This morning was the coldest day of the year in the Washington DC area
- a bone-chilling 21 degrees F. I stepped into my shower and lo and
behold - no hot water! I scurried to the basement, checked the main
circuit breaker and the water heater/deep well pump breaker and
everything was on - they did not trip.
I went to the water heater - a Bradford White Hydrojet that is less
than 3 years old - opened the upper panel, pushed the red reset button,
heard it click, and waited a few minutes. Later, I felt the copper tube
on top warming up again and when I checked the water faucets, the water
was starting to get warm. I had to leave for work so I didn't have a
chance to see if it would trip again. I'm now in the office for 3 hours
and the wife has not called, so I am assuming things are back to
I have done a fair amount of reading on the subject but, given the
relatively young age of this unit, I don't believe there is anything
wrong with the thermostats or the heating elements.
So my question is - is this just a fluke, an act of God, a one-time
random event that may never happen again? What could have caused it to
trip without the main breaker going off? Could the cold weather have
anything to do with it? What about the fact that our water source is a
deep well pump?
I guess I'm just looking for a rational explanation, so that I will
have peace of mind if the heater switch does not trip again.
Thanks for any insights, tips, comments, etc.
Tom, it appears you missed the entire point of the OPs message, the "red
button" is a THERMAL overload, not an overcurrent one. While your
statement about "breakers" is valid, the only part about it which is
pertinent is that if the OP doesn't have the skills and knowledge to
work on and/or change out a water heater thermostat then he SHOULD call
in a professional.
The "most likely" cause of it tripping is that either the upper or lower
thermostat got "sticky" and didn't open, and the temperature in the
heater rose to the point where the thermal overload tripped. I've never
seen one "trip by itself" with water in the normal temperature
range.(I'm assuming that since you mentioned opening the "upper panel",
there's a lower one too, so there's two thermostats on your water heater.
Chances are that even if the sticky operating thermostat reopened, it'll
stick again in the near future. (Things which go away by themselves
usually come back by themselves, y'know. <G>) The safest thing to do is
to replace the sticking if you know enough to be able to circuit trace
and catch which one is stuck, otherwise change out BOTH thermostats,
they're cheap enough.
You may very well be able to get a replacement thermostat at no cost
under warranty if you know which one it is. But, since they're
relatively cheap and available at Home Cheepo, waiting for the factory
to exchange one under warranty isn't much of an option.
HTH, and Happy Holidays,
I can back-up Jeff's advice.
In the first house I owned, I had exactly the same experience with a water heater
that was < 2 years old. Temp safety switch
tripped for "no reason", I reset it, tripped again a couple weeks later, then it
became more frequent. Along the way, I
noticed that the hot water was intermittently a lot hotter than normal.
Flipped a coin and decided to replace the upper thermostat which did not fix it, so I
replaced the lower one which *did* fix
it. Like Jeff said, they're cheap and if I have the same experience again I'll just
I wouldn't have flipped a coin... I would have gone for the lower stat,
on the theory that with typical household hot water usage vs time the
heater is probably cycling on that one most of the time and only
flipping the upper stat at those times when so much hot water is drawn
continuously that that the water at the upper stat gets cool enough to
flip it on. That would auger for the lower stat being the one to "wear
out" first, huh?
I've got a neon pilot lamp hooked to the upper element on mine, and
while I'm near the water heater frequently ('Cause it's in my basement
home workshop.) The only time I can recall seeing it lit was near the
end of one of our daughter's nerve wrackingly long showers, just before
I reached over and shut off the heater's water inlet valve. <G>
I would tend to disagree that the heater overheated. The OP said the
water was cold in the shower in the morning. If the water was
overheated, it would still be hot, or fairly warm. I can shut off the
power to my water heater and 24 hours later still have relatively hot
water (assuming someone did not drain the tank).
Since the OP has a well, I'd check the elements. Only 3 year old tank
does not mean anything in a rural area. Sure, the tank itself should
be in good shape. BUT........
Lightning can be nasty in rural areas because of the long runs of
overhead wires and few ground points along the way. A lightning
strike last summer may have blown a tiny pin hole in one of the
elements and discharged into the water. I have fixed several of
these, and its more common that you would believe.
You could also have a high acidic water that ate a hole in an element.
You could have a combination of both of these that finally drew enough
current to go POP.
Pull the elements and thoroughly inspect them. Wipe them down with
one of those green pot scrubbers (scotch pad), and you should see any
pin holes or cracks. Usually they stay wet after you dry the rest of
If thats too much effort, either learn to live with the hot water
cutting off more and more in the future, or hope and pray that that
someone broke into your home while you were away, and did it just to
trip that red button. By the way, if your income is at or near any of
those political idiots in DC, just buy a new water heater and donate
the old one to charity so some needy person can fix it.
21deg.... Geeshhhhhh, I hope the shrub freezes, shrivels, and wilts
I won't disagree that the elements could *also* be bad, but "how the F"
will that trip a thermal breaker?
If you've ever taken a thermal breaker apart you know that it consists
of a disk of bimetal formed into a shallow "dish". When the tank shell
reaches the "overtemperature" point the dish inverts (with a snap) and
opens a set of contacts which break the line voltage feeding everything
else in the water heater.
Now, tell us how a damaged element will cause the water to heat up
enough to pop the thermal overload? And even if it in some arcane way
does so, why doesn't the operating thermostat open first and thus keep
the water from getting hot enough to pop the thermal overload?
I repeat, it has to be caused by a stuck operating thermostat, most
likely the lower one.
(W1BSV + Brass Rat '57 EE)
"As long as there are final exams, there will be prayer in public
Some bottom thermostat setups only switch one side of the 220 going to
the element. If the element suffers a failure that allows current
leakage but isnt catastropic to the element you have a 110v potential
on one side and a nice ground path through the defect/water on the
other so the element can continue to heat at 110v with thermostat off.
Eventually it could get hot enough to pop the overheat on the top
It would seem that the odds of this happening would be somewhere
around the odds of winning powerball but it is possible.
You know, I thought of that, which is why I said "arcane", but I've
never heard tell of that kind of failure before. And you are correct
about the possibility that a single pole lower thermostat could let that
sort of fault keep heating the water regardless of the state of that
But I'm not up to visualizing what kind of mechanical/corrosion failure
would permit that sort of current flow; I'm kinda out of my element
The OP's problem *might* not be with the control thermostat, but it's
darned well the way to bet.
<<Water heater tripped for no reason... >>
It tripped for a reason, you simply haven't found the problem yet. Applying
simple logic, there could be a defect in the overtemperature control, since the
reset brought it back on line. Check it on a fairly frequent schedule for a
repeat of the problem and replace the unit if the problem persists. We're
assuming here that the water heater temperature controlling system itself
hasn't gone haywire. Indications of that might be an unusually high hot water
temperature, say 180 F or so.
Thanks for all the great advice. The unit has not tripped again for the
last 48 hours after I pushed the red reset button. However, I did
notice that the water is hotter than what it used to be. I adjusted
both thermostats to the lowest level (120 degrees F - the factory
settings) but the water is still much hotter than before. So I have
made a decision to replace both thermostats on my own.
The water heater is a Bradford White Hydrojet Model No. MI65R6DS13, 65
gallon tank, double element. However, I've searched around the internet
and virtually all of the aftermarket thermostats around are generic, so
how do I know which thermostat will work with my heater? Are all upper
and lower 240 volt generic thermostats for double element electric
heaters interchangeable? The brands I found are American Water (Lowe's)
and Apcom (Home Depot) but there is no cross reference chart around
that tells me which part fits which model.
I could shut the house down, take the existing thermostats off and take
then to the hardware store as samples, but I want to avoid doing this
if I can.
I would thus appreciate any assistance/advice in this regard.
Thanks and best regards.
Had the same problem in a rental unit, coincidentally with a three year
old Bradford-White; mine only has a single element.
The tenant reported no hot water, so I went over and pushed the reset.
Same thing happened the next day, so I pushed the reset and it was fine
for a month. When it happened again, it lasted two weeks. No rhyme or
reason or pattern or logical explanation; it just happened.
Finally got tired of fooling with it and replaced the thermostat. That
was a month ago and(knocking on wood with fingers crossed), no problem
Thermostats are cheap and it's not worth the frustration to try to
troubleshoot the problem. If it happens again, just replace the 'stat.
This problem has defied all explanation.
I have replaced both thermostats - the upper and the lower - with the
exact same model that the unit had - and the red button tripped again!
So by process of elimination, I have to replace the elements now. I
have no problem doing both but I've never done this before. Do I just
unscrew these things or do I have to drain the tank? Any instructions
would be appreciated. Thanks once again.
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