nova Scotia
Posts: 750
I was thinking more along the line that it could be getting significatly more voltage and frying the thermostats or something. I have seen stranger things happen.
 
  #9  
Old 04-15-15, 12:22 AM
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Wet side of Washington state.
Posts: 18,368
Slightly related, I once had an electric boiler, a water heater on steroids if you will, that was constantly burning out elements. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the installation, voltages were well within normal tolerances and the elements were rated for the voltage. I finally contacted the district office for the manufacturer and the manager asked me what brand name was on the elements. When I told him he stated they had had a problem with that particular supplier with regard to element failure. He asked me to have our stores people to return the spares we had in stock directly to him and he would make sure that they were replaced with the (then) current elements. When that was done we had no more element failures for the remaining years I worked at that facility.

I suggest that you contact the Rheem engineering department and let them know of your problems, they may have some important insight that never makes it to either the sales or warranty departments.
 
  #10  
Old 04-15-15, 07:21 AM
Member
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 81
And, electric hot water heaters are a disaster with hard water. Get a softener.
 
  #11  
Old 04-15-15, 07:49 AM
Forum Topic Moderator
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Near Lansing, Michigan
Posts: 10,295
Yeah it could be the water, but if the water is described as only "moderately hard" a tank should last quite a bit longer than a year. Moderate hard is something like 5 gpg, which really isn't bad compared to most of the US. In my area ground water is very hard (about 25 gpg) and tanks will last at least a couple years with untreated water. Since this is a municipal supply there would not be any unusual water characteristics like bad pH.

I'm leaning toward Furd's thought that something with these particular elements are defective, however they've been through multiple tanks and multiple elements. It would be terrible luck to get two lemons in a row, but it is possible.

It wouldn't hurt to get a good chemical analysis of the water just as another avenue of investigation. There are many independent places that will do this online/through the mail for a reasonable price. A local water treatment company will usually do it for free, but they are going to find something in that report to try to sell you a system so I don't trust those.

See if you can verify the hot and cold plumbing in the house is plastic or metal. A picture of the whole hot water tank area would help. A picture of the area near the water meter if you have access to it would help too.
 
  #12  
Old 04-15-15, 01:20 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
Thanks to everyone for suggesting various possibilities. I'm currently at work, but will take some pictures of the tank and the area near the water meter and post them tonight.
 
  #13  
Old 04-15-15, 02:14 PM
Member
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 1,147
This is not going to be an electrical service problem. When the new water heaters are first powered up, are they completely full of water?
 
  #14  
Old 04-15-15, 08:29 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
As requested, I've attached pictures showing the hot water tank and the water meter. (Sorry It took so long to post these, but I was busy finishing up doing my in-laws taxes after I got home from work.)


This picture shows the top of the tank.
Name:  hot water tank 1.jpg
Views: 137
Size:  23.0 KB


This one shows the pipes coming out of/going into the wall.
Name:  hot water tank 2.jpg
Views: 156
Size:  18.6 KB


This shows the electrical connection to the top of the tank. (The yellow and black object on the upper left is a light I set on top of the tank.)
Name:  hot water tank 3.jpg
Views: 155
Size:  11.2 KB


This is the water meter which is out near the alley which runs behind our townhouse. I don't see a meter with numbers on it, but the access door attached to the housing which covers it is labelled "water meter" so I guess that's what it is. (The large black object in the foreground is a flashlight.)
Name:  20150415_195003.jpg
Views: 109
Size:  31.7 KB

Thanks again for all the input.

Jim
 
  #15  
Old 04-15-15, 09:36 PM
ray2047's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 32,646
Just for the record as your picture shows you have copper piping.
 
  #16  
Old 04-16-15, 08:39 AM
Member
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 81
How do you get to the anode rod in that confined space on top?
 
  #17  
Old 04-16-15, 11:28 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
PJmax
Usually when you have a scalding hot water problem it's directly related to a defective element. What happen is that the element operates on 240vac. When the element is shut off one leg of the 240v is still connected. The element thru an internal leak connects from the live leg thru the water or to the metal element and continues heating.

You may need to look into a different anode for your tank if this is a repetitive problem. The thermostats very rarely go bad.

Regarding the anode rod, I didn't know what an anode is but found out by Googling it. Are you saying that the repeated failures of the heating elements are going to cause the anode to go bad? If so, I think that is going to be a problem for me because as patmurphey pointed out it's a confined space with little room above the tank to remove and replace the anode.

Jim
 
  #18  
Old 04-16-15, 11:38 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
Keith Weagle
Have you tried contacting Rheem? The tank should be under warranty. I see no reason why a properly functioning tank would do this. The only thing worth checking is that you are getting 240V to the tank. But even if it is not wired up right, it should not cause this type of problem.
I haven't contacted Rheem yet, but it's on my To Do list.

Keith Weagle
Definitely sounds like an element/thermostat issue. I assume you or your plumber have already turned down the thermostats for both elements?
I don't think that they have been turned down. I think we keep them at a relatively low temperature. How would turning them down help?

Jim
 
  #19  
Old 04-16-15, 12:13 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Nova Scotia
Posts: 750
Turning down the thermostats should have been the very first thing that was done. There should be one for each element. They control the temp of the water in the tank. If it is way too hot now, turn them both down as low as they can go and see if it makes a difference. It may take a day or so to notice the change.
 
  #20  
Old 04-16-15, 01:21 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
Keith Weagle
Turning down the thermostats should have been the very first thing that was done. There should be one for each element. They control the temp of the water in the tank. If it is way too hot now, turn them both down as low as they can go and see if it makes a difference. It may take a day or so to notice the change.
The temperature is fine now. It only gets scalding hot when the heating element(s) go bad.

Jim
 
  #21  
Old 04-16-15, 01:43 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 57
I suggest that you contact the Rheem engineering department and let them know of your problems, they may have some important insight that never makes it to either the sales or warranty departments. .
Thanks for the suggestion. Since the problem didn't start until I replaced the original hot water tank, I wonder if maybe there is something about the Rheem tank that was poorly designed. Not long ago I had a GE refrigerator with a part that failed twice. The second time I replaced the part it was different. I was told that the part failed so often that GE redesigned it.
 
Reply

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Display Modes
'