Electric Water Heater Keeps Tripping the Breaker – Why it Happens and What to Do

Dealing with an electric water heater that keeps tripping the breaker can be frustrating, especially if you’re unsure about what’s causing the problem. It’s understandable that calling in a plumber or electrician for every little issue can get tiring and expensive, but that’s where we come in.

We’re here to help you troubleshoot the problem and find some useful tips that can save you money and discomfort. Keep reading to discover what you can do to tackle this issue and restore your hot water supply.

Circuit breaker (photo: amazon.com)

How Electric Water Heaters Work

Generally, an electric water heater will use one or two heating elements that are directly immersed in water to heat it. These elements are controlled by a microprocessor control module or a thermostat. The type of materials used in making the elements can affect the output and options, such as the voltage/wattage you get and the storage capacity of the tank. The thickness of the insulation is also a factor.

Electric water heaters for residential use, equipped with two heating elements, also have an upper and lower thermostat that charge the heating element and start heating water. They also have a high limit switch that prevents overheating, and it can be manually reset if it trips. All these components work together to prevent overheating or underheating of water and to protect the integrity of the heater.

To check why the breaker keeps tripping, you need to know more than just the basics about electricity and water heaters. You also need tools such as a multimeter or non-contact voltage tester.

How Electric Heaters and Breakers Work Together

The breaker is a critical safety mechanism in your home. It cuts off power to an appliance when too much current is flowing, preventing potential damage and hazards.

Without a breaker, you risk an unstable supply of electricity, resulting in water that may be too hot or not hot enough. Furthermore, an excessive amount of current flowing into your home can increase the risk of a fire outbreak, as overloaded wiring is a common cause. Therefore, if your breaker keeps tripping off, it is likely that it is overloaded.

In other words, a breaker helps you avoid stress and potential harm. When it isn’t functioning correctly or is constantly tripping off, it indicates a problem that needs to be addressed.

The Role of a Breaker

The breaker is a crucial safety feature that shuts off power when there is a short circuit or electrical surge. This helps prevent potential damage and hazards by cutting off the electrical supply to the appliance.

If the breaker keeps tripping off, it cuts off the supply of electricity to the water heater, resulting in no hot water and a potential danger hazard. It is therefore essential to address the issue promptly to avoid inconvenience and potential hazards.

What Causes a Breaker to Trip?

It’s crucial to identify the cause of the breaker tripping, as there can be several reasons behind it. While resetting the breaker can often resolve the issue, repeated resetting can put both the appliance and yourself in danger.

Let’s explore some common reasons why the breaker might be tripping.

An Overloaded Circuit

Often, the issue behind a tripping breaker is as simple as an overloaded circuit, especially when multiple appliances are running simultaneously. In fact, this is the most common cause for breaker tripping.

Faulty Heating Element

Basically, the heating elements in your electric water heater might stop working. If the element splits in two, it becomes a problem, so the electrical part gets exposed to the water. This will short circuit, tripping the breaker.

Also, if the heating element stays on for too long, maybe because of a short circuit, the water gets too hot.

Faulty Thermostat

Also, a defective thermostat could be the cause. Generally, residential water heaters operate at temperatures of up to 160 degrees. Once it gets hotter than that, the breaker could trip off.

Of course, you could always test the thermostat by using a multimeter. Just be sure that the water heater is off and the thermostat wires are not connected beforehand.

Water Leak

Also, if your water heater is leaking as a result of a faulty gasket, it will cause some problems. If the water from the leak touches the electrical components, it could trip off the breaker. This is not always the case, so if you notice a leak, call in an expert to avoid getting shocked. Don’t wait.

Issues With Internal Wiring

Now, a breaker that continually trips off could be a sign that there’s a problem with the internal wiring. To be sure, turn off the power, open the panel and check where the heater is connected to your home wiring (usually top of the unit). Look for damaged wires or burned out connections. It is important to get the problem fixed before turning the power back on.

Electrical or Wiring Problem

Finally, none of the reasons listed may be causing the problem. Sometimes, it could be that the external wiring is faulty. This could be as a result of a bad connection in the panel, a worn-out breaker, or bad/loose wiring. With the incorrect wiring, the hot wire can touch the ground wire, so the breaker trips without resetting.

Breaker Issues

  • A bad breaker cannot reset or won’t stay ON.
  • A loose breaker leads to overheating.
  • Undersized breakers usually reset but trip again after a period of time.

What to Do When Your Breaker Trips?

First, kill the temptation to keep flipping the breaker back on when it trips off. It’s okay to do it a couple of times, but if it persistently trips off, then there’s a problem. Repeatedly flipping it back on can wear out the breaker and may lead to a fire outbreak.

Second, understand that a breaker constantly tripping off is merely a symptom of a problem. It is necessary to troubleshoot the problem to sort this issue.

With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to:

  • Locate the tripped breaker: Firstly, locate the tripped circuit breaker. Usually, the breaker is in a metal box found in the garage, utility area, or basement. When you locate the main breaker box, open it, and you will see a row of switches.
  • Identify the tripped breaker: Secondly, identify the breaker that has tripped. This is going to be the one in the OFF position. In other words, its lever will be pointing in the opposite direction from others.
  • Turn off all affected appliances and fixtures: Thirdly, ensure that all electronics and lights that are controlled by the tripped breaker are turned off. This is an important safety measure.
  • Flip the breaker switch back ON: Go ahead and flip the breaker switch ON. You will get a clicking sound to indicate that it is back ON. This action restores power to the breaker.
  • Testing the breaker: Next, turn on the lights and appliances that are supplied by the breaker. Everything should be back to normal. If the breaker trips again immediately, it’s time to call in the professionals.

How to Avoid Breaker Tripping

Yes, there are a few things you can do to prevent the problem. We’ll list a few below. Note that these aren’t fail-safe, but they will help you keep the breaker on. Also, you will identify problems on time, if there are any.

  • First, try to reduce the workload on that breaker that trips often. This could be a sign of overload.
  • Occasionally check the wiring for any loose, damaged, or burnt wires.
  • Avoid replacing the breaker with a higher rated breaker as more current could flow in and cause overheating.
  • Replace bad thermostats along with heating elements.
  • All wiring issues should be resolved immediately. Also, check the wiring often for any faults.
  • Avoid placing two or more large gadgets on one breaker rather, have dedicated circuits.
  • Avoid resetting a breaker that constantly trips off. This is a sign that there’s a problem. Call in an expert.
  • Lastly, breakers are not immune to wear and tear, please try to replace them when the needed. This is a way to avoid breaker tripping.

Protect Yourself From Electrocution

  • Always call an electrician.
  • Never work on the appliance before turning off the electricity – on the electrical panel.
  • Do not touch a wet water heater, and always stand on a dry surface.
  • Do not touch electrical wires.
  • Always double-check the power supply using the voltage tester or multimeter.


Dealing with a constantly tripping breaker on your electric heater can be frustrating, but it’s important to remember that it can also be a danger to your water heater and home. If you’ve tried the troubleshooting methods we’ve listed and the problem persists, it’s time to call in an expert. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help, especially if you’re not experienced with electrical work. Remember, safety should always come first.

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