Brand new tank, very LOUD whistling noise

The Tank Brand new tank, very LOUD whistling noise

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    Ok, kind of a long story. Last month my brother replaced my old 40gal. electric water heater with a new 50gal. He is our family handyman, electrician, plumber, builder, mechanic, etc., and has been for 30 years, and this is the 4th tank he has replaced, just for me, much less the rest of the family. He knows what he is doing. The new tank needed the electric wire and the breaker upgraded, so he replaced those, also.

    On the day he replaced the tank, that night we had that really bad winter storm hit-the one that moved across the country with such intense cold. I live in Texas, and we are not plumbed or insulated for that type of severe, prolonged cold weather. I always leave the faucets dripping-I would rather have a little higher electric bill than plumbing repairs. I am way out in the country, and have a well. That night, the electric control box for my well went out. So, no water running, anywhere. Of course, busted pipes. The control box turned out to be clogged with, of all things, bees, apparently seeking warmth in my well house. They got in between the contacts and burned the box out.

    I have no idea if any of this applies to my problem, just telling it from start to finish.

    After we thawed out, and after a week of replacing all the PCV piping with PEX piping, and insulating the actual piping, we finally got the water going again. Drained and refilled the hot water tank, vented the top until just water was running out the vent pipe, closed the vent, ran all the faucets, hot and cold, until no air came out anywhere, then closed all the faucets. Turned on the tank breaker. Cool, hot water, finally. That night, after my husband ran his bath, the hot water tank started whistling-LOUDLY. Loud enough to be heard at the other end of the house. I actually thought he had put the tea kettle on and IT was whistling.

    I turned off the breaker, and called my brother. He came out the next day, and pulled the elements. The top element already had @1/16th of an inch of scale build-up already–the bottom had a light coating, but the top was thick enough to have to be chipped off with a fingernail, a little thinner than an emory board. I have really hard water, and replace elements about every year or so, but one day was ridiculous. I had him go buy 2 new, hard-water recommended elements, the kind with double the surface area, kind of looped back over itself. I forgot new tanks only come equipped with the standard straight elements, and have had to use the others all the time we have lived here. He put those in Thursday. No problems, no whistling, hot water(120 setting).

    About an hour ago, ran a bath, and hot water tank started whistling again as it re-filled, not so loudly, but a lot louder than the normal hiss when it is just re-heating water. I turned off the breaker, and am now just plain puzzled. This is a brand new tank, brand new elements, and I have lived here for 18 years, and replaced a number of tanks over the years. I have never had this problem before.

    What to check next??? When he replaced the elements, we drained, and refilled the tank, and made sure to vent all the air, and then run all the faucets, thinking maybe an air bubble had gotten in the lines from the broken pipes, and just not worked its’ way out, and had reacted with the elements. I have had various things go out over the years, (power outages, water leaks, etc.) and have had to clear the air from the hot water tank and lines, to re-start it, more than a few times, and I am pretty sure I know what I am doing by now, but, obviously, I am doing SOMEthing wrong.

    ANY ideas would be appreciated, because the only thing I can see to do now, is un-install the tank, and return it to Home Depot, and get a replacement, and I know my brother REALLY doesn’t want to have to do that, lol.

    Thanks, Pam


    Have him remove the connectors at the inlet and outlet and clean out the heat trap nipples. Sounds like something is stuck. If this happens only with the water on then it is not an electrical problem.

    Larry Weingarten

    Hello: Can you clarify for us… is the heater making noise when no water is being used, or only when water IS being used?

    Yours, Larry


    It only makes the noise when the breaker is turned on, when you run hot water. If I turn the breaker off, mid-noise, it quiets down and stops completely within 5-10 seconds, even if the tank is still refilling, and water is running. Once the tank has refilled, with the breaker off, if I turn the breaker back on, it makes no noise until I run hot water again.

    Larry Weingarten

    Hello: I’m curious about water pressure. Are you getting normal water flow from the hot taps? Does flow ever fall off?

    Yours, Larry



    Subnucleate boiling on the elements does make a little noise but I’ve never heard a whistle. To determine if subnucleate boiling is the cause we need to stop subnucleate boiling. To stop it, rewire the WH from 240 volts to 120 volts at the power supply. Your handy man brother should be able to handle this easily. At 120 volts the element surface is not able to get hot enough for subnucleate boiling to occur.

    If your water is hard enough to scale up and burn out elements that quickly you need a very very low power density. 120 volts should accomplish this. If the noise is absent when the WH is energized and drawing load at 120 volts, the noise would have been coming from the element(s) due to subnucleate boiling.

    The trouble will be the recovery time on a 50 gallon WH. To address the slow recovery, below is a copy from the “New Dilema” topic I posted on 17 February 2011, 1231 hours. Rewiring the WH is required; another job for your brother.

    Scale on elements does not change water heater efficiency. What it does do is to create an interference with heat transfer. But the same heat MUST be transferred. So the element center line temperature continues to rise over time to drive the heat flux through the crud until finally the element melts.

    To eliminate this problem at my house, I have rewired the supply voltage from 240 volts to 120 volts. Ohm’s Law for a resistance circuit states E = IR. For the equation to stay balanced, if E (volts) goes to half then I (current) also goes to half. W (power) = EI. So if both E and I go to one half, then power goes to 25%.

    To offset this slow recovery I have paralleled the thermostats.
    Look in Tanklets and Electric WH Issues.
    There is a picture of the top thermostat.
    First rewire supply to 120 volts.
    Turn power off to WH.
    Lift black wire from thermostat lower right screw.
    Land black wire on thermostat one screw above where yellow wire is landed.
    Restore power.

    Each thermostat can now operate as needed at 25%. Total output is 50% of nameplate.

    Having a larger volume heater is helpful for this strategy. I have a 105 gallon Marathon and heat off-peak only at $0.0515/kWh.

    A 4500 watt element operating continually for 24 hours will produce 480 gallons of 90F rise water!

    I hope this helps. If your new WH has an electronic control box on it, then it has to have 240 volts to operate. Rewiring to 120 volts is not an option for this case.



    Larry-No, the water flow never drops off at all. I have a bladder-type water tank at my well, at 60lbs. psi. My brother is going to check a few more water lines this afternoon. This morning, with the breaker still turned off since yesterday, I ran the hot water tap in the bathroom sink closest to the water heater closet, and it ‘gurgled’ with air for about 2-3 seconds, mixed with the water, before straight water came out. He had me pop the vent on the heater, and I could hear water flowing, mixed with air bubbles, for about 5 seconds, before just water flowed. You know, how you can hear the ‘gurgle’ of air bubbles in a water pipe?

    He thinks I may still have a hairline crack or pinhole leak at a joint, letting a tiny bit of air into the lines, and when enough has accumulated, the top element is not fully submerged.

    David-He said he could do that, no problem, but this is really a loud whistle, just like a whistling tea kettle, loud enough to be heard in the other end of my house, coming from the top of the tank. I can’t imagine why subnucleate boiling would be going on, all of a sudden, when I have had several tanks over the years, and dozens of elements. If he can’t readily find another leak, he said he will try switching the voltage, and see if it is still doing it.

    Thanks guys, Pam


    I question whether a pressurized water system at 60 psi that developed a very very small leak would ever have a venturi effect and draw air in. More likely for water to come out.

    How dry has it been in your area? Is your well sucking air?



    Hmmm-good point, 60psi is pretty high, for air to enter the system. How would I tell if my well were sucking air? The main line coming off the well is one of the ones that broke during the freeze, and had to wait 5 days to repair it, so that whole time my well was ‘open’, so to speak.


    If, if, if,…

    If you have a check valve between your well and the bladder tank, and if the check valve is very good and seals well against reverse flow, and if you have a leak between the pump and the check valve, … then….

    when the pump stops, the check valve seals, the section of line between pump and check valve depressurizes. Depending upon size and orientation of the crack water will leak out and air can be drawn in. When pump restarts water forces the air pocket right on toward the bladder tank/house.

    Just a possibility based on a lot of if’s.

    Draw a one line diagram of your system with all components. Then ask “If I get a leak at any given spot what will happen?”.

    Analytical Trouble Shooting class says when you get a problem ask “What has changed?”. Your first post said your WH was changed the day of the storm with attending plumbing damage. Two things changed at the same time. I think your WH is fine. It is just the WH may be showing you symptoms of a “problem” located elsewhere.


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