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[SOLVED] Electric Water Heater Help

11054 Views 9 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  BenEboY
Hello everyone. I know I'm going to sound like a complete horses butt here and you guys will probably be thinking, "What the heck is this guy trying to do this himself for?"

Nonetheless, I am attempting to repair my electric water heater myself and I'm running into problem after problem. This is going to be a real long post because I am going to be as detailed as possible since I don't really know what I'm doing or what information you guys will need to be able to assist me.

For the past month or so it seems like the hot water hasn't been lasting very long. Until the day before yesterday that is, when I lost hot water all together. I went to the basement and checked the breaker box first and found that the 30 amp breaker for the water heater was tripped. I reset it and figured in an hour or so I would have hot water. I couldn't have been more wrong. Two days later and I still don't have any hot water.

After scowling through forum after forum online, the best I could come up with is a bad element. Well, there is two of them. A little more research told me that most times it is the bottom one that goes out because of hard water and lime build up and stuff. Most forums, however, recommend changing both just to be safe.

Well, without boring you too much with all my troubles, I have recently fallen into a real financial hardship. (Hence me trying to fix this thing myself.) I could barely afford one element.

I mistakenly bought a 5500 watt element but the original is 4500 watts. If the information that I've read online is correct and if I'm understanding it correctly, this should be fine because it only draws 23 amps and I have a 30 amp breaker. Apparently both elements never run at the same time so my biggest draw will be 23 amps.

So, question number 1.) Is that true? Can I use a 5500 watt element?

My uncle was here yesterday and he used to work maintenance at an apartment complex called Miami Hills where he changed many water heaters.

The trouble is he is lazy and I can't count on him for help. He started to drain the tank for me yesterday but said he was going to have to come back with a tool to remove the old element and that he went ahead and turned the water back on so that I had at least cold water until he could return today.

Well shock and awe he stood me up so I'm back to trying to fix it myself. He did at least say I could come pick up the tool needed to change the element. When I picked up the tool he gave me the quick step by step on what to do and he mentioned I would have to shut off the power, then drain the tank again.

So after shutting the power off I turned one of the valves coming out of the top of the water heater thinking that would shut the water off so I could drain the tank again and water shot out of the valve like a spring! He had left the bottom panel off and I'm worried water got in there on those wires. I remember reading this had to stay completely dry. Of course I immediately turned the valve back the other way and just ended up shutting the main water valve off by the meter. This brings me to my second question.

2.)If those wires or anything in that panel got wet will that cause any permanent damage to the heater? (I was afraid to feel in there in case it was wet and had some kind of residual electricity or something... I don't much care for electricity.)

Anyways, I noticed he still had a hose attached to the bottom valve so I spun it open and to my surprise no water came out. I then gave the water heater a little push trying to determine if there was any water in it or not and it didn't appear as though there was.

I then turned on the main water valve again and right away heard water spraying out of the hose so I immediately shut it off again.

3.)Is there an explanation for the tank already being empty? I know he turned the valve back on because several times today when I washed my hands I accidentally turned on the hot water faucet out of habit and water came out.

One last thing I think I should point out is that when I was doing my research online it seemed like bad elements caused the breaker to trip repeatedly. This was not the case with my heater. It tripped the first time but after that it hasn't tripped again, I just can't get any hot water...

Again, I know I am a complete newb at this and probably don't have any business attempting the repair alone but I build computers, websites, and have replaced 3 car engines for crying out loud. I should be able to handle this.

I appreciate any advice you guys can give me and thanks in advance for taking the time to read my crazy long post.
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Re: Electric Water Heater Help

So I think I am just going to take my chances and try swapping out that bottom element with the larger 5500 watt element and hope it's compatible and that there wasn't any permanent damage to the inside of that panel where the thermostat sits. Wish me luck...
Re: Electric Water Heater Help

So now I am really confused. I just loosened the bottom element and I can hear water moving around in there now. It don't sound like just a little bit of water either.

Could there be air in the tank somehow? I'm just not understanding the logic here and I don't do well if it doesn't make sense to me...
Re: Electric Water Heater Help

So for anyone reading this who may be interested, there was definitely still water in the tank. Obviously it wasn't full or when I gave it a shove it wouldn't have moved so easily.

I think the hose my uncle had hooked up to the drain spout is for a washing machine or something. It almost looks like a hydraulic hose and he had it pushed on the drain so far that the rubber o'ring or seal or whatever I think was stopping the flow and not allowing it to drain.

I removed the hose and watched it drain on my boots for about 10 seconds before I realized it wasn't going to stop anytime soon so I hooked the hose back up but didn't put it on nearly as tight.

The water heater is draining right now so at least that makes some sort of sense to me and that's one problem down.

I'm still not entirely sure that the 5500 watt element will work or if there could be any permanent damage if those wires got wet but I will keep you guys posted.
Re: Electric Water Heater Help

Well I feel a little crazy here like I'm just talking to myself but I got the bottom element out and that is definitely bad. It had white stuff all over it and like small rocks or pebbles or something.

Is that going to be a problem for the new element?

Also, in addition to the new element being 1000 watts stronger than the old one, it's also a different shape. The one that came out is real long and just makes like a big horse shoe or u-turn.

The new one is sort of the same design but folded in half if you know what I mean. In addition to the horseshoe shape it like doubles over so when looked at in a certain angle it almost looks like there are 4 copper lines instead of the 2. (Really there are just 2 but as I said the new one is folded over.)

Does that matter?

Can anyone tell me if I'm going to burn my house down by using the higher watt element?

Please help.
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Re: Electric Water Heater Help

Okay, so I'm going to stick the 5500 watt element in there and see what happens. If you guys don't hear back from me within about a half an hour then it's safe to assume that I caught on fire or spontaneously com-busted or something like that...

Wish me luck LOL
Re: Electric Water Heater Help

Now I stripped out the nut on the heating element so I think I'm just going to call it a night. At least I didn't catch myself on fire or burn the house down though. Hopefully I can just get the right element tomorrow and be more careful screwing it in OR worst case scenario I suppose I could have actually stripped the threads in the hole that the element sits in on the water heater itself. If that's the case then I really am screwed.
Re: Electric Water Heater Help

Thanks for the reply SABL and yes it has been very traumatic. I just went down and started draining the tank again and noticed that it's a 40 gallon Richmond water heater model LG40EX or something like that. I didn't have a pen and paper on me but I can get the model number back to you on my next post.

The wire coming out of the top of the heater is definitely big. I mean, I didn't disconnect it and count strands or anything but I would bet it's at least 10 gauge maybe even 8 (if they make 8 gauge wire for water heaters even.)

I'm still unsure as to whether or I stripped out the replacement element as of yet but I am soon to find out.

I mentioned earlier that I have a tool for this job but that's not entirely accurate. My uncle lent me a 1 1/2" socket but I don't have a large enough ratchet for it. Therefore I am using a pipe wrench attached to the socket which is making it difficult for me to tell how tight I am actually getting it.

Which is more likely, stripping out the replacement element or stripping out the threaded hole on the water heater itself? I mean is one made of steel and the other aluminum or something or is it just not going to be that simple to tell?

Also, with my rigged up tool and lack of teflon tape, do you think maybe I just needed a better seal and nothing got stripped at all?

I will definitely take your advice with the wire brush thing because I did notice a lot of crud around that hole when I was putting the new element in. I used my finger and I think I knocked most of it away but I like the idea of the brush better to be sure.

Thanks again for all your help. You don't even know how much I appreciate it man!
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Re: Electric Water Heater Help

Hey SABL. I just wanted to let you know that I went and exchanged that quick recovery element for the standard one with the correct wattage. I can't believe the lady at Lowe's took it back but bless her heart because another $15 bucks would have put the squeeze on me.

Anyways, I put some teflon on the threads and used a wire brush to really clean out the threaded hole good this time. I was careful not to brush across the threads as you suggested.

When I was re-installing the new one, I carefully lined up the threads and was able to spin it on by hand a few turns before needing the tool. Once I started using my "rigged water heater wrench" I took my time and made sure every spin was actually tightening it that way I could kind of keep track of how tight it was actually getting.

Then I plugged in the wires, turned the water back on, waited for about 5 minues and then ran the hot water upstairs until I was sure the tank was full.

Next I went back downstairs and flipped the breaker giving the unit power again and 35 minutes later I had warm water! (Okay it was more of a luke warm temperature than anything but compared to the ICE WATER that I have been used to for the past 3 days it was amazing!

Thanks for your words of wisdom and I just wanted to say... MAN I LOVE THIS FORUM!
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