Electric Hot Water Heater Problems

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Common Issues with Electric Hot Water Heaters

The majority of hot water heater related plumbing calls that we receive are because there is either no hot water being produced, or the hot water runs out sooner than normal.

Staggs Plumbing has fixed or replaced numerous electrical hot water heaters over the years; this is a very straightforward job for us. As the homes in Rowlett, Plano TX and surrounding areas get older, the equipment and appliances age, and at some point will need to be replaced. Most water heaters need to be replaced every 10-15 years. The hard water in north Texas contains lots of minerals which coats the inside of your hot water tank as well as the heating elements. That will reduce the efficiency of your unit over time.

In this article, we’ll show you step by step what to check and how to perform the fix yourself…if you feel up to it.

If your electric hot water heater is slow to heat, runs out of hot water faster than it used to, or doesn’t deliver any hot water at all, there’s a good chance that replacing one or both of the heating elements will solve your problem.

The fix is relatively straightforward, replacement parts are inexpensive ($10 to $30) and readily available at your local hardware store or appliance parts dealers.

The best and safest course of action is to call in a professional plumber such as Staggs Plumbing. Most competent DIYers should be able to replace a water heater element, but if you wish to err on the side of caution, get in touch with us.

If you choose to do this yourself, then you will need a few common tools:

  • Flat blade screwdriver and/or nut driver
  • Access to the power breaker panel
  • Electrical continuity tester
  • Voltage tester (either non-contact or contact variety)
  • Garden hose
  • Heating element socket
  • Protective gloves

If you end up needing a new heater element, make sure you buy one with the same wattage that is compatible with your heater make and model. You can find this on the label on the water heater body, or simply look it up by using the water heater model number that should be located somewhere on the label on the tank.


Diagnose the Hot Water Heater

There are several items to check in order to determine what is causing the issue with your water unit.

Electrical Power

Is the breaker that supplies power to the water heater tripped? If so, turn the power breaker back on and monitor to see if trips again. If it does trip, you’ll need to find the root cause. It could be an issue with the hot water unit or even an issue with your electrical supply.

If you find that the breakers repeatedly trip, then the recommended course of action is to reach out to a professional and licensed electrician. There is likely a major electrical issue, or the entire water heater needs replacing. In either case, this is not a DIY job. Staggs Plumbing can assess the situation and replace the water heater or put you in contact with a qualified electrician.

If the breakers are operating fine, then check the operation of the individual parts inside the heater.

Heater Reset Button Tripped

Beneath the access panel on the side of the heater unit, there is a small red button. If it has popped out, simply depress it back in and then monitor the hot water supply. Note that there are usually two heater elements, one at the bottom and another about half way up the tank. There is a reset button for each element.

If the reset buttons did not trip, then check the following:

Defective Heating Element

This is the most common cause of an issue with an electrical water heater.

Refer to this informative video for details on checking and diagnosing the heater elements

  1. Remove the cover plates.
  2. Switch off the circuit breaker for the water heater power.
  3. Ensure no power by using a non-contact voltage detector.
  4. Test the elements.
  5. Test for continuity on the element(s). If none, it needs replacing.
  6. Test for a short between the element and the mounting bracket or exposed metal of the water heater body.

A detailed step by step procedure can be found further down this page.

Defective Thermostat

If the element(s) pass the tests described above (continuity and no short), the thermostat may be defective. In this case, simply replace the thermostat. They are relatively inexpensive.

  1. Remove the old thermostat, usually held on by a few clips.
  2. Disconnect the wires from the old thermostat
  3. Connect the wires to the new thermostat
  4. Attach the new thermostat to the clips on the tank body

If, after you’ve performed all of these diagnostic steps, you can’t resolve the issue, then it’s time to call out a professional plumber and identify the cause of the problem.


How to Replace an Electrical Hot Water Heater Element – Step by Step

  1. Wear protective gloves.
  2. Switch off the circuit breaker.
  3. Turn off the cold water supply.
  4. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve and run the hose outside.
  5. Open a hot water faucet in the kitchen or the nearest hot water faucet to the tank.
  6. Flip open the pressure relief valve.
  7. Open the drain valve and drain all the water. If you’re only replacing the upper element, you only need to drain about half of the water in the tank. If you’re replacing the lower heating element, you will need to drain the entire tank.
  8. Remove the shield that covers the heating element.
  9. Remove the insulation covering the parts inside.
  10. Remove the wires connected to the element.
  11. Unscrew the heating element using a heating element socket.
  12. Remove the heating element from the tank.
  13. Insert the new heating element and tighten into place with the heating element socket.
  14. Reconnect the power wires to the heating element.
  15. Replace the insulation and access cover.
  16. Close the drain valve and remove the garden hose.
  17. Close the pressure relief valve.
  18. Turn the cold water supply back on and allow the tank to fill up.
  19. When water comes out of the hot water faucet (it will not be hot at this point), shut off the faucet.
  20. Wait until there is no more water going into the hot water tank. You will be able to hear water rushing through the pipes as it fills.
  21. Turn the power supply back on.


Useful links

Rheem electrical hot water heaters

Comparison of electric vs. gas water heaters

Best electric water heaters

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