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Why Is My Water Heater Tripping the Breaker?

an electric water heater

It can be incredibly frustrating when your water heater keeps tripping the breaker, especially when you need to prepare for the day. If you’re dealing with this problem, here are the most probable causes and how to troubleshoot them.

It’s always best to let a professional take over to fix issues with your water heater. A plumbing professional has the tools and expertise to solve any water heater issue and will have your unit running properly again.

What To Do When Your Water Heater Keeps Tripping the Breaker

If your water heater keeps tripping the breaker, constantly resetting it will not solve the problem. Instead, consider it a sign that it needs fixing or replacing.

Here are the most common reasons behind this issue and how homeowners can address them. Even if you’re confident in your DIY plumbing skills, you’ll need the help of a professional for most of these situations.

Burnt-Out Heating Element

A burnt-out heating element can have two effects. It can cause the water heater to consume more power or expose the heating element to moisture. Either way, the result is a breaker that constantly trips. You’ll also notice that your showers aren’t as hot as they used to be.

If your water heater is nearing the end of its lifetime, it’s time to consider buying a new one. Installing a replacement is complicated, so let a licensed plumber take over. The plumber knows how to handle the electrical work.

Malfunctioning Thermostat

Most water heaters have two thermostats that control the water heater’s temperature to prevent scalding and pressure buildup. If these components malfunction, they can trigger both water heating elements to turn on simultaneously, causing the water heater to use up more power than necessary. That could explain why the breaker always trips.

Water Leaks

Water leaks can develop around your water heater if the pressure relief valve comes loose or the tank has cracks and holes. If the tank’s internal wiring comes in contact with water, the breaker might short-circuit and trip. Shut off the breaker immediately if you see moisture around your water heater.

While the solution might be as simple as replacing the pressure relief valve, don’t attempt to do this yourself. Water leaks and electrical issues are never a good mix, so let a professional plumber handle it.

Faulty Water Heater

The issue might be that your water heater needs to be updated. It could have faulty wiring inside that’s tripping the breaker. The average life of a water heater is between 8 and 12 years, so you might need to replace your water heater if it’s older than that.

While you can ask a licensed plumber to fix your water heater’s issues, they might suggest getting a new unit entirely. This actually might be the more cost-effective solution.

Faulty Wiring

Your water heater’s faulty internal wiring might be causing the breaker to trip, but there’s also a chance the water heater isn’t to blame. Your home might have wiring issues, or the electrical circuit might be overloaded, tripping the breaker regardless of what the water heater is doing.

If you notice signs like flickering lights, discolored switches or outlets or tripping breakers, call in a licensed electrician to investigate. The electrician might have to upgrade the wiring in your home to solve the electrical issue.

Malfunctioning Circuit Breaker

Your water heater might not be the culprit behind the tripping breaker. The circuit breaker itself might be the problem, which is likely if it’s older than 25 years. It’s also possible that the circuit breaker has tripped more than five cycles, which exceeds its limit. Outdated circuit breakers tend to develop more issues down the line.

If your old circuit breaker is failing, it’s time to have a professional install a replacement. The electrician will fix the electrical issues in your home and ensure the new circuit breaker works.

The best way to prevent water heater issues is to schedule regular maintenance with a pro. A licensed plumber will ensure your unit is in tip-top shape and take preventative measures to extend its lifespan.

a shower

Symptoms of a Bad Thermostat on a Water Heater

The thermostat is essential to your water heater, regulating the water temperature inside the tank. Most electric water heaters have two thermostats, each playing a part in maintaining the correct water temperature. The thermostat at the top of the tank controls the overall temperature, while the one below ensures the water at the bottom stays hot.

As with any water heater component, the thermostats can eventually malfunction and cause problems for homeowners. These signs will tell you that it’s time for a replacement.

No Hot Water

Your water heater has one job: to ensure you have hot water every day. If you’ve been dreading hopping in the shower lately because the hot water runs out too quickly, that could be a sign the thermostats are failing.

Inconsistent Temperature

If you’re enjoying hot water one second only to be freezing the next, one of the thermostats isn’t working. You shouldn’t be the one to keep adjusting the water heater’s dial because it’s the thermostat’s job to keep the water temperature consistent.

Soaring Electricity Bills

If your water heater’s thermostats are not working, your wallet will feel it, too. Malfunctioning thermostats cause the heating elements to work harder than necessary because they don’t know when to stop. That means higher energy consumption and utility bills.

Water Leaks

If your thermostats are faulty, they can’t shut off the heating elements when needed. This leads to pressure buildup and overheating inside the tank, causing water leaks around the water heater.

Strange Sounds

If your water heater is popping, hissing or making other peculiar sounds, the thermostats may be faulty. If the thermostats can’t regulate the temperature, minerals will build up on the heating elements, causing strange noises from your water heater.

Troubleshooting Faulty Thermostats

If you notice any of these signs, there are a couple of things you can do to address the issue. First, check the circuit breaker to ensure the water heater has power. If there are no power issues, you can reset the thermostats. If that doesn’t solve the problem, call in a licensed plumber.

The best solution is to contact a licensed plumber if you don’t want to stress yourself out. The plumber will test your water heater’s thermostats and perform the necessary repairs or replacements if they are not working.

an electric water heater

Where Is the Thermostat on a Water Heater?

All homeowners are bound to experience water heater issues at some point. Knowing where the thermostats are can help you troubleshoot these problems.

If you have a gas water heater, the assembly that contains the thermostat is near the bottom of the water heater’s exterior. You’ll also find the controls for the pilot light and water temperature there. Meanwhile, electric water heaters typically have two thermostats, one at the top and one at the bottom of the tank.

When they have water heater problems, homeowners can check their thermostats with a multimeter if they have one. However, replacing them requires the expertise of a licensed plumber. This professional will first check the existing thermostats and determine if new ones are needed. After installing new thermostats, the plumber can adjust the water heater’s temperature according to your preference.

Get Professional Help to Solve Your Water Heater Woes

Water heaters make our lives much more comfortable. We get to warm up with a hot shower on cold mornings and destress with a warm bath after a stressful day. But sometimes they can cause trouble.

Your water heater’s internal wiring and components can develop issues with age, causing the unit to malfunction. It might keep tripping the breaker or surprise you with water that’s too hot or cold. If you’re not confident in your DIY skills, don’t worry. A licensed plumber can perform the necessary repairs or replacements. You can trust a plumber to do the job well, whether they are replacing the thermostats or installing new heating elements.

Schedule regular maintenance with a licensed plumber to prevent problems and get the most out of your water heater. The plumber will ensure your unit works efficiently and resolve issues before they snowball into more expensive complications.

ABC Can Help With All Your Water Heater Service Needs

Water heater problems can cause large disruptions in your day-to-day life. If you’re experiencing issues, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed professionals will efficiently fix any water heater issues you may be having.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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