Why Does My Water Heater Keep Tripping the Breaker?

Generally, there is a dedicated circuit for an electric water heater, and nothing else should connect to it. If it is, the breaker may trip for an unknown reason, making heating water very inconvenient and cumbersome.

When the hot water tank does not have a dedicated circuit, it can randomly trip. Then, users will have to reset the breaker until the next time it trips. Sometimes, they will trip, and a reset may not be possible.

Other times breakers may trip for a specific reason, which may signal a potentially dangerous situation requiring immediate attention. To minimize the risk of an electrical fire, it is best to locate the source of the issue.

why does my water heater keep tripping the breaker

The Potential Source of the Problem

While there is a tendency to flip the breaker over and over again, avoid doing so. By continually flipping the breaker, homeowners run the risk of the wiring overheating, which can start an electrical fire, the circuit breaker can wear out, and you can cause further damage to the hot water heater.

When you have a tripped breaker or an overloaded circuit, leave it off and immediately troubleshoot the issue. Troubleshooting this issue isn’t difficult once you have identified the problem.

Poor Thermostat

Water heaters contain a limit switch that prevents the water from going above 180°. Once it reaches this temperature, the switch trips. It is a built-in safety measure designed to prevent users from getting scalded or burned from hot water.

The cause of its tripping is a bad thermostat. Water heaters have one thermostat per element. So, if you have two elements, you will also have two thermostats. Each thermostat talks to the other so that only one element heats at a time. If they go bad, they become stuck in the “on†position.

When this happens, one or both heating elements can remain on, continually heating the water. When both elements stay on, it can overload the circuit. The circuit becomes too hot, causing it to trip.

To resolve this, test your thermostat with a multimeter. First, ensure the power to the heater is off. Look at the thermostat and disconnect the wires. Mark them as well so that you know where they connect. Examine the thermostat for resistance.

You should have a reading of zero ohms for a NO thermostat (normally open). For normally closed, it should be close to zero ohms (may be around .5 ohms).

If the thermostat is the issue, it will need replacing. Experts recommend getting new heating elements as well.

Heating Element Needs Replacing

In an electric water heater, there are upper and lower heating elements. They work in tandem to keep water hot. It is of greater significance that they both function when it comes to larger tanks. When the heating element fails, water stops being heated and will become cold. If this occurs, the heating element is internally open and won’t cause damage.

This isn’t always the case, though. The casing on heating elements can sometimes split, exposing the electrical portion to the water located in the tank, causing elements to short the circuit. It also trips the breaker or triggers the limit switch.

Elements can also short out. As a result, the element remains in an on position, thereby continually heating the water. When it gets too hot, the limit switch will trip.

To fix this issue, use a multimeter. Turn the water heater and breaker off, then remove wires from the element. Test the element across the points where wires attach to it. Homeowners should receive the following resistances:

  • 3,500 W element- 16 ohms
  • 4,500 W element- 12-13 ohms
  • 5,500 W element- 10-11 ohms

If you receive a different resistance, the heating element needs to be replaced.

Potential Water Leak

There is a potential for a water heater to leak and encounter electrical components. This may also trip the breaker, which is a dangerous situation that could result in electrical shock.

If the breaker has not tripped, immediately turn off the breaker. Then, repair the leak.

the potential source of the problem


A loose wire or a short circuit can also cause a breaker to trip. Turn the power off, then open the panel. Search for where the water heater attaches to the wiring of the house. Examine everything for burned connections, arced electricity, or damaged wires. If an arc has occurred, you will likely smell smoke.

Replace the damaged connectors and wiring before using the water heater.

Electrical or Wiring Issue

If the issue does not reside in any of the above-mentioned problems, then it may be with something other than the water heater. There may be a bad or loose wire, worn-out breaker, or poor connection located in the electrical panel.

Examine the wiring on the line for loose or broken wires. If the breaker is tripping, ensure no problems exist on the line. Then the breaker will need to be replaced.

If the issue is with the breaker, replace it with one of the same rating. Do not select one with a higher-rated breaker. This will allow additional current to flow through the circuit. It will overheat it.

While it is extremely frustrating dealing with a breaker that continually trips, some solutions require minimal effort to fix. All the individual needs to do is isolate where the issue is coming from.

Most problems stem from something inside of the heater- usually with the heating elements or the thermostat. The fix is as simple as purchasing a new part. More complex issues require examining wiring and the breaker.

Always ensure, before doing any repair, that safety is your top priority. Never immerse anything in water if the breaker is not turned off. This can result in severe shock or even death. Always make sure anything electrical is turned off. Refrain from tackling electrical lines if you are not a professional or lack experience.

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