Continuity in Upper Heating Element, But No Warm Water


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Old 12-11-18, 09:03 AM
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Continuity in Upper Heating Element, But No Warm Water

First off, I know it's time for a new water heater. We are planning to get one, but it may take a bit of time before we can get it installed.

Our electric water heater is the standard type with an upper and a lower heating element. We had a heating element failure about 7 months ago where the hot water didn't last as long. Therefore, I replaced both elements and everything was good to go.

Recently, we noticed there is now no hot water at all. We checked the circuit breaker and the one to the water heater was tripped. I flipped it off and back on, but still nothing. I checked the red reset button, but it had not been tripped. I checked that electricity was arriving to the heater with a no contact pen and indeed it was.

I flipped the switch to cut electricity to the heater and checked each element for continuity with a multimeter. The top element has continuity. The lower element does not. Therefore, I know that the lower heating element is bad.

This is where my question comes in. I thought we should still get SOME warm water with only the upper heating element functioning. I'm confused as to why there is no warm water whatsoever with only the bottom element failed. I was hoping we would be able to at least get a bit of warm water from the upper element until we get the whole thing replaced, but we are getting nothing. I had quite an invigorating shower this morning.

I've searched the internet high and low and everything seems to indicate there should be SOME warm water with a functioning upper element since it is the one that kicks on first. Any thoughts?
 
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Old 12-11-18, 09:08 AM
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How do you know the upper element is functioning ?
You checked for continuity.
Now you need to verify with a meter that there is 240vAC on the element.
 
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Old 12-11-18, 09:33 AM
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Will do that when I get home. Just seems odd that both the lower and upper elements would fail at the same time after both being replaced 5 months ago. I did verify electricity to the upper element with the no contact tester, but not specifically that it was 240vAC.

I'm assuming the lower element has failed due to excessive sediment buildup. Unfortunately, it appears the previous owners of our house didn't regularly drain the tank. We are on well and have very hard water. When I replaced the elements two months ago, I couldn't drain the water through the valve at the bottom since it was clogged. It took a lot of buckets and towels to get all that water (and sediment) cleaned up when it all came out the lower element slot.

When I replace it (SOON), planning to siphon all the water out through the cold water intake since I'm pretty sure there is enough build up that it will never come out of the drain valve.
 
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Old 12-11-18, 11:13 AM
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I did verify electricity to the upper element with the no contact tester, but not specifically that it was 240vAC.

Your problem could be something as simple as a bad breaker or bad thermostat. It takes a meter to troubleshoot the problem, but the real problem I see is the build up of sediment which probably has caused the bottom element to burn up. The sediment needs to be cleaned out, the alternative is a new water heater.
 
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Old 12-11-18, 11:22 AM
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Thanks! Definitely getting a new heater, but the plumbers around here all seem to be booked for quite a while... so hoping to limp to the replacement date with at least warm water from the upper element. I don't think it's a bad breaker because the no contact pen shows me power to the upper element when the breaker is turned on. It doesn't show power when the breaker is off. This also leads me to assume I'm getting the proper power to that upper element.

I will test the voltage to the upper element when I get home. Assuming I'm getting 240v to the upper element, wouldn't this indicate the upper thermostat is also working properly?

It seems that would only suggest both the upper and lower element are bad. I already know the lower element is bad due to no continuity, but am getting continuity on the upper element. Like I said earlier, it would seem odd to me that both would go at that same time considering I replaced each of them 5 months ago. I can see the lower one going due to the sediment, but am puzzled on the upper one.
 
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Old 12-11-18, 12:14 PM
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The upper thermostat can fail in a couple ways. It can totally die which is easy to diagnose. It can also control the upper element but fail to send power to the lower thermostat when needed.
 
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Old 12-11-18, 02:28 PM
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You need 240v on the element for it to heat. Your non contact tester would show power even if one leg was dead. Start with troubleshooting the upper element circuit. The lower one will not come on until the top one is satisfied and the thermostat shifts to the lower one.
 
 

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