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Water Heater Reset Button Keeps Popping

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Hopefully we can help Pam in Wisconsin decipher a water-heating mystery.

    What’s happening, Pam?

    PAM: I have a 52-gallon hot water heater with two heating elements and the reset button keeps popping out at the most inopportune time.

    TOM: (laughs) It’s never convenient when the water turns from hot to cold.

    PAM: No.

    TOM: How old is your water heater?

    PAM: Maybe 15?

    TOM: Yeah, well that’s pretty old for a water heater.

    LESLIE: They usually last about 10 years.

    TOM: Yeah, 10 to 15 years. Electric water heater 10 to 15 years old, you know, it’s quite old. Now the reset, is that on the element itself or are you talking about the circuit breaker?

    PAM: It’s on the element.

    TOM: It sounds to me like you have a bad element in there that’s causing – drawing too much electricity because it’s building up too much resistance and therefore is tripping its internal circuit breaker.

    LESLIE: Is this a new problem or has it been happening for some time?

    PAM: About a month.

    LESLIE: It could just be nearing the end of its life.

    TOM: Yeah. And you know, the thing is to change this yourself is not that complicated to do.

    PAM: Right, we watched someone change it one time.

    TOM: Yeah. Basically what you have to do is turn the electricity off – that’s the first and most critical step – and then you have to drain the water heater. If it’s a top element, you only have to drain it down past that top element. Then you can disconnect the wires, unscrew the element, pull it out; and then get a new one, stick it back in, hook everything back up, fill the water up, make sure no leaks, then turn the power on. And I suspect that that will change it.

    Now if you’re not that at all comfortable, you need to get a professional to do that for you because you’re talking about 240 volts of electricity and lots of water. You don’t want to make a big, stinking mess or do something that’s unsafe.

    But if the element is going bad, that’s what would cause the breaker to trip all the time.

    PAM: OK. That’s what – we couldn’t figure it out.

    TOM: Yeah, the rub is by the time you pay somebody to do that for you – you’re going to pay a plumber 150 bucks. If you gave him another couple hundred on top of that or more, you probably could have a new water heater. So that’s the decision you’d have to make.

    PAM: So the water heater itself wouldn’t last?

    TOM: Well, 15 years is pretty old for a water heater. Sure it could go more but, really, at that age, it could go at any time. So it’s not worth putting a lot of repair money into a 15-year-old water heater, just so you know.

    LESLIE: Yeah, and the problems that could result from its just becoming old are far greater than an element.

    TOM: Yeah. Realistically, if you can replace that element yourself or get somebody that’s handy to do it, go ahead and do it. If you have to pay somebody 100 or 150 bucks to walk in the door and do it for you, get a new water heater. (Pam chuckles) Really. But money is better spent. Because here’s what’s going to happen. You’ll replace that; it’ll be fine and a month later the thing will start leaking and you’ll need to replace it anyway. It’s just Murphy’s law, you know what I mean?

    PAM: Wouldn’t want for that to leak. That’d be …

    TOM: No. Not at that age. OK, Pam? Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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