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Open Roads Forum  >  Travel Trailers  >  General Q&A

 > Hot water element

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bsbeedub

Gateway to the West

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Posted: 05/05/22 09:35am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I was camping with a friend and his second year trailer this past weekend. He could not get hot water using the electric element so he asked me to take a look to see if we could figure it out.

He has a two valve bypass system (mine has a three valve system so I was unfamiliar with his) and we realized it was still in bypass. After opening up the outside panel we saw he still had the plug removed from winterizing so there was no water in the tank. He had the electric heater turned on for two hours and I told him that the element was most likely toast. We decided to give it a try anyway.

We got the bypass valves in the correct position, put the plug in, filled the tank and in 30 minutes he had hot water! We verified that the electric was being used and not propane. He had hot water for the rest of the weekend.

Everything I’ve ever read or heard indicated that this electric element should have been long gone. Has anyone ever seen an element survive two hours of being on with no water in the tank? Could it have been that since the plug was out allowing air into the tank is what saved it? I’m at a loss.


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Microlite Mike

NW Washington State

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Posted: 05/05/22 09:55am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

bsbeedub wrote:

I was camping with a friend and his second year trailer this past weekend. He could not get hot water using the electric element so he asked me to take a look to see if we could figure it out.

He has a two valve bypass system (mine has a three valve system so I was unfamiliar with his) and we realized it was still in bypass. After opening up the outside panel we saw he still had the plug removed from winterizing so there was no water in the tank. He had the electric heater turned on for two hours and I told him that the element was most likely toast. We decided to give it a try anyway.

We got the bypass valves in the correct position, put the plug in, filled the tank and in 30 minutes he had hot water! We verified that the electric was being used and not propane. He had hot water for the rest of the weekend.

Everything I’ve ever read or heard indicated that this electric element should have been long gone. Has anyone ever seen an element survive two hours of being on with no water in the tank? Could it have been that since the plug was out allowing air into the tank is what saved it? I’m at a loss.


Sometimes you just get lucky.

I wouldn't want to rely on luck though. This is why, whenever I remove the anode rod I turn the switch on the heater itself OFF. Doesn't get turned on until the anode rod and plug are replaced and heate filled with water.

FWIW, a water heater element is a lot like the element in an electric oven that just glows red when energized. I've never believed in the "instant fail" that is passed around on forums. More likely the failed elements were energized for a lot longer than their owner's realized. Even an oven element can burn out if left on continuously for days at a time.


"Knowledge is realizing that the street is one-way, wisdom is looking both directions anyway."


~ Albert Einstein

djtkach

Manitoba, Canada

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Posted: 05/05/22 01:13pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Many HWTs also have a reset breaker (flat black button with a rubber cover, on ours for example) which may have tripped when they burned the element out. Check that after replacing element.


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vermilye

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Posted: 05/05/22 01:25pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

If he destroyed the cladding on the element it may still work, but cause a GFCI receptacle to trip due to electrical leakage to the water. I'd plug the trailer into a GFCI to check before he ends up in a situation where he needs to plug into one.


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bsbeedub

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Posted: 05/05/22 01:27pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Like I said in my original post, the element did not burn out. That’s what has me puzzled. After two hours of being on with no water in the tank it still works.

bsbeedub

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Posted: 05/05/22 01:30pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

vermilye wrote:

If he destroyed the cladding on the element it may still work, but cause a GFCI receptacle to trip due to electrical leakage to the water. I'd plug the trailer into a GFCI to check before he ends up in a situation where he needs to plug into one.


He has a surge protector ( don’t know the brand or capability) that he uses at the power pedestal. Would that have tripped if there was an issue?

vermilye

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Posted: 05/05/22 03:39pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

It might, depending of the device. Again, I'd use an adapter & plug the trailer into a GFCI just to be sure the heating element isn't shorted to the tank water. A short to the water might not draw enough current to trip a breaker, but be enough to trip a GFCI.

MSchu

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Posted: 05/05/22 06:35pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I've done the same thing at least twice on my 1995 Holiday Rambler. The first time was right after I bought it and was cleaning it up and checking everything out. It was drawing a lot of electricity, and I finally figured out the water heater was on (while it was empty). It was probably like that for a whole day. And recently it was turned on while empty for maybe a half hour before I realized it. After all that it still heats faster than my friends new Airstream.
I'm tempted to take the element out and find out what brand it is.

BB_TX

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Posted: 05/05/22 06:40pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

bsbeedub wrote:

vermilye wrote:

If he destroyed the cladding on the element it may still work, but cause a GFCI receptacle to trip due to electrical leakage to the water. I'd plug the trailer into a GFCI to check before he ends up in a situation where he needs to plug into one.


He has a surge protector ( don’t know the brand or capability) that he uses at the power pedestal. Would that have tripped if there was an issue?

A surge protector is to protect against voltages spikes. Shouldn’t be affected by the heating element. Especially since it did not burn up.
My guess is he just got lucky. I would replace the element as it could be weakened even though it is still working now. Proactive to prevent a later problem at an inopportune time.

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