Water Heater Tripping Breaker - Why?


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Old 11-17-13, 06:38 PM
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Water Heater Tripping Breaker - Why?

Hi All,

Wife and I just moved into a 100+ year old home 2 months ago. The previous owners had recently (6 months ago) installed a brand new electric water heater in the cellar, GE SE50T12AAH. Had no issues the first couple of months, but suddenly, last week, we had no hot water. A couple of notes:

- Checked amps on breaker and have proper capacity - 30 amps.
- Checked top and bottom panels a few days ago. Reset button pushed in indicating unit was reset.
- No signs of burnt wires
- Some signs of water dripping from bottom of heater
- No signs of water in the panels, top or bottom

I reset the breaker, and my wife and I left for the weekend. We returned tonight and the breaker was tripped again. I went back downstairs after turning off the power to the heater, opened up the top panel and check the rest switch. Nothing wrong with it. No signs of burning on wires.

Opened bottom panel and immediately noticed the insulation was wet on the bottom half and showing rust coloration.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed a lot of brown guck at the bottom of the panel (see photo below.) I'm almost 100% certain it's rust.

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Guess I'm wondering if that is exactly what it is, and what my next steps should be. The unit was purchased in April 2013, so it is 6 months old and certainly shouldn't be leaking.

THANK YOU!
 
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Old 11-17-13, 08:08 PM
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It sure looks like rust. Evidently there is a small leak somewhere, have you found where the water might be leaking from the tank. Do you have any testing equipment such as a multimeter and an amprobe (snap around amp meter)? If you have no test equipment, you'll probably need to call a plumber for service. Some small shop electricians also work on electric water heaters.
 
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Old 11-18-13, 05:55 AM
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Unfortunately I don't have any testing equipment. I've put in a request with GE to send over a technician but was hoping to figure out exactly what the cause could be and confirm that it is rust. Thanks so much for your response!

My best guess is that the leak is from the drain valve at the bottom of the tank since the moisture and rust was only visible on the lower half of the bottom panel and I have seen a few drops of water coming from the drain valve as well as the bottom of the tank. I have not seen water dripping/leaking from any other piping.

Since GE only covers manufacturing defects, is there any chance this could be due to user error/improper installation? Since it's only 7 months old it seems like it shouldn't be broken/leaking this early.
 
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Old 11-18-13, 06:50 AM
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Since GE only covers manufacturing defects, is there any chance this could be due to user error/improper installation? Since it's only 7 months old it seems like it shouldn't be broken/leaking this early.
I doubt as the user that you could have done anything to cause this nor do I believe the installer could have caused it, but proper installation will be determined by the service technician. Proper installation also involves the proper water pressure range and probably also includes a thermal expansion tank so I would expect an inspection of your pressure reducing valve, if you have one, and a test of water pressure to be part of the technician's visit. There is obviously a leak and I am reasonably confident the technician can find it. That being said, I have never seen a slight leak like you have trip a 30 amp breaker; there is something else going on here too. In case you haven't found it, here is your 12 year warranty.

http://www.homedepot.com/catalog/pdf...d317acb564.pdf

It appears to me that the service call may be fully covered by the warranty. By the way, GE hasn't manufactured water heaters in many many years. Your unit is manufactured by Rheem who has licensed the GE name for these water heaters to be sold at Home Depot. Scroll down to the bottom of the warranty and you'll see Rheem's contact information.
 
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Old 11-20-13, 12:37 PM
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Thanks so much for the response, CasualJoe.

The plumber came out today and replaced the lower element, which had burnt out. After he left, I took a look at the element and am wondering what the heck could have caused it to look like it does.

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It looks like it literally rusted away completely. Also worrisome is that he showed me the service history on the water heaters in the home, and in the past two years, there have been 6 services including a replacement of the heater 7 months ago. He confirmed there is no electrical issue with the hook-up and that he's seen cellars that are much damper and in much worse condition, so said it shouldn't be a damp old cellar causing the issue either.

Does this look normal for a damaged element? Or is something funky going on here? Hoping I can maybe isolate why the water heaters have had so many issues here.

Thanks!!
 
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Old 11-20-13, 01:56 PM
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I assume your service call was covered by warranty. Do you have well water or water from a municipal or city system? If city water, there is a problem that a water softener may help. Turning the temperature way high on an electric heater will also cause premature element failure. When Lawrosa checks in, he may have some advice for you, he is a pretty experienced plumber.
 
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Old 11-20-13, 03:11 PM
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Thanks, CasualJoe!

Yeah, it was covered by warranty, luckily. He explained that he thought I was pretty lucky given that there have been 6 warranty calls in the past 2 years. Definitely something weird going on.

To answer your questions:
  • I'm on well water and recently replaced the filter that the previous owners had on the water line. Not sure how long it had been since that was replaced.
  • Temperature is set between 125 and 150 - about 135, I'd guess. Same on bottom and top panel.

Any ideas given that info?

Thanks again!
 
 

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