Water Heater Maintenance

Last Fall we bought a house, which was constructed in 2000. Just recently, we've noticed that the hot water is not as hot as it has been since we've lived here. (This is a "State Select" 40 gal. water heater. The style is short and squatty, 32 inches high by about 20 inches thick.) I looked closely at the heater last night, and I noted that both thermostats are turned up just about as high as they can go.
I've done some reading here and there about changing the thermostats and/or the elements. I have gone out and purchased two 4500w elements, as well as the top and bottom thermostats. Before I "jump in" and start taking this critter apart, I thought I'd post here for any tips that it would be helpful for me to know. Thanks in advance for any insight that you'd care to offer.
Jube
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Usually only one of the elements will burn out and then it cannot keep up and get to set temperature.
I would cut the power and check the elements with an ohm meter. I would bet that the lower element is shorted out and that it may be covered with calcium carbonate if you have fairly hard water in your area. Problem is you can't just replace the element, you have to dig out the calcium carbonate, not easy through the drain hole.
I wouldn't replace anything that aint broke. I'm surprised that two elements and two thermostats doesn't just about cost what a new heater costs.
On Tue, 9 Aug 2005 14:04:47 -0700, "Jubilation T. Cornpone"

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"Frank Boettcher" sought to be helpful in offering the following:

Many thanks for the reply, Frank. Yes, the water here is hard indeed. The previous owner had a water softener, but they took it with them, as it was not part of the purchase agreement. We've talked about getting one, but just haven't seriously pursued it yet. I would be much in your debt if you would amplify just how to use the ohmmeter. I have one, but haven't utilized it in a long time...

I haven't shopped for a heater yet. These two thermostats and two elements set me back a total of $62 and change at The Home Depot.
J.T. C.
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disconnect power
set meter to OHMS (may be marked with a greek omega symbol - ? )
disconnect the two wires at the element to be tested
put one lead of meter to each terminal of heating element (like how the wires were just connected)
a reading of flashing, or 1 Mega ? (1 million ohms) or more means an open element = bad
a low reading of 12 ohms or something like that = good
reconnect 230V wires to element you just tested or replace if bad
test other element the same way
reconnect power
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Many thanks, papaya!
Jube
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Another possibility for this symptom that I have not seen mentioned is a leak somewhere in a hot water line. This constant flow can prevent the water from ever getting hot enough even with the thermostats closed and both elements heating. If an element is burned out, it is nearly always the lower one because of sediment in the heater. Another possibility is a broken dip tube in the heater. This causes the incoming cold water to mix immediately with the outgoing hot water. Hope this helps if you find nothing wrong with the elements and thermostats. Don Young

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If 'twere me, I would consider just replacing the whole hot water heater. The warranty period on tanks is usually only about six years anyway. If you live in this house for any time period, you are likely to have to replace it anyway. When I replace mine, I plan to go to a 50 gallon heater as I think the incremental cost will be well worth the extra capacity. Just my two cents... ---------------------

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"Hi Ho Silver" pondered a bit, and then suggested the following:

Thanks for the come back. Yes, I have thought of doing a replacement. I'm still gathering input from you good folks, and will decide what to do..
J.T.C.
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Jubilation T. Cornpone wrote:

Let's take a deep breath. Keep those elements in their original boxes. Heating elements do not work part way, they work or they don't, no in-between.
There are a number of possible issues. Depending on the water in your area, that 5 year old heater may now have built up enough deposits to be time to replace. This should not be the case in most area.
http://home.howstuffworks.com/water-heater.htm will help you out figuring out what may be the problem. I suspect maybe a thermostat.
When you say it is not has hot as it has been, do you mean it never gets that hot (how hot is that, have you measured it?) or do you mean it does not stay hot?
--
Joseph Meehan

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"Joseph Meehan" stopped by and shared some good information:

Thanks for the reply. No problem, everything is still in shrink-wrap in the Home Depot bag at this point.

I really appreciate that link! I can see that I'll be hanging out there for various needs. A really nice-looking place!

What I mean by that is that my wife and I both have our hot/cold mixtures set per our preferences in the two bathrooms that we have. In the past couple of days, both of us have had to add more hot water in order to maintain the shower temps that we like. After reading that article that you linked me to, this is beginning to sound like one of the elements is no longer heating. (Or a thermostat went on the blink.) Whaddya think?
Jube
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in message

That was going to be my suggestion; an element is out. One way to find out, if you're patient enough, is to disconnect one element at a time and ohm it out if you have an ohmmeter of any kind. Radio Shack sells some cheapos for about ten bucks that would be fine for this purpose. NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING UNTIL THE POWER IS OFF IF YOU AREN'T FAMILIAR WITH ELECTRICAL SAFETY!!!!!!!!! Even when power is off, still treat it like it's live until you are POSITIVE it's off and that the correct breakers have been opened! Don't trust labels in a new abode. If you can't ohm them out, you could simply disconnect one and see what happens. If the water goes stone cold, you disconnected the good element. If no change, then you disconnected the bad element and it needs to be replaced. You have to give it hours to come to enough change to be sure, though, so you're possible going to have cold water for a bit.
The thermostats being set to near max isn't right either though. It makes me wonder if the elements have been replaced already, and the wrong ones were used. If both elements are working, then I think I'd compare one with the ones you bought and see if they're the same. BE SURE TO SHUT OFF POWER BEFORE YOU TOUCH ANYTHING IN THERE!
Hot water temperature is 140 degrees for a dishwasher and 120 degrees for a non-scald temperature, which is what we use, even with a dishwasher. We have an oil fired water heater though, so our recovery rate is very fast compared to electric. You can hold a regular outdoor thermometer in the running hot water to see what temperature it is. They almost always go to at least 120. Water needs to be over 100 degrees before it starts to feel warm on the hands and wrists.
Have you checked to verify that the flow of hot/cold water from the faucets is as it used to be? Could it be a blockage in a hot water pipe, or the supply to the water heater? Anyone been turning any valves? Is water pressure, period, OK and unchanged? I imagine it's a 220Vac unit: Are both voltages present? I think it's usually black and red wiring; each should measure about 120V to neutral and about 220 between the two. Well, assuming you're north america and it's a standard 220 unit. You should be able to use any bare metal on the heater for the neutral connection for your meter. BE VERY CAREFUL! If you aren't comfortable working on live equipement, and don't know the safety rules, GET HELP! You cannot guess safely. Electricity can kill in just a few seconds; it's not for the inexperienced.
I find I'm still stuck on the thermostats, actually. Perhaps someone will pipe in with better background than I have - been awhile since we had an electric water heater.
Oh, and thanks for not calling it a "hot water" heater: Hot water doesn't need heating <g>.
HTH,
Pop
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"Pop" happened by and tossed out some helpful thoughts:

Thank you for the reply, Pop. Yes, I have an ohmmeter, but haven't used it in a long time. Please refresh my memory as to what I'm to look for when I "ohm it out."

Don't worry. This one has a separate breaker right above the heater, with no other breakers that can be confused with it. It's the kind of breaker where you actually physically pull a flat copper bar out of of the "ON" channel. You can then store the copper bar in the "OFF" channel a few inches below it. I'll not touch a thing unless I have it set to OFF.

Just me and my wife here. She hasn't changed anything, nor have I. Pressure appears to be fine, the same as it has been all along...

Yes, it's 220. I'll definitely need to do some reading and "boning up" on how to do that.

Ha! You're welcome! I got to thinking about how that would be redundant to add "hot" to the term, so opted to leave it out.
Larry
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Jubilation T. Cornpone wrote:

Yes, make very sure the power is totally off, then check it again.
Disconnect the elements one at a time. If one is bad, and I think that is a good chance, it will show max ohms (same as not connected) if it is good it will show a low ohm number. The good part is the low cost of replacing one element makes it easy and cheap.

--
Joseph Meehan

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