Not knowing if there’ll be hot water because the heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker is frustrating.
More so when the tripping is not immediate and happens after a few minutes.
What causes this and is this a fault that you may be able to fix yourself?
In this post, you’ll find a list of the likely reasons your heater may be tripping the circuit breaker and what you can do to stop it.
If the electric water heater circuit breaker trips after a few minutes then it’s probably because there is current flow leaking from the live conductor to the ground and the circuit breaker trips as a precaution to prevent electric shocks.
Here is why there might be a current leak.
Reasons Why a Hotwater Heater Breaker Keeps Tripping
Note: There is always a risk of electric shock that can cause severe injury or death when repairing electric water heaters.
Always contact a qualified water heater technician for support.
#1. There is a short in the wiring between the circuit breaker and the water heater switch or between the switch and the heater element/ thermostat that is causing the circuit breaker to trip. connecting wires may start shorting after damage to the insulation from chaffing, heat, or aging.
To check if this is the case here is a quick test you can do.
Disconnect the water heater element/thermostat from the water heater switch safely.
Switch on the water heater switch for a while (with the heater disconnected) and check if the circuit breaker trips.
Should there be a trip then this implies that there’s a short in the wire connections between the circuit breaker and the water heater.
Inspect the wires along their length for the short. Repair or replace the damaged wires and check if this stops the tripping of the breaker.
If the circuit breaker does not trip then this implies that the short is further down in the heater.
#2. It is possible that one or two of the water heater elements are damaged. A rusty, corroded element with water leaking into the interior can short the breaker when it is energized.
The elements in a heater (with two elements) are switched on at different times. The circuit breaker may trip when the damaged element is switched on hence the delay in the circuit breaker tripping.
Disconnect the water heater elements from the mains safely.
Using a good quality meter set to measure continuity, test the water heater elements for continuity. If there’s none, then that particular element is likely faulty.
Drain the water heater first before removing the suspect water heater element to avoid water flooding the floor.
Replace with the recommended size and rating of the water heater element.
#3. The water heater thermostat may be faulty. If the thermostat is faulty, the heater can continue heating up the water until the electrical cut-out switch (ECO) opens to guard against overheating of the water hence the delayed trip.
Do you need to reset the ECO for the water heater to resume heating? If so then probably the water heater thermostat(s) is faulty and should be replaced.
What Causes the Water Heater Circuit Breaker to Trip Immediately?
If the breaker trips immediately the water heater is switched on then there’s a short. This may be in the wiring leading up to the heater, the heater itself – probably the heater element is shorting to the ground.
If your water heater’s circuit breaker trips after a few minutes, it might be that the insulation is damaged causing the conductors to short, a faulty thermostat or heater element.
Always consult a qualified electrician.