Your electric water heater may come with one or two heating elements. If these parts have any problems, your water heater system won’t heat water the way it should. You may notice that the temperature of your water heater decreases. Or it may simply stop heating water. Don’t throw out your water heater just yet. You could have a bad element. Learn how to check water heater elements.
These little water heater parts cost less than a new water heater. And if you learn how to check water heater element units and replace them, you won’t have to foot a repair bill.
But before we get into the details of testing water heater elements. you should troubleshoot your system first.
Find out exactly what is wrong with your water heating device before you go poking around in it.
Is Your Water Heater System On?
- Check the plug at the wall outlet to see if it came loose.
- Check the circuit breaker. It may not be on.
- Reset the cutoff for high temperatures.
The high-temperature cutoff is a tiny red button sitting above the upper thermostat. Push it down.
You’ve performed these tests, and the result is the same. It is now time to check water heater elements.
What Is A Water Heater Element?
A heating element is a tool inside electric water heater tanks that give it heat. Usually, elements are coils.
What Are Water Heater Elements Made Of?
These devices are made with nichrome. Nichrome contains three metals.
- 80% nickel
- 20% chromium.
An 80/20 nichrome combination will survive the extreme heat of your water heater. It works really well. That’s why before you suspect the heating elements, you should consider other possibilities.
How To Test Water Heating Element
Turn Off Your Water Heater System
Always keep safety in mind when doing repairs on anything that uses electricity. Turn off the power at the outlet where you plug your water heater and your circuit breaker.
Empty The Tank
Close the water valves and use a hose to drain all the water out of the system.
Take Off The Cover Panel
There are two cover panels on your water heater – one upper and one lower. Each one houses a heating element and thermostat.
Remove the screws on the panels to access these devices.
You will come across some insulation material. Get it out of the way. Then take the plastic shield off the heating elements. They should snap out of place with ease.
How To Tell Which Heating Element Is Bad
Things You Will Need:
- Element tool
- A screwdriver
You can also use a Noncontact voltage detector or multitester
The element tool is also called an element wrench.
A screwdriver will come in handy if your elements have been sitting there for a while. They may be hard to remove. If that is the case, put the screwdriver through the hole of the element wrench for leverage.
Use A noncontact voltage detector, multimeter, or multitester. These tools are for testing hot water heater elements for electricity.
Test Hot Water Heater Element – Multimeter And NonContact Voltage Detector
Some water heaters have one element. Others have two. One upper and one lower. Each has a thermostat to control temperature.
Most times, it is the lower element that has the problem.
To find out which is causing the issue, use a multimeter to test the element wires. But first, ensure that your multimeter is working. Touch the ends of your multimeter together. If you have a reading, your multimeter is fine.
Now, find the screws that connect the water heater element to the thermostat. Hold the detector to each wire. You need to ensure that there is no current passing through them.
Turn the dial on your multimeter to 750 AVC. Press the probes to the two screws on the thermostat. You should get no reading or a low reading of 1 or 2. That means your system is powered down. You won’t get electrocuted while working.
Turn the dial of your multimeter to the lowest ohm setting. Touch the probes on the multimeter to both screws. You should get a reading range of 10-16 ohms.
- An element of 3,500 watts should record 16 ohms on the multimeter.
- An element of 4,500 watts should record 12-13 ohms on the multimeter.
- An element of 5,500 watts should register 10-11 ohms on the multimeter.
You should find that information printed on a plastic block head of the heating element.
You can also read this information on the instructions printed on your tank.
Repeat this process with the lower element. If you get no reading, it means your element is shot.
Replacing The Heating Element
Loosen the screws for the elements. Detach the wires connected to the screws. Pay attention to the wattage of the face of the element.
Connect the probes of the multimeter to both screws of the element. You should get a reading if the element is not faulty.
Keep one probe on a screw and press the other to any metal section of your water heater. You should get a reading here too.
If you do not get a reading, it means you have a grounded element. Replacement is the only option.
When you buy a new element, the wattage should be the same as the one you removed from your water heater.
If you buy an element that uses a lower wattage, your heater won’t get as hot. A lower wattage will also keep your element working longer. Buying an element with a higher voltage is a bad idea.
How To Connect Heating Element
Putting in a new element is as simple as it was to take it out. All you have to do is reverse the process you used when you took out the heating element.
Screw the component in with your finger as tight as you can. Use your element tool to give it another complete turn that will secure it in place.
Put the insulation back in and set the cover back in place.
Important Note To Remember
When changing the element on your heater, also change the rubber gasket. Putting in a new rubber gasket will prevent leaks.
Turn Your Water Heater Back On
Turn it on at the breaker first. Then switch the outlet on.
Fill Back The Tank
Close the drain valve. Open the hot and cold valves to all water back into the tank. If you never closed hot water valve, you might hear a sputtering noise. That’s only the air leaving the pipes. Once the air is out, the noise will stop.
A heating element costs between US$40 and US$100. That puts these devices in the affordable range.
Testing, removing, and replacing the heating element is a simple process. You can get it done without hiring anyone. And it doesn’t take more than a few minutes.
If you remove a water heater bad element and replace it yourself, you will save yourself the cost of repairs.