Element Exploded

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I installed a new water heater (Lowes brand) about 3 months ago and last night the upper element exploded.

What would cause that? Just a faulty element? Could it be a sign of a broader electrical issue like the water heater got a surge?
 

Pat the Plumber CIL

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Could have been dropped or handled rough at some point . Elements could have gotten damaged during transport . Wholesale house I purchase water heaters suggest keeping them vertical during transport . I only have a van so I try and orient them so elements hang down . Anal I know but , it is what it is . Not sure if that is the problem , just throwing it out there .
 

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Ever experienced a bad breaker causing elements to blow out?
 

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A blow out, as in exploded due to too much pressure?
I don't know, it's a first for me. I heard a POP and tracked it down to that water heater. Lower element is fine but upper broke open in several places, metal bent outwards.
 

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Your breaker should have tripped. Was this your install, or did you hire a professional? Is there a pressure relief valve installed? How much incoming pressure do you have?
I'm just trying to think of all elements...no pun intended.
 

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Breaker didn't trip, there was still juice running to the exploded element. There is a PRV installed, unsure on pressure, besides the well I don't have any other pressure gauges in the house.
 

havasu

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I'm hoping someone chimes in here that has more knowledge, because I am stumped. My first thought is to return that pig back to Lowe's and claim it defective, and try a new one. Yes, a total pain in the tail, but something is not right. If it was a surge, the breaker should have tripped. If you had a high pressure spike, your TPR should have blown. Something is just not right.

Anybody have any other ideas?
 

House Doc

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Replacing the entire heater is hardly worth it. A new element is probably under $20, and you know how to replace it. Contact Lowe's and talk to customer service and I'm sure some arrangement can be reached.
 

wood4d

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That heater uses stranded wire and if one strand touched ground it could blow up the elements base. Dont ask me how but stuff happens. I wouldnt change the heater i would just add a new element. water pressure has nothing to do with the electrical aspect.
 

breplum

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W Heater is under warranty.
The mfr should send you everything you need.
That is why us plumbers buy from local wholesalers. They support us and deal with defects.
 

havasu

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It bent the metal!

I would not tolerate having a bent piece of metal, especially not knowing if there was more damage inside the tank. Being 3 months old, I'd take the damn thing back and call it defective, IF it worked great for 3 months.
 

House Doc

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This is starting to sound like a bunch of drunks sitting around the bar arguing about who's the best short stop in baseball.
I don't think one of them would go through the work involved to remove the old heater, l drag it to the store and drag a new one back and install it. (Unless they were getting paid the big bucks) Maybe they will do it for you!!
All I can think of is it was a bad element. Maybe a crack that allowed water into the tube and when it was energized turned the water to steam and blew up the tube.
Try a new element first. Obviously you know how to change it. Take the old one with your receipt to customer service and see what they will do.
USE SOME COMMON SENSE GUYS!!
 

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So .... I replaced both elements. 6 days go by and the reset fuse (switch?) on the heater tripped yesterday and I had to reset today.
 

havasu

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Check your incoming voltage with a meter. So Cal is bad for reducing the minimums and motors are smoking until Edison comes in and increases the volume. Could be the same in Centex.
 

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Is there any chance it was turned on before the tank was full of water? I’ve always heard that the element will blow if dry when heating, and if that happens it could damage the wiring, which would mean just replacing the element would not fix it? Just a thought.
 

fixitron

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This appears to be two different issues. A heating element is only a wire with a certain amount of resistance, inside of a sealed tube. It is designed to get hot enough to heat the water surrounding it in a reasonable time. The amount of heat produced is a function of the voltage applied and the resistance of the element. If the voltage is lower or higher than 240 VAC it will take more or less time (respectively) to heat the water, but will otherwise have no effect. The same goes for an incandescent light bulb. It is purely a resistance that gives off heat and light, with less voltage giving less light. A motor, on the other hand, uses the alternating current to provide an electromagnetic field to rotate the shaft of the motor. That motor is engineered to meet certain physical requirements, such as moving something. If the voltage is more than roughly 5% lower than it should be, the motor will strain and will start to heat up, shortening the life of the motor.
I agree with House Doc. The first incident is likely from a defect in the heating element. If there was a crack in the element's tube, it could allow water to leak in and produce steam.
The second incident is with what I believe the OP is describing as the thermostat tripping off. The thermostat trips when the water tank gets too hot (~180 degF). That could be a faulty thermostat or a shorted heating element where the resistance wire is shorted to the metal tube, which is effectively connecting it to ground. Since only one side of the element is switched by the thermostat, the other is still providing 120 VAC and the short provides the completed circuit. The element will continue to heat the water until the thermal fuse trips. Both of these scenarios are very unlikely with a new water heater, especially with a new element, although the shorted element is more likely, since it took several days for the thermal fuse to trip.
A circuit breaker is essentially a thermal fuse. It contains a bimetal strip that heats up as more current flows through it. They are designed to bend far enough at a certain current flow that the metal pulls away from a contact to open the circuit. They are not precise. A voltage surge will allow more current to flow through a heating element, but it has to be a sustained higher voltage and it must be high enough to trip the breaker. Most elements are 4500 watts, which at 240 volts equals a current draw of 18.75 amps. The NEC requires that the circuit protection be rated at 150% of that, or 28 amps, which would be a 30 amp breaker. IF one of the strands of wire were just touching the metal tank, it might allow enough current to allow the element to heat at 120 volts. If the stranded wire were clearly touching the tank, it would likely trip the circuit breaker.
As with Breplum, I don't buy from the big box stores, and if I have a problem with a product, I take it back to my dealer.
 

frodo

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right here right now, over there later on.
i would let the home owner make the call
Their choice, switch out the element that i THINK is the problem
or switch out the whole tank..and get a 3 year newer tank.

If it were my call. I would take full advantage of the warranty
switch out the tank and get a newer WH
 
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