I have a water heater (installed in 1995) in the house I bought 2 years ago. About 9 months ago, it stopped working. I looked and it tripped the circuit breaker for the water heater. I turned the breaker back on and reset the water heater (open panel + push reset button). It worked fine for 6 months. About 3 months ago it stopped working, but this time did not trip the breaker. I reset it, and it has been working fine since.
I suppose it is nearing the end of its' life, but wanted to see if anyone has had a similar experience or has any input as to what could cause it to stop working twice (trip breaker once), but work again after being reset.
It definitely needs replaced - a tank that old could rupture. The electrical problem is probably the result of the elements becoming crusted with minerals, which raises their operating temperature to the point where they fail. The inner heating wire shorts to the metal shell of the element, creating a ground fault of moderate resistance and further increasing the temperature of the element. If it happens to draw enough current to trip the breaker, then it does. Otherwise it just keeps getting worse until it burns open or shorts out in a different location.
This should be addressed pretty much immediately. It's a bit of a safety issue since the fault current is returning on the ground wire and through your home's plumbing. I bet when you pull the elements out they will be completely trashed.