Water Heater Tripping Breaker: Causes, Troubleshooting, and Resolutions

At some point, every homeowner will experience something tripping the circuit breaker. Normally, this is not a huge deal – appliances are removed from the circuit and put somewhere else, and the breaker is reset. But when a water heater trips the breaker, there is nothing to move, and it is worse when a reset does nothing to solve the issue.

There are a number of things that can cause your water heater to trip the circuit breaker. Short circuits, bad heating elements, water leaks, loose wires, and broken thermostats are all likely culprits. Otherwise, your breaker could simply be malfunctioning. The presence of water and electricity together makes these kinds of issues common and dangerous.

In this article, we are going to discuss some of the common reasons why your water heater can trip your circuit breaker. We will also go over some maintenance steps that you can do to fix the problem as well as what to leave to the professionals. Let’s dive right into it.

Why Does a Circuit Breaker Trip?

A circuit breaker is designed to break (trip) the circuit if something unsafe is happening. When there is a power surge or a short circuit, the power on the circuit is more than your appliances and wiring can handle. If the circuit breaker were not there, this could result in your appliances overheating or exploding, and an electrical fire could break out.

The circuit breaker detects grounding issues, short circuits, or overloads and opens or breaks the circuit so that no electricity can flow. Every appliance on that circuit will cease to function since that circuit is effectively dead.

The most common problem is an overload, which means that the appliances on that circuit are trying to draw too much power. This problem is normally remedied by taking appliances off the line and closing the circuit again. The breakers are located at the circuit breaker and look like switches all in a row.

Short circuits can indicate a problem with the wiring. There may be an exposed wire, moisture interacting with the lines, or vermin such as rats chewing on the line. If you have taken appliances off the line and issues still occur, then a short circuit is the likely culprit.

Why Does Your Water Heater Keep Tripping the Breaker? 

Since your water heater combines electricity and water, it increases the likelihood of your water heater tripping the breaker in general. Most issues can cause water leaks or expose electrical components to water. If your water heater is tripping the breaker repeatedly, leave it off and disconnect the power until you identify the source of the problem.

Short Circuit

While a short circuit within your water heater can be the cause of your issues, it is better to eliminate other more likely sources first. This means that checking the wiring is most advisable. A short circuit can happen on gas water heaters as well as electric water heaters.  

The water heater is on a dedicated line on your circuit breaker, or it should be. If it is not, this may be the cause of issues with your breaker as well. A short circuit means that there is an issue somewhere along the wires – something is frayed or your wires are exposed to the elements.  

Breaker Malfunction

A breaker can ‘trip’ or break the circuit for any number of reasons – grounding issues, short circuits, or overloads. It could easily be the reason your gas water heater keeps shutting off.

Interruptions to our electricity can be annoying and inconvenient, but what the breaker does is important. It does this in order to protect you from your appliances overheating or exploding from electrical surges. 

This is not the whole story, however. As much as the breaker works to protect us, over time the breaker simply ages or wears out and can no longer keep the circuit closed. If this is the case, the breaker no longer is of use and must be replaced.

Bad Heating Element

There are two water heating elements inside your water heater. One of these is near the top of the tank, and the other is at the bottom.  

There are electrical components inside the heating elements. If the heating element cracks, the water inside the tank can come in contact with the electric components. Water coming into contact with these components can cause a short, which will ultimately trip the breaker.

Another possibility is that one of the heating elements could be faulty and not turn off. This would overheat the water and cause both the limit switch and the circuit breaker to trip.

Broken Thermostat

Your water heater’s thermostat checks the temperature of the water and keeps it from going above 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature begins to get too hot, the limit switch trips so that all heating stops.  

Like the heating elements, there are two thermostats, one upper and one lower. These thermostats work with the heating elements to keep the water warm.

A broken thermostat is actually a fairly common problem. It is possible for a thermostat to get stuck in a position that would keep the heating element on. This draws too much power on the electrical circuit and will cause it to trip.

There’s a Water Leak

Over time, especially in older water heater tanks, leaks can start to develop. From these leaks, water can get into the electrical components of the water heater. If water is coming into contact with these components, not only will it create shorts, but it also has the potential to create a safety hazard to anyone who touches the system.

Water leaks need to be taken seriously. If there are leaks coming from your water heater, turn it off at the circuit breaker and disconnect any power. You can then get closer to the tank, but you will probably want to call a professional to repair it.

Loose Wires

Loose wires can mean both inside or outside your water heaters. Since your water heater is on a dedicated circuit, it will be the only one affected by any loose wires along the circuit. And loose wires interacting with the elements are more prone to fraying and damage, which will cause shorts.

However, there are also issues of internal wiring. The presence of water from the tank can cause corrosion, especially if there are leaks or issues with insulation that can cause condensation on the tank. Loose wires inside your hot water heater interacting with the water will cause your water heater to short and trip the breaker.

Possible Fixes For a Water Heater That Trips a Breaker 

There are a few things that you can do if your water heater is tripping the breaker to correct the issue. However, you should use caution, since you will be working with electric components in most cases. If you are not confident in what you are doing, consult with a professional to assist you.

Check for Wire Connectivity 

Wiring inside the water heater is not a beginner-level task. If there are wiring issues internal to your water heater, you should seek a professional to ensure it is done correctly.  

However, you can still check the wires to see if there is any damage to them. Make sure that the power is off at the breaker before you do anything electrical, even if it is only an inspection.

Check leads and connections for corrosion. You will also want to make sure that the connections are not loose – gently move the wires around to see if there is any give. Finally, make sure that there are no frayed wires.

Replace the Heating Element

In order to replace your heating elements, the water heater will need to be drained. Before you begin working on replacing your heating elements, make sure that the power is off at the breaker and that your water heater is disconnected from any source of power.

First, grab a hose and attach it to the drain valve (this is located at the bottom of the tank), and open the valve. At this point, your water heater is still attached to the water supply, so it will begin to flow out the drain. There is probably some sediment in your water tank – wait until you have clear water before shutting off the water supply.

Next, open the pressure relief valve. If you can’t locate it, turn on your sink’s hot water. Your tank should take about an hour to drain completely.

Take out the heating elements – you will probably need a socket wrench to take it out. Take the wires out, then remove the heating element from your water heater.  

Secure the new element to the water heater, then refill the tank with water. If you opened your facet, wait until there is water flowing before you turn it back off. Once the tank is filled up completely, check for leaks, then turn everything back on.  

Replace the Breaker

If you determine that the problem is with the breaker and not the water heater, take precautions before you start. The breakers are an easy DIY project, but you will be working with electricity – mistakes can lead to nasty shocks. Make sure that you keep your eyes averted from the breaker and wear safety glasses.

First, grab a flashlight and the tools you need to remove the breaker (most likely a screwdriver). Turn off the breaker’s main power before you start. Set up your flashlight so that you can work unimpeded while giving you the light you need.

Your breaker has a certain make and model, and it will need to be replaced with the same type. The specifications are located near the reset lever.

Take off the cover plate, then carefully remove the breaker itself. Even though the power is off, avoid putting a finger or your screwdriver into the exposed wiring. Disconnect the wire attached to the breaker and remove it, then connect the new breaker.

Once you are done, you can replace the cover. Turn the power on and check to make sure that you installed the breaker correctly.

Replace the Thermostat

Depending on which thermostat you are removing, you may or may not need to drain the tank to get at it. In either case, make sure that the power is off. It is also advisable that you take a picture of the thermostat that you are removing, paying attention to where the wires go, so that you don’t get them mixed up when you reinstall it.

Undo the wires to the thermostat, then replace the old one with the new one. Make sure that the wires are in the same place as on the old thermostat. 

Your thermostat will have manufacturer directions on adjusting it and may have recommended settings. 

If it does not, 110 degrees Fahrenheit is a good setting for the lower thermostat and 120 for the upper thermostat. It is a good idea to check the setting for the other thermostat even if you did not remove it.

Stop Any Leaks

First, you will want to identify the source of these leaks. The three places to check are the fittings between the pipes and the water heater, the drain valve, and the pressure relief valve.

If water is coming from your pipes, you will need to tighten the fittings with a wrench. 

Depending on the type of pipes, this may be a straightforward DIY fix, but if the pipes are copper, you will need to call a professional. If you have a leaky drain valve, it simply must be replaced.

If the pressure release valve is leaking, it may be that the water is too hot. Check your temperatures and make sure that the temperature is no more than 120 degrees. If your temperature control knob does not have degrees, dial it back to medium and see if that slows or stops the leak.

Another issue may be too much cold water pressure. You can test this with a water pressure gauge that you can attach to a garden hose. The PSI should be around 80; if it is above 100, let your water authority know that your pressure needs to be reduced.

When To Call a Professional

When fixing the issues on your hot water heater, you should call a professional at any time if the problem requires specialized tools that you do not have or when you are not confident about your ability to repair the issue. In addition, you should also consult an expert if you have gone through all the steps and still can’t repair the water heater.

Checking wire connectivity, replacing breakers, replacing the thermostat, and checking for leaks for the most part can be done yourself. Fixing the wires inside the water heater, replacing the heating element, or repairing some of the more serious leaks will require a more experienced hand.

How Expensive is It To Fix Your Water Heater?

It is undeniably less expensive to fix a water heater yourself if you have the know-how. Most water heater components cost less than $50, and by fixing them yourself, you will avoid the labor costs of $45 to $150 an hour. The heating element is the most costly piece in your water heater, costing between $200 to $300.

If there is no way to avoid calling in a professional, the good news is that the national average cost of repair is just under $600. The low end of this range is around $200, while the high end may cost you $960.  


A water heater that is constantly tripping your circuit breaker can mean that there is a serious issue with your water heater. If you can eliminate the breakers themselves as a problem, then be cautious and turn off the power before you go to fix the water heater.  

If your water heater is leaking no matter what you do to fix it, or if you are suffering multiple breakdowns, you may be better off replacing the water heater altogether. the cost of fixing leaks on average is $1000 while replacing your water heater will cost you between $600 to $1,800.