Electric Elements - Stainless Steel vs Copper


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Old 04-06-08, 04:54 PM
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Electric Elements - Stainless Steel vs Copper

What are the differences in performance between stainless steel and copper electric water heater elements? I noticed that the Whirlpool 40 gal 12 year has stainless, the 9 year has one stainless and one copper and the 6 year has two copper elements. Is this a significant quality difference or merely something to distinguish the 3 models?

I had a plumber tell me that electric water heaters were pretty simple and pretty much all the same. He said that the tank warranty was just a matter of preference but that the water heaters were really identical. Anyone have a different opinion? How much more would you pay for a 12 yr warranty instead of a 6 yr? $75?

BTW: I'm on well water and drain my water heater every year, if those facts have any bearing on the decision.
 
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Old 04-06-08, 08:09 PM
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I never really thought about any difference between stainless steel elements and copper elements. Now that I have, I think the SS elements are more for use in a situation where the water is corrosive to copper.

As for the guarantee issue, most of the people that I have known that should know about these things state that there is no difference in the tank itself. More expensive heaters may have more insulation and maybe different elements but the biggest factor in the higher price is just to cover the manufacturer in the not-so-common cases when a tank leaks according to warranty provisions during the warranty period.

Remember that most water heater warranties are for replacement only during the first year and are pro-rated thereafter for the remainder of the warranty term. What that means is that if your heater had a ten-year warranty and it leaked during the ninth year you would receive a warranty settlement of 1/10 the cost of a new, similar water heater.

Myself, I'd probably buy the lower cost (shorter warranty) heater and do just as you do in flushing the heater at least once a year. If the well water was high in mineral content (hard water) I would probably flush it more than once a year and maybe even remove the elements to check them for scaling.
 
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Old 04-06-08, 09:03 PM
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Zinc (galvanized steel tanks) and copper are both "noble" metals and will not corrode much, however, copper will accelerate corrosion in zinc (and steel) even when separated by water, by "dissimilar metal corrosion". On the other hand, most stainless steels, being relatively "passive" with regards to other metals, will not react in this way.

The core of an element is (non-stainless) steel, I believe, so there may be a problem there too.

In short, stainless steel is no better in itself, but at least it does not cause corrosion in other heater components.
 
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Old 04-08-08, 02:22 PM
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Water Heater Warranty & Tanks

Originally Posted by furd
Remember that most water heater warranties are for replacement only during the first year and are pro-rated thereafter for the remainder of the warranty term.
I checked with Whirlpool and at least their warranty covers a complete new tank during the warranty period. Of course, they don't cover installation costs. They also agreed that all the tanks & anodes were the same - only elements, amount of insulation and of course warranty period were different.

BTW, we took your advice and went with the 6 yr tanks. This decision was also because the 9 and 12 year electric Whirlpool water heaters have an electronic module that requires constant power - we have our water heaters on timers so that wouldn't work. Plus, electronic module = 1 more thing to go wrong!
 
 

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