Why Is My Electric Water Heater Tripping My Circuit Breaker?

2016 Mar 14
Posted in: Electrical

The scenario: You noticed your electric water heater tripped the circuit breaker. So you went to your electrical panel and reset the breaker. But then a little later your water heater’s circuit breaker tripped again.

So why’s this happening?

The most likely causes are:

  • Burnt out heating element
  • Bad thermostat
  • Wiring/electrical problem

But before we get into those problems, there are a few things you need to know:

  • Do not keep flipping the breaker back on. This can overheat the wires in the circuit (which can lead to a fire), wear out the circuit breaker (which can cause it to not trip later) and damage your water heater further.
  • Do not replace the breaker with a higher-rated breaker. If you increase the breaker size without replacing the wiring and the rest of the circuit, you’ve basically just removed the safety device of the breaker. Now the breaker will let additional electricity flow to the circuit, which can overheat wires and cause a fire.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s look at the possible problems that are causing your electric water heater to trip your breaker.

Burnt out heating element

The heating element is the part of your water heater that heats the water. 

Most electric water heaters have 2 heating elements: one on top and one on the bottom.

Electric Water heater with 2 Heating Elements
Diagram of an electric water heater with 2 heating elements. Photo source.

Usually, when the heating elements fail, they simply burn out and the only way you’ll notice is that the water isn’t as hot as it once was.

But sometimes, the heating element casing can split and expose the electrical components directly to the water or tank. This short circuit can flip the high limit switch on your water heater and/or cause the water heater’s breaker to trip.

Bad thermostat

Each heating element is controlled by a thermostat; both thermostats “talk” to each other to ensure that only one heating element is on at a time.

Here’s how that works:

Electric Water heater, one heating element
On an electric water heater, only one heating element is on at a time. Photo source.

However, when a thermostat goes bad, it can create a problem where both heating elements run at the same time. This draws more electricity than the circuit can handle, causing the circuit breaker to trip.

Bad breaker or electrical wiring

The problem may not actually be with the water heater. It could be that:

  • The breaker itself is worn out and tripping needlessly
  • A wire is loose in the electrical panel, which is causing a short circuit

If a plumber has checked out your water heater and everything seems to be working fine, you should have an electrician check the electrical connections.

Get help from a plumber in Phoenix

George Brazil Plumbing and Electrical can help you fix your electric water heater if you live in the Phoenix area. Contact us today.


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