Electric water heater barely working


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Old 10-02-15, 03:55 PM
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Electric water heater barely working

My main water heater is damaged, but the previous owner left an electric water heater hooked up to 2 of the bathrooms. So I turned its breaker on. I ran the hot water taps in those bathrooms until the water turned hot. Then I thought it was working, so I told the tenants they had hot water again. Then I went to take a shower in the other bathroom. Except there's no hot water again. When I run the tap for about 2 minutes, the water turns lukewarm for a few seconds, then turns cold again. A couple of times it turned almost hot for less than 5 seconds before turning cold again. Why is this happening? The pipes running from that tank along the basement ceiling are hot, so why is the water cold when it gets upstairs?
 
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Old 10-02-15, 05:03 PM
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How big is the tank? And how long did you wait after turning on the breaker before trying to shower? It can take quite a while for an electric tank to heat a full tank of cold water.
 
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Old 10-02-15, 05:13 PM
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If there are two (2) heating elements in the tank, the prior owner may have de-activated one of them , usually the bottom one (for economy); but you could just have an element which is burned out, and it may be the top one which is kaput . . . . leaving the bottom element to heat the whole tank from the bottom up.
 
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Old 10-02-15, 05:38 PM
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It's a normal sized tank. We're talking hours between me turning it on and finally getting around to trying to use the water. I checked it right away, then checked it half an hour later and an hour later. I just tried it again. Ran the hot water tap to see if it was working, eventually hot water started running out, so I went back upstairs to get my stuff, came back down within 15 minutes, turned on the tap, and it was only lukewarm, then it got cold.

"If there are two (2) heating elements in the tank, the prior owner may have de-activated one of them , usually the bottom one (for economy); but you could just have an element which is burned out, and it may be the top one which is kaput . . . . leaving the bottom element to heat the whole tank from the bottom up."

What do I look for to see if an element is burned out? Because that's entirely possible. I've been here for a year and a half, but I haven't maintained that water heater or used it.

Is it supposed to be making sound? Because I don't hear anything. There is definitely power and water getting to it, but it's totally silent. My oil water heater makes a lot of noise when it's heating water, but this one isn't making any noise.
 
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Old 10-02-15, 06:26 PM
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Pretty easy to test if you have a multimeter. Here's a pretty good guide: DIY Hot Water Heater Repair | The Family Handyman

That article also talks about resetting the high temp cutoff, which might help in your case too.
 
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Old 10-02-15, 07:03 PM
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If the top element is out..... the tank will never heat. The top thermostat needs to be satisfied before it hands off to the bottom stat and element.

It's not the high temp cutoff either as that control must be manually reset.

Turn off the power to the heater.
Remove both wires from the top and bottom elements.
Check across the terminals of each element. You should see anywhere from 10-20 ohms.
Now check from each terminal to ground. There should be no continuity seen here.

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Old 10-02-15, 08:11 PM
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An all electric water heater may make a soft hissing sound when heating is going on or may be completely silent.

Oil water heaters make a lot of noise, mainly from the oil flame, literally a roaring fire.
 
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Old 10-02-15, 08:30 PM
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I think I have a multimeter somewhere, but it might take all day to find it. We've had flooding. That's why I'm having these problems and I don't know where some of my tools are right now. It's already going to take several trips to Home Depot tomorrow so I want to try and save some time. I happen to have 2 vintage millameters sitting here in front of me, would they do the same thing? I'm not sure how to use them though...
 
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Old 10-02-15, 08:58 PM
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Those meters are used for current (amperage) measurements. Won't be too helpful here.

You need a basic VOM. Even a $10-15 analog model from the Depot would work fine.
 
 

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