Elec. Water heater breaker tripping ??

Water heater breaker tripping… Been fighting for two weeks now. Had someone check it today and discovered breaker was tripped. Turned back on, trips again (not immediately).
The unit is 40 gallon electric, and oddly enough, inside the fuse panel where labeled for the water heater it’s actually the dryer… Water heater breaker is outside at the power meter, and is a double pole breaker. However, there’s no cover so ALL breakers are exposed to the elements.
I used a multimeter and checked resistance across elements, 14-16 ohms (so they’re both good). Thermostats are both halfway between max (150° F) & 125°F… The high temp reset is not tripping. The longest it had stayed on is about half an hour, and is heating wonderfully (while its on). I can hear it running, making almost like a “hiss” noise ? But next time I check its off AGAIN!
I’m stumped, and wondering if the outside breaker may need replacement due to being weathered. :scratches head:
I rent, but the landlord’s grandson is questionable at repairs.

Could be a bad breaker or corroded buss bar. Feel the breaker right after it trips.
Is it hot?

Can you get an amp meter?

a corroded breaker or breaker box could malfunction.

the breaker box needs to be out of the weather (inside a wood shelter just big enough to hold it would work) or be an outdoor breaker box type.

A breaker that trips repeatedly is trying to tell you something. Breakers trip because of a significant excess in current which means heat. Unfortunately, you indicate that the hot water heater is working correctly. Which means the current draw (heat) is somewhere else. As the other posters say, it could be in the breaker box. It could be worse-the wiring in the walls. Right now you are just guessing/hoping that the fire won’t be too bad. Time to get an electrician out to inspect the circuit and really find out what is wrong. Since you rent, for your own protection, write a letter to the landlord warning him of what is happening (as you say he already knows), make sure you have a smoke detector in your rooms, make sure you have good renters insurance. Or just move. Ignoring this problem is not a good strategy.

The hissing noise is indicative of metal plating out of the water onto the heating elements(s). I’d start by replacing them or soaking them in vinegar to remove the accumulated junk that is stuck onto them.

Are you sure the water heater is working properly?
What wattage are the elements?
How many amps is the breaker?
Generally, for a two element water heater, only one element is active at a time, and they switch back and forth each cycle (unless you have a monster water heater). Is it possible that both elements are enabled at one time? That would definitely trip the breaker if it is designed for a single load.

I did not know that. Ignorance fought!
How are the elements switched?

Every two element water heaters I have seen have one closer to the top and one near the bottom. And there is either a two stage stat or two stats one high one low. The lower element should kick in first and if 2nd stage is needed then the second element also kicks in.

Also check for a very tiny leak that is dripping on the electronics and shorting them out.

One thing to keep in mind is that the landlord’s grandson may be an idiot, but if he “fixes” it and it breaks again the landlord is still on the hook for the repairs.

If you fix it, you own it. If it breaks later, all the landlord has to do is say you were the last one working on it, therefore you must have broken it and you are responsible for fixing it. He can say this even if the part that breaks next has nothing at all to do with what you fixed. Is the OP a licensed electrician or does the OP have some sort of professional degree or license related to electrical work? Because if not, and something breaks and the landlord takes you to court to fix it, you have no credentials and your word that you fixed it right is almost meaningless in the eyes of the law.

Unless you have something on paper that can prove to a court of law that you know what you are doing, let the landlord fix it. Even if you can figure out exactly what is wrong with it, go to the landlord and say you need to replace X part as it’s broken and let him do the work. That way he owns the liability on the repair.

The top element, which is the one closest to the water outlet, has priority. If the top thermostat is turned on, the bottom thermostat won’t have any power running to it. Once the top thermostat is up to temp, the bottom thermostat will have power and be able to turn the element on if needed.

Here’s a wiring diagram I found: http://waterheatertimer.org/images/Water-heater-wiring-w-num10.jpg

Sidenote: I’m not sure why L3 and L4 are separated. Maybe that’s the connection that breaks if the overtemp breaker blows?

Perhaps L3 is fed by the circuit breaker, always hot, and L4 is switched by the thermostat.

Yep, L1 and L3 are coming from the circuit breakers and are always hot unless the breaker blows.

The ones switched by the thermostat should be T2 and T4. At any given time, one will be turned off (not connected to anything), and the other turned on (connected to L1 I believe). Notice how T2 goes to the upper element, and T4 goes to the bottom thermostat. If the upper element is on, the bottom one has to be off. If the upper element is off, the bottom one can be on, but it’s not required to be on.

L4 goes to the other side of the elements, and should always be left on (connected to L2?)

I think the L4 connection is just there for convenience so you don’t have to double up wires on any screw terminal. I’m guessing that L3 and L4 are connected together inside the thermostat.

A faulty thermostat could definitely cause the problems that the OP is seeing, but then so could worn out or corroded breakers. I’m really wondering why they put the breakers outside. That’s odd.

You could disconnect the hot from the lower thermostat and see if the switched hot stays hot when the upper thermostat kicks on.

Again, though, even if I found that was the problem, I would tell the landlord that this is exactly what the problem is and let him fix it.

L3 and L4 have a set of contacts between them. There is a red reset button at the top of the upper stat.

Could be… any number of things. Have you performed any maintenance on the WH? I’m thinking along the lines of the anode rod, which has to be replaced periodically. This is to divert corrosion of the tank and heating elements onto a zinc rod. Any ways…

Another option could be an old breaker. I had an old breaker that was constantly tripping on the clothes dryer. Had the clothes dryer heating element fixed and then the whole dryer, found out it was the breaker.

If the water heater is fine, maintenance performed, and there is no water leaking out anywhere that could be shorting anything electrical… I’m thinking breaker.

What amperage is the outside breaker? My WH is a 30-amp double-pole for a 50 gallon.

couldve been bad from the factory …???

where was it made, China …?