Diagnosing Circuit Breaker Problems
LESLIE: Randy in Roswell, New Mexico. That’s right, Area 51. (chuckling) Your circuit breaker keeps going out. Are you sure it’s not the aliens?
RANDY: Oh, it could be.
LESLIE: (chuckling) What’s going on? Tell us when it happens.
RANDY: I have – it’s actually a circuit breaker on an electric water heater. And it’s about two years old – the water heater is – and it’s got the two electrical heating elements on it.
RANDY: And on the top – on the top heating element, it’s got a little circuit breaker tied to it. And that – and I – and it keeps popping all the time, kind of randomly. So I changed that breaker, which that didn’t change anything. It still just kind of pops whenever it wants. Some days it will pop everyday and then sometimes it will go three, four days before that breaker pops out. And I – no rhyme or reason to it.
TOM: Well, have you considered the fact that the circuit breaker could be doing exactly what it’s intended to do? Which is to protect the unit from overheating or protect the wiring from overheating.
RANDY: Yeah, that’s what I thought it might be.
TOM: Right. So we need to figure out why that’s happening and it’s probably in – you said this is a circuit breaker that’s built into the heating element?
RANDY: Yeah, it is.
TOM: Alright. Have you ever put an amprobe on the wires that are feeding the water heater to see how much power they’re pulling?
RANDY: No, I have not.
LESLIE: Because maybe it’s surging every so often. It could be something with your power provider.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Yeah, that might be a good place to start.
The other thing that you can do is – it may be the control circuit inside the water heater itself. Have you replaced the bottom coil as well?
RANDY: I haven’t actually replaced the elements themselves. I just replaced that breaker.
TOM: Oh, well now we’re getting somewhere. You might want to think about replacing the elements. Because if the elements aren’t performing properly, it could be pulling more power than it needs to.
RANDY: Oh, OK.
TOM: Yeah, that’s what I mean. The breaker’s probably doing what it what it’s supposed to do and that’s to stop the thing from catching fire. I would replace the elements. That’s probably going to fix the problem.
Randy, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974.