5 Reasons Why Your Water Heater's Thermostat Keeps Tripping (and what you can do about it)

One of our small comforts in life is using hot water for our daily showers. We also use it for our laundry and even for washing our dishes. In many countries with especially cold weather, a water heater can be a priority that people cannot go without. Hence, a reliable heater may be crucial for a person’s daily life.

Unfortunately, appliances can have malfunctions every now and then, especially if they are already old. As time passes, you may notice that they are not working as well as they do when you first bought them. Some parts of your appliances may go bad, which may need replacement or service.

Water heaters can also have their problems. In this situation, if your heater’s thermostat keeps tripping, what does it mean? Is there anything you can do?

The main reasons behind a tripping thermostat

When your water heater keeps tripping, experts recommend in resetting it. However, if this happens all the time, it can be a hassle to do, plus, it can be worrisome to know the effects of resetting it frequently.

Reason #1: Your thermostat may be going bad

If it keeps tripping, then the primary reason we need to look into is your heater’s thermostat. In many cases, a defective one may cause the reset button to trip on its own.

Thermostats allow water heaters to regulate the temperature according to the recommended number. Most heaters have two thermostats – an upper and lower thermostat that controls the heat in its top and bottom parts. If one or both of them are faulty, it causes your water to overheat, which trips the “reset” mechanism of your heater. Until you do something about it, your thermostat will stay on and overheat the water, causing it to cut off again and again.

How to know if your thermostat is faulty

If you are a handy person, you can try investigating your heater to see if your thermostat is the problem. However, we will always recommend in calling a professional plumber for your safety and convenience.

A damaged upper or lower thermostat?

You can do a quick test to know whether your upper or lower thermostat is faulty easily. All you have to do is turn on the hot water tap.

  1. If cold water runs out, the reason is a faulty upper thermostat.
  2. If at first, hot water runs out but eventually becomes cold, then the reason is a faulty lower thermostat.

Of course, to be sure of its defects, identifying if they are indeed faulty can be a chore. Since improper handling can cause some accidents and even burns, call a plumber to replace or fix your thermostat carefully.

Reason #2: You may have a faulty ECO

If you are wondering why it is possible to use your water heater without it being too scalding hot is its ECO, or Emergency or Energy Cut Off system. Almost all gas water heaters have this feature.

The function of the ECO is more of a safety feature. Once the temperature of the water is in the recommended range, your heater’s thermostat will cut off on its own. Most thermostats are set to trip automatically when the temperature is around 82 degrees Celsius (or 180 degrees Fahrenheit). Unfortunately, if you have a faulty ECO, it is possible for your system to overwork. Aside from tripping, this can also result in fires and other accidents.

When your emergency cut off system is bad, it will automatically trip regardless of the temperature of the water. Due to the reason that ECO systems often get damaged as a result of a frequently overworked heater, fixing this will usually include the thermostat.

What you can do

If you suspect that your emergency cut off may be going bad, try resetting it first. Depending on the type of heater you have, some have a red reset button that you can push easily. If this does not solve anything, you may have to call a plumber to replace your entire thermostat.

Reason #3: You may have faulty wiring

When you have loose or faulty wiring, it can mess with your heater’s operation. Hence, this can often be one of the causes of a tripping thermostat. For this problem, we highly recommend in calling a plumber as soon as possible. If left unattended, faulty wiring can easily cause fires.

Since it is difficult to identify faulty wiring without any preemptive knowledge about it, DIY tinkering is highly dangerous. If you are confident to investigate further, make sure to check your thermostat and ECO first before attributing the problem to bad wiring.

What you can do

Before doing anything, turn off our breaker for your safety. When you are sure that there is no electricity that can shock you, check your heater’s terminals. See if there are any visual signs of burnt wiring, discoloration, or calcium deposits in the system.

If you still have a manual of your heater’s wiring placements, try to compare if they are the same. Once you see any problems, call a professional for repairs or replacements immediately.

Reason #4: You may have a faulty heating element

Another reason why your thermostat is tripping can be due to a bad heating element. Shorted elements can undoubtedly affect your heater’s smooth operation, which is why it may automatically reset on its own.

Once there are defects with the elements, your heater’s thermostat will also be affected. This is because it will continue to transfer electricity even without a running thermostat, which increases the heater’s temperature. In some cases, your heater may not even produce enough heat for it to work properly.

What you can do

Loose or bad elements can cause electrical shocks and fires. When your water overheats, it can also damage the other parts of your heater, and you may need to replace it entirely. If you suspect faulty elements, call an expert to fix the problem before it gets bigger.

Replacing a faulty element is usually inexpensive. To determine whether it is going bad, you can try checking it for continuity. Make sure to turn off the heater’s breaker before trying to determine loose wire connections and faulty elements.

When you check the element, use a multimeter in the resistance setting. Place the lead on the element and see if it can detect continuity. If it does not, you need to replace the element before using your heater again.

Reason #5: You may have a faulty breaker

When your heater keeps tripping by itself, the problem may be due to the circuit breaker. As time passes, many circuit breakers succumb to their age and start to corrode. If this is the case, you may need to have it replaced before trying to use your water heater again.

If you notice that your breaker’s switch gets stuck or is too loose, try wiping it with a dry cloth first.

What you can do

When you suspect a failing circuit breaker, it will be wise to switch it off and have it serviced. Continuously using a faulty breaker causes overheating and shortage that may result in other dangerous accidents.

It is possible to fix your water heater

Having hot water in your home is important for your day-to-day tasks. If you think that your water heater is going bad, this does not automatically mean that you will get cold water until you replace it. Often, heaters are serviceable for an affordable price.

Here are some tips to make your heaters last longer:

Check your heater regularly

Inspect your heater regularly by listening for weird sounds, rust, and other signs of damage.

Replace old parts

If you have an old heater, it may be expensive to replace it entirely. See if there are any signs of damage with its parts and replace them as soon as you can.

Keep your heater away from other appliances

Experts recommend keeping your heater away from furniture and appliances to prevent overheating. Encourage proper ventilation by keeping other items at least 2 feet away from your heater.

Adjust your heater to a lower temperature

To save energy and lessen the stress of your heater, try lowering changing its temperature to a lower number.

Get the help of professionals

If you suspect a faulty heater, it is wise to act fast. Waiting for too long can damage your heater more and may even be the cause of accidents. When your thermostat starts tripping, you can call a professional plumber to help you.