running out of hot water

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Heater: Electric. 50 gallons. 240V. Two 4500w elements (the ones that curl around) Thermostats both set to 130F.
Symptoms: After about 15 minutes, a hot shower turns to warm and then quickly turns to ice cold. This didn't seem to be a problem in the summer.
What I've done: Last winter, I had the same problem, but much worse. After a lot of reading and learning about hot water heaters, I found that the dip tube had broken off inside the tank. At that time I replaced the dip tube and the anode rod. I also wrapped the tank with an insulation blanket. The result was unlimited hot water. Great!
I'm having the same problem this year. I decided to replace my elements with the long doubled (curl) type. $20 each! That didn't solve my problem. I've tested the thermostats. I believe they are working properly. This is how I tested them: Verified that power is getting to the top element after setting the top thermostat to its maximum setting. Verified that power is getting to the bottom element after setting the top thermostat to its minimum setting and setting the bottom thermostat to its maximum setting. I was basically just making sure the flow of power was correct.
Questions:
Was my thermostat test adequate? Is it possible that I melted the top of the dip tube when I soldered the connections last winter? This year, when I replaced the elements, I peeked inside to make sure the dip tube was still connected. It was. When the top element was removed and the water was just below the element hole, I turned the water on and looked for splashing inside the tank. I didn't see any. I'm assuming splashing would occur if there was a hole in the dip tube.
Any other ideas?
Thanks. Ryan Grimard
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You tested the elements to see if they're getting voltage, but that would not indicate that they are actually working. The only way to do that would be with an ammeter that would measure the CURRENT going THROUGH each element (amps), not the VOLTAGE being supplied TO it. You could also remove the wires from the elements and ohm them out. At the same time, check with a meg-ohm meter to see if they're grounded at all. It sounds to me like you've lost your lower element. I had an electric heater that I could not keep running for more than a year with hard water.

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Your temperature is set a bit low and that may be part of the problem. Have you test the water at a faucet, and what temperature did you get? Are both thermostats set to 130? In any event you need to test the water temperature and set the tank to deliver water at 130 if that is what you want.
Thermostats are easy to test, and you can test with a voltmeter. All you are doing is seeing if the thermostat closes, so all you need to do is measure the potential (voltage) at the downstream end. You may very well have an element that doesn't work, maybe never worked. You test elements the same way as thermostats, after you make sure the thermostats close.
See if an electrical supply has give out sheets for checking thermostats and elements. Don't know if Lowes or Home Depot have them or not.
Soldering? What were you soldering on a water heater? I can't imagine what you would be soldering so may that's a line to investigate.
Ryan wrote:

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Both are set at 130, as recommended. I can check the temp at the faucet. Good idea.

Both elements are working. When I crank up the thermostat, I can hear the element heating up. I tried this on both elements.

There is a copper fitting that screws onto the nipple. I had to solder the copper fitting to the copper pipe supplying cold water. The soldering wasn't ON the water heater, but close enough to possibly cause heat damage. I added a union later and don't need to solder anymore :)
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Ryan wrote:

Good. Check the actual water temp. Don't you use a flexible tubes to connect the water heater? Solid copper or iron connections are archaic.
So now you know that your heating elements are working and by inference the thermostats are closing the connection. So what are the possibilities? The elements are undersized, they work intermittent, your thermostats 130 setting is really 5,10 or 15 degrees lower(or one is set too low), or the two thermostats don't work together correctly.
Have you drained your tank, or justs open the bottom to get the gunk out? Maybe the crud in the bottom is clear up to the bottom electrode and screwing it up. Or maybe, the element is the incorrect model.
I found my old check list prepared by a local electrical supply for home owners to check a hot water tank. It should be generic enough for your tank. If you want me to send a scan, just send a request to my e-mail address.
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I guess I'm archaic. I don't have flexible lines running to/from the water heater. Just straight copper. That's how I bought the house... I checked the water temp. It's set at 130 and I'm getting about 128 at the faucet. I would expect to lose a few degrees somewhere :)

The elements are not undersized. Both are 4500w and are the type that curl under (double).

I completely drained the tank when I replaced the elements a few weeks ago. The first few seconds of drainage was orange. Otherwise, no crud.

That would be great. I'll send you an email.
I think at this point there are two possibilites. - I have a crack in my dip tube. I find this unlikely since I changed it last year. - This started happening when winter hit. I think the more likely possibility is that the water entering the tank is just too cold. After 15 minutes of this, the tank can't keep up and the water turns to warm.
Thanks. Ryan Grimard
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Ryan, I got your email, but the reply with the copy bounced. Try sending me another email.
Ryan wrote:

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Better take a fast shower
HAHAHAHHA
Jane

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I sounds like you have one element out. You need to measure current through the elements, not just voltage to them.
--
Joseph E. Meehan

26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
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In article

--
Mark

The truth as I perceive it to be.
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In the summer the incoming water was quite a bit warmer so the recovery was faster.
RB
Mark wrote:

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Sounds like one element probably the top one is not working correctly. If you do not have an Amp meter then do this. With a cool or cold tank. Open the top cover and find the thermostat. Crank it up to max do you something like a coffee maker? Should be no more than 30 seconds no noises then that element is bad/or is not working. Do the same for the bottom element. This will help you isolate the problem. Please becareful there are live parts in there and it could be a shocking situation.
When the water is colder it takes longer for it to get warm. I would set the top element at 145 and the bottom one for 135 or so. This should make your tank stratify when cold water is introduced.
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snipped-for-privacy@veridiem.com (Ryan) wrote:

If the wires are accessible, I'd suggest you get yourself a clamp on ammeter, which will allow you to measure the volts and amps used by the elements. Then you can tell if the element is working.
Should be $50-$100 at most, and will serve you well over the years.
I got one when I tried to measure the mains voltage with my old trusty vom set on DC amps. (ouch!)
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This is Turtle.
Without the right tools your fighting a unbeatiable battle. What you need to do is get you the 2 thermostats, 2 elements, dip tube, and a pop off valve and just replace them and you will have a brand new tank and nothing can go wrong if everything is new. With everything new you can't have trouble at all. tis is costly but it will solve it. You can buy everything for about $100.00 and be done with it.
TURTLE
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TURTLE wrote:

Unless one of the things you buy is bad out of the box. Isn't replacing everything a bit excessive? Some electrical shops have sheets that show you how to test everything.
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This is Turtle.
Well you say less than $100.00 is too much.
Well you can get a trouble shooting guide from Rheem / Ruud / or who ever makes the tank $20.00. Get you a VOM UEI brand to test with $97.00. Spend 1 or 2 days learning how to use them. Get you a amp meter clamp type Amprobe brand $ 112.00 . Spend 1 or 2 day getting use to using them. You have spent $229.00 + tax to start and have 50 / 50 chance of figuring it out. If you feel lucky -- go for it.
Now you said Electric shops have a sheet on how to test everything. Yes they do but it will not do you any good without at least $300.00 worth of tools to use on each test they have on the sheet. At the top of the sheet it list the tools needed to do the test and does say if you don't have these tools to work with get them before beginning testing.
Now to the real world on trouble shooting these tanks and general thoughts on them.
Intermitten problem --- change both thermostats. Just not suppling enough hot water -- change both elements. Stops working all together and is supplied with electric power --- Change both thermostats and elements. If you look at the operation manual. You will see you need to change the thermostats and element every 10 to 12 years or so. They don't last for ever.
Now the thought of spending a $100.00 right now to stop all this problem seem very high to you ,but if you would have changed everything a year ago you would not be talking here to day and off watching TV or surfing the internet. Now Figure up what you have spent so far and see if a $100.00 is too much to stop all the problems a year ago. If you don't want to spend less than a $100.00 to stop the problem. just keep on posting here and one day you may get lucky. The shotgun theory is good on small appliances but not on large appliances.
TURTLE
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TURTLE wrote:

That's not what I said!

You don't need any of that. In fact all you need is a continuity tester for as little as $2.00, get a fancy one for maybe $10.00. Or buy a digital VOM from Harbor Freight for $4.00

Baloney! Continuity testor or cheap VOM is all you need. All you are going to do is test for voltage at various places in addition to using your eyes and using your hands to feel for warmth.


I didn't say that!. are you talking to me or to someone else. BTW, I looked in my file and found the sheet, but I could also get the sheet from the store that is still in business. It give a simple by the numbers check procedure. If Ryan wants a copy he can ask and I will scan and send it to him.

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This is Turtle.
You must be good at fixing hot water tank problem without a clamp amp meter to see the amps being drawed on each leg to see it you have any bleed over or unbalance of load or the thermostat is bleeding electricity back to the other element while you have the other on running. If you give me just a digital VOM to work with. I could figure it out by the process of alimination and about 4 hours to go throught the cycles. I don't have 4 hours at $55.00 a hour to waist on fixing a hot water tank. You may have the time but i don't. With a clamp amp meter and a vom. It will take about 5 minutes to tell you what it is.
All I can say is Your Good.
TURTLE
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Last year, the dip tube broke off. While replacing the tube, I figured I would drain the tank to get the gunk off the bottom as well as replace the anode rod. At the same time, I decided to take a look at the elements. They appeared to be in good shape. Why would I spend the money on new elements and thermos when I knew they were working fine? When I put everything back together, it worked great.
This year, I'm having a similar problem, although not nearly as big a problem. Instead of tearing everything apart and replacing everything I figured I would do a little more research. I replaced the elements, thinking that the short older elements couldn't handle the cold water. It helped a little, but didn't completely fix the problem. Since everything else on the tank was new, I figured I'd post here. There's nothing else to replace, except the thermos which I believe are in working order.
Here's the big question for those of you living in a cold climate. With your 50 gallon tank set at 130 degrees, how long would your shower last at about 85% hot water? Mine lasts about 15 minutes until it starts to get luke warm. Maybe that's fine. I dunno...
Ryan
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