5 Ways On How to Tell if a Hot Water Heater Element is Bad

Technician using a wrench

A hot water heater helps keep our dishes clean and our showers pleasant. That is why it can be so frustrating when there’s something wrong with it or one of its elements. So, is the heater really the problem and what is the best way to check if a hot water heater element is bad? Well, keep reading this article because I have all the answers!

Common Issues with Hot Water Heaters

The power is off

Water heater & pressure valveThere’s a huge chance that the issue is not with the boiler itself, but with the power. So, homeowners should see what’s going on with the breaker. In case the breaker has tripped, they’ll just need to turn it back on, and the boiler should start working properly.

The next thing homeowners should examine is the wires. They should be secure and not impaired in any way.

Another important thing homeowners need to check is whether there is any power in the heater. The easiest way to do that is by purchasing a non-contact voltage tester. They should turn off the breaker that supplies the heater with energy and then remove the covers, thermostats, insulation, and the protective cover.

The next step is turning the power on and suing the tester to check whether there’s power in the boiler or not. If the tester shows that there’s power in the heater, the issue is probably with the elements.

The water from the water heater is leaking

If the water is leaking from the heater, homeowners should find the spot where the leak is coming from. In most cases, the issue will be with a loose valve. So, it’ll only have to be tightened.

However, in case the leak is coming from the bottom of the heater, the problem might be more serious. It can be a sign that the heater is damaged or has rusted. Thus, the only thing homeowners can do is replace the whole heater.

The water heater isn’t heating water

In case the power is good, and the boiler isn’t heating water, there’s a huge chance that the issue is with the heating elements. There are two heating elements in every heater — the upper and the lower one.

If there isn’t any hot water in the house, there’s a possibility that both elements are bad. On the other hand, in case the temperature of the water fluctuates during the day, or hot water isn’t as hot as it used to be, then the issue is probably in one of the elements. So, if you have this kind of issue, you’ll learn more about the best way to check if a hot water heater element is bad in the next section.


The Best Way to Check If a Hot Water Heater Element Is Bad

Plumber repairing an hot-water heater

What you’ll need:

  • Multimeter
  • Screwdriver

1. Buy a multimeter

Homeowners can find a multimeter online and in most home centers. It’s inexpensive and they can use it to measure voltage, resistance, and current.

A multitester contains a display, a knob for setting the device to read various things, and two probes. The device might look confusing, but you shouldn’t worry about that because you can find everything you need to know about using this device in the instructions or online.

Now it’s time to set the device to measure what we need. Homeowners should put the knob to measure resistance or ohms, and set the scale to the lowest readings.

2. Turn off the power

Probably the most important step in the testing process is turning the power off. The voltage of the hot water heater can cause a serious electrical shock. So, before doing anything else, it’s crucial to unplug everything that connects the boiler to the power outlets. In addition, since most hot water heaters are connected to circuitry, homeowners shouldn’t forget to turn off the breaker for the boiler.

3. Preparing the water heater element for the test

The next step is to remove wires that are connected to the element, as well as the mounting hardware with a screwdriver.

4. Testing the water heater element

In order to do thorough testing, it’s vital to inspect every part of the heating element. Since the lower element is more prone to damage, homeowners should check that one first. Then, they should repeat the whole process for the upper element.

The first thing homeowners should test is the screws. They should put one probe to one screw and the second probe to another one and wait for the results on the display. In most cases, a normal reading should be from ten to sixteen ohms.

However, the resistance will change depending on the heating element’s power. For 5500-watt elements, we can expect lower readings, and for 3500-watt ones, the readings should be higher. Those that aren’t sure about the wattage of their units’ elements can find that information on the space between two screws, just where the wires were.

The next thing to test is the bare metal that’s on the heater. One probe should be put on the metal and another one on a screw on the element. Any reading or movement of the needle of the multimeter is a clear sign of a short circuit.

The same process should be applied to the metal frame of the element. If there’s a movement or a reading, the element has shorted out.

5. Checking the thermostats

In case both heating elements are in good shape, the last step is checking the thermostats. A multimeter will be a great tool for this step too. If both thermostats are bad, or there’s power on just one side, they need to be replaced.

Many hot water heaters nowadays also have a safety thermostat. This device can cause issues too, so it’s important to test that one out as well.

Final Thoughts

I know how important it is to have everything in the house working properly, especially when it comes to hot water. Hopefully, my readers have learned the best way to check if a hot water heater element is bad and fixed their issue. If you liked my article, you can share it so all your friends know how to solve this problem too. Stay tuned for more useful articles!

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