Make certain that there is water in the tank when turning the electric heater element on.
The first trip of the year was early spring, and as we were just parking on a friends acreage, hooked up to his power, and never bothered to fill tanks other than a bit of water for the toilet if needed.
Well, when getting ready to go to Osoyoos the water heater was switched on by my wife for some cleaning in the trailer, and she did not realize that it was still bypassed. Nothing was said(or even realized), other than the plugs in the trailer were not working. At Osoyoos we discovered that the water heater would not work on electric, so we tried it on propane. Nothing. We then discovered that the reset buttons on it were tripped(thanks to Reace pointing them out), so I reset them. Still nothing on electric, but the propane worked fine.
We left the breaker off thinking that the element may be shot, and used 120V for our little kettle only. On the way home we stopped at a BC Parks site with no hook-ups. Forward to a couple weeks later to get it ready for our next trip, and clean it up a bit, I found nothing electrical would work. As soon as I plugged anything in, it would trip the GFI breaker on my house. I thought weird, as it did work at Osoyoos, but realized that they likely did not have a 30A GFI plug.
When I got home, set to do some lighting work in the trailer, and have a look at replacing the element. I then realized that the 20A DC fuse on the panel was blown, and replaced it. Lots of things to confuse me, so I set up to trouble shoot. I disconnected the converter thinking that maybe it had a short somehow, just enough of a trickle to trip the GFI. Nothing. I turned all the breakers off except the plugs, turned on a heat gun (I was heat shrinking tubes on wiring for cupboard lights), and it tripped. I then tried to plug in to a non GFI outlet, and the resultant was to blow the 20A fuse again. The first time it tripped was likely at home, and we had enough charge in the batteries to run everything for a bunch of days, as during this whole time they were not charging. Still confused.
I pulled the leads to the panel off and hooked up a plug to them, and it worked fine. Obviously something within the trailer was grounded which caused the GFI to trip. I then had one of those "D'oh" moments, smacked myself in the head, because I realized that the heater element was likely shorted to ground and just removing the hot by turning the breaker off was not enough, as the neutral was still connected to the others in the panel.
As soon as I disconnected both the hot and neutral from the water heater, everything else worked just fine. Converter worked great too after getting a new fuze. A smarter fella might have tried this first.
Then I had a look at changing out the heater element. I took a plastic cover off of it that protects the leads, and saw it had a big ass hex head on it. My largest socket was a 1 1/4" and was too small. I determined it was 1 1/2" and headed off to Canadian Tire to buy one, no luck. I then went to Lowes and looked for one, and they had it. I also went to the water heater section, and found a 1500W heater element with the same head size on it. The existing one is 1440W. I thought great, probably a lot cheaper than an RV parts store.
Socket - $14.98 (So, if anyone local ever needs one
Element - $22.98
Changing it out was real easy. Basic steps to change out the heater element on a Suburban SW6DE water heater were;
1. Ensure the breaker is off to the water heater
2. Drain the water heater
3. Remove the propane burner tube from the water heater as it blocked access to the element.
4. Remove the cover off the heater element
5. Disconnect the leads
6. Using a 1 1/2" socket with extension, removed the old element
7. Install the new one with the included gasket
8. Hook up the leads, replace the cover, reinstall the burner tube
9. Fill the tank with water, turn on the heater and make sure it works.
The actual work once you have the parts takes about 15 minutes or so. Very easy to do.
My Lowes purchases
The pooched element
A closer look
A look at the water heater with the burner tube and element cover removed. The new element is now installed.