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Old 04-07-2014, 01:22 AM   #1
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Question Plugging in 110V water heater element blows house GFI

I was going through the process of de-winterizing our new (new to us) trailer, and noticed that what seemed like the 110V heater element was unplugged.




I checked first to see that the on/off switch in the exterior water heater access panel was switched to off (circled in red below), then plugged the heater element plug in.



I then went about flushing the water system and went inside for a bite of lunch. I came outside to find the house GFI had blown. I had not yet filled the hot water tank. My initial research online seems to point towards me possible burning out the 110V heater element and causing the house GFI to trip. The only problem is that I was under the assumption that to turn the 110V heater element on, I would have had to switch the on/off switch on (which is still sitting in the off position).

I have not yet pulled the switch to see if it is faulty, but will tomorrow. Any other thoughts aside from a possible faulty switch, causing the element to burn out and trip the house GFI?

I immediately unplugged the 110V element plug, reset the house GFI, and all other electrical functions seem to work just fine.

One last question.
In the picture below, do I have the bypass valves turned the correct position to fill and use the hot water heater? I get the concept of the bypass, and common sense seems to dictate they are positioned correctly, however their are no open/close marks on the valves, nor specifics in any of the instruction manuals.

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Old 04-07-2014, 02:16 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trikebubble View Post
I was going through the process of de-winterizing our new (new to us) trailer, and noticed that what seemed like the 110V heater element was unplugged.




I checked first to see that the on/off switch in the exterior water heater access panel was switched to off (circled in red below), then plugged the heater element plug in.



I then went about flushing the water system and went inside for a bite of lunch. I came outside to find the house GFI had blown. I had not yet filled the hot water tank. My initial research online seems to point towards me possible burning out the 110V heater element and causing the house GFI to trip. The only problem is that I was under the assumption that to turn the 110V heater element on, I would have had to switch the on/off switch on (which is still sitting in the off position).

I have not yet pulled the switch to see if it is faulty, but will tomorrow. Any other thoughts aside from a possible faulty switch, causing the element to burn out and trip the house GFI?

I immediately unplugged the 110V element plug, reset the house GFI, and all other electrical functions seem to work just fine.

One last question.
In the picture below, do I have the bypass valves turned the correct position to fill and use the hot water heater? I get the concept of the bypass, and common sense seems to dictate they are positioned correctly, however their are no open/close marks on the valves, nor specifics in any of the instruction manuals.

Hi trikebubble. First off on the valves. They are in the off position when the handle cross the pipe (or makes a T with the pipe). They are on when the handle is perpendicular with the pipe. For regular use you want the cold water valve (blue pipe) on, the hot water (red pipe) on.... if equipped, and the bypass valve (blue pipe going to red pipe) off.

I can't tell if you actually have a hot water valve in your system from the pic, as some systems don't have a 3 valve system, but only one or two valves. If it only has one or two valves, there is a internal check/backflow valve at the hot water tank where the red pipe is coming out of the tank.

The two valves I can see in your pic are set correct. You will do the opposite positions for winter use.

You always want to make sure there is water in the heater first before turning on the electric element switch. You can check for this by flipping up the pressure relief valve on the outside of the heater, to see if water comes out. It's near the top, with the blue label, which you can see from the pic you posted of your outside switch.

To be continued in another post.
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Old 04-07-2014, 02:57 AM   #3
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Now on the switch:

You stated this RV is a new to you but a previously owned RV. There can be several things that the previous owner may/may not have done, so you may need to look for some stuff.

The outside electric heating element switch on the Suburban water heaters, can be kind of confusing. To turn it on, you press the switch in where it says on, and press the switch in to the off position where it says off.

This switch below would be in the off position:



You want to make sure to read the switch, because I have seen some of these switches with the on/off reversed, which the pic below also has the switch in the off position:



Now, the fact the previous owner had the water heater unplugged could point to previous problems................or a safety routine some people practice.

Usually, with the Suburban water heaters, you only turn on the electric heating element, by using the black switch you posted a pic of on the outside of the water heater, which is similar to the two above.

I said usually, because as with the Atwood brand heaters, the Suburbans can be wired with an Inside the RV switch (or secondary switch) that can be used to control the electric heating element. When a secondary switch is being used, the outside black one (or primary switch) is always left in the on position..................and the secondary switch is used to control the electric current going to the heater.

The reason people like the secondary switch, is it allows them to turn on the electric heating element without having to go outside and flip the switch on/off.

Now, here is where it may get tricky for you as the new owner trying to troubleshoot. The electric heating element secondary switch can be a factory installed item, or something that the previous owner decided to do for himself. You need to look around to see if this has happened, because if there is a secondary switch somewhere, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to trace down why you aren't getting electric power to the heater during your testing/troubleshooting of this.

Usually these secondary switches aren't factory installed on Suburbans, but if so, they are usually located inside where the water heaters gas/DSI switch is. If customer installed, it can be anywhere, including inline in a way that it actually controls the electric outlet your water heater plugs into......instead of inline with the water heaters electric element. Either way, the outside switch has to be left in the on position.

Some people also leave the outside switch in the on position and just use the circuit breaker inside the RV that controls the outlet/circuit the water heater is using to turn the heating element on/off.

-------------------------------

I have a feeling that the previous owner though, may have had a problem with the electric element. Either it's already been burned up, or he could have had something else go wrong (ie thermostat, on/off switch)........which is why he had it unplugged to keep from tripping circuit breakers..

Also, If the on/off switch went bad (stuck in the on position), then he would have had to unplug the water heater from the outlet, or turn off the inside breaker switch to it in order to not burn up the electric heating element.

I mentioned a safety routine earlier on, as some people unplug the water heater during winterization to make sure they can't accidently energize the electric heating element...with the bypass valve open, that would burn up the element. They plug it back in when they unwinterize the RV and close the bypass. It hard to know why the previous owner had it unplugged really. Was it because of a problem, or a safety routine?

The fact you are tripping a house breaker would seem to indicate the either the electric heating element is burned out, or the electric hi-limit thermostat shorting....or both which can happen if turned on with no water in the tank.

We have several articles in the FAQ section of Forest River Forums that explain how to test/replace these items.

http://www.forestriverforums.com/forums/f215/

Good luck, and I hope other members offer better advice and solutions.
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Old 04-07-2014, 09:56 AM   #4
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Thank you for the help. I will work on troubleshooting the system after work.

I can see only one other water heater switch (shown below). I thought this switch controlled the LP water heater system, but maybe it also switches the 110V AC heater element on?
The secondary on/off switch in the outside control panel is definitely set to the "off" position.

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Old 04-07-2014, 11:12 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by trikebubble View Post
Thank you for the help. I will work on troubleshooting the system after work.

I can see only one other water heater switch (shown below). I thought this switch controlled the LP water heater system, but maybe it also switches the 110V AC heater element on?
The secondary on/off switch in the outside control panel is definitely set to the "off" position.

The switch in the pic is for the gas/DSI portion of your water heater, as you correctly assumed. Most of the time, this is the only switch insode the RV for a Suburban water heater. The electric heating element switch is usually just accessed from the outside of the RV, as you had in your first pics.

You most likely do NOT have an inside switch for the electric heating element, but I wanted to make you aware there was a small possibility that one could have been added by the previous owner....to help in your troubleshooting.

It sounds like you have a fairly good understanding of the system, and this link may or may not help you:

Suburban's electric switch and much more
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Old 04-07-2014, 01:59 PM   #6
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Awesome help, greatly appreciated. Thanks for the links as well, makes things make much more sense, and gives me a route to follow to troubleshoot the issue.
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Old 04-07-2014, 05:19 PM   #7
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another thing is that your trailer's shore cord should NOT be plugged into a GFI outlet.
many have had issues when trying this. when they plug into a non-GFI outlet, the problem disappears.
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Old 04-09-2014, 05:55 PM   #8
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another thing is that your trailer's shore cord should NOT be plugged into a GFI outlet.
many have had issues when trying this. when they plug into a non-GFI outlet, the problem disappears.
I am guessing this is more likely the issue. Plenty of convertors pull big amps when charging the on-board batteries. That can pop the GFI pretty easy.
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Old 04-09-2014, 06:27 PM   #9
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We have had the trailer for the past 3 months or so, and had it plugged in on multiple occasions for more than a day. The GFI only popped after I plugged the AC heater element into it's recepltacle, never once before.
I haven't had the time yeat, but will be inspecting the on/off switch, surrounding wiring, and AC element when I get a chance.
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Old 04-09-2014, 08:43 PM   #10
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On another note you should ALL WAYS flip the pressure relief valve up to 1) make sure you have water in there and 2) to bleed air from the water heater.
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