Electric water heaters
One of the most underappreciated home appliances is the water heater. We seldom give them a second thought until we take our first (unplanned) cold shower.
If you are considering a new water heater because the current one is not working properly, there are a few things to consider first. It is my opinion that in most cases, unless it is leaking, your water heater can be fixed for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new one.
The oldest water heater in PKW is probably about 12 years old. This is about the time that some of the parts may start to fail. In this article I will discuss: recirculation pumps, reset buttons, thermostats, and heating elements.
Recirculation Pump (see photo at bottom of page)
In theory, this pump provides instant hot water to the farthest sink or shower. It is my opinion that it is not needed for most of our homes. I have unplugged mine.
These pumps are advertised to work for 15-20 years. I have heard several reports the pumps not working in our neighborhood after 3-5 years. It will cost $200-400 for a new pump.
I did notice that the pipe on my water heater leading to the RP was corroded. Eventually it started to leak. The cause of the failure was “galvanic corrosion.” An electro-chemical reaction to two dissimilar metals being joined without using a “dielectric nipple”. Basically, the plumber who installed the water heater connected a copper pipe directly to a galvanized pipe. This may be an anomaly in our community, but is easy to check. (see photos)
No hot water
The first thing to check is the breaker switch for the water heater. This is usually located in the back of the garage.
If it is not tripped already, you will want to turn it off for the next step.
This red button is located on the upper thermostat (see photos). If you push on it and it clicks, then it means that it had been tripped. Resetting it should turn your HWH back on.
But what caused it to trip? Possible causes are: a bad thermostat, shorted heating element, or loose wiring.
If you do reset the button without identifying any problem, be careful. You may have scalding hot water in a few hours.
The thermostat controls the operation of the heating elements, keeping your water at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When this fails, the water heats uncontrollably. The reset button on the thermostat kick out, automatically turning off the water heater when it reaches 180 degrees F.
The links below will walk you through how to test and replace your thermostat. I am not a plumber or an electrician and I found the process fairly easy. You can get the upper and lower thermostats for $14 and $9 respectively at Home Depot.
If the thermostats are working properly and the reset button trips, you may have an element that is shorting out. If you suspect this, make sure the breakers for the WH are turned off, then test the elements.
If the reset button and the breakers have not been triggered and your water is warm, you possibly have one element that is bad. If you are not sure which one, I think it is best to replace both.Home depot sells a WH tune-up kit that includes two elements and both thermostats for about $28.
To replace the elements, you will have to drain the tank. The above link will walk you through the process.
I replaced both of my thermostats, but not the elements, and so far I have hot water at 120 degrees.