Repairing an Electric Water Heater

Repairing an Electric Water Heater

Most repairs to an electric water heater involve the two elements and their thermostats. If water leaks onto the floor, the tank is rusted through, and the unit must be replaced.

-- If water is not hot enough, try turning up the thermostat settings for both elements.
-- If the unit suddenly stops heating water, press the reset button, usually on the high-limit cutoff. If you hear a click, the unit is reset and the problem may be solved. Also check that power is reaching the unit; call in an electrician if you are not sure.
-- If water gets warm but not hot, replace the upper element and/or thermostat.
-- If the hot water runs out quickly, replace the lower element and/or thermostat.
-- If the unit is noisy, drain the tank and refill it. If that does not solve the problem, remove and clean the elements.
-- If water is too hot even with the thermostats turned down, replace either the thermostat or the high-limit cutoff.


An hour or two for most repairs

Screwdriver, voltage tester, groove-joint pliers

Testing for electrical power, unscrewing and replacing devices

Prepare the household for doing without hot water for a few hours; arrange for a work light while the power is off.

New element, thermostat, or high-limit cutoff for your make and model of water heater

Step 1

The amount of power an electric water heater uses is dangerous. Check with an electrician if you are unsure about shutting off power. At the service panel, shut off the breaker or unscrew the fuse controlling the water heater. Be sure no one will turn the power on while you work.

Step 2

Close the water shutoff valve above the tank. Drain the tank. Remove the access panel and the protective cover. Press the two prongs of a voltage tester against the terminal screws that the wires are connected to; test all possible combinations. Be certain the power is off.

Step 3

Loosen the element's terminal screws and pull the wires away. You don't need to mark the wires -- they can be attached to either terminal.

Step 4

Use groove-joint pliers to loosen and unscrew the element. Pull out the element. Have an appliance parts dealer test the element and buy a duplicate if it's defective. If the element is working, try replacing the thermostat.

Step 5

Scrape away any debris from around the opening and clean it with a rag. Screw in the new element, replace the wires, replace the cover, and refill the tank. Set the thermostat, restore power, and test.

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