How to Check a Hot Water Heater Element

It can be very frustrating waking up very early in the morning, jumping into your bathroom with the hopes of having a hot shower, but alas, the water is so cold you can’t stand it. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Lack of running hot water means that several activities in the house won’t be running as usual. For instance, you won’t be able to get the grease of your utensils or even wash your clothes in the washing machine.

When the water temperature drops to questionable Fahrenheit, it could mean that the water heater is faulty.

Such happenings could be because of several reasons, such as power issues or a bad thermostat, but the most prevalent is usually a damaged water heater element.

Essentially, you will need to check if the element is functioning properly.

But how do you go about it, given the complexity of the electrical equipment?  Read on to learn and understand how to check your hot water heater element if it is functioning as required or needs a replacement.

How to Check a Hot Water Heater Element

If you are unsure of yourself, you might want to call a professional for assistance, although it might set you back a few bucks.

You will need the following tools;

  • Safety goggles
  • Screwdriver
  • Gloves
  • Continuity tester

Step 1: Turn off the power supply

Before working on any electrical equipment, you must turn off the power supply to the equipment. You can do this by flipping the circuit breaker, usually attached to the wall in your basement or laundry area. Often the breaker is marked to identify the electrical equipment it controls.

Step 2: Remove the metal plate cover

Locate the metal plate cover on the water heater, then use the screwdriver to take out the screws that attach the body to the water heater. Removing the plate gives you access to the thermostat and the heating element.

Step 3: Remove the insulation

Once the cover plate is off, you may see a plastic cover or cotton-like fibres that insulate the electric water heater. Remove the insulation material to have access to the electrical components. This part is where all the testing will take place to ensure the heating element is functioning properly.

Step 4: Disconnect the wires

With the insulating material out of the way, you can access the water heater element, usually located on the lower side. Disconnect the wires that connect to the element, then proceed to the next step.

Step 5: Testing the element

This test allows you to know if the element is broken or if it has a short. The first test is a continuity test. Attach the alligator clip on one screw and then the probe on the other element screw. If the probe lights up, then it means the element has continuity. If it fails, the element is faulty and needs replacement.

The next test is to know if the element has a short circuit. To perform this test, clip the alligator to one of the terminals and then attach the probe to a metal part on the water heater. Repeat the same process with the alligator clip on the other terminal. If the probe lights up, it means that the element is shorted and needs to be replaced. When it doesn’t light up, then the element is working perfectly fine.

In case the water heater is shorted or lacks continuity, you might want to dig into your pocket and purchase a replacement. A suitable replacement would be a Rheem water heater tune-up kit. It is easy to repair and guarantees you prolonged water heating life.

How to Check a Hot Water Heater Element with a Multimeter

Using a multimeter to check your water heater element will give you a more precise idea of why it is failing. It measures the electrical current and voltage passing through the electrical equipment. When calculating the resistance, turn the multimeter to the lowest ohms settings, then proceed with the following steps.

Step 1: Disconnect one wire from the element terminal

Given that the metal plate cover is off and the insulating material out of the way, disconnect one of the wires connecting the element using a screwdriver. If the plate cover is still in place, refer to the first three steps above – How to check a water heater element.

Most water heaters have two elements. You can choose the water heater you want to deal with first and proceed with the testing. Disconnecting only one wire ensures that you are testing the conductivity of the element alone and no other connected parts.

Step 2: Testing the elements

The first test you need to take is to check if the element presents continuity. With the multimeter on the floor, attach the prongs’ tips on the element’s screws one after the other. Check the multimeter readings on the dialogue box. A reading of between 10-30 ohms indicates that the element is perfectly fine.

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Step 3: Interpreting the readings

If the readings remain at the initial zero settings, then it shows the element is showing no resistance, meaning it is not working correctly. Even if the readings move to one, the element is still not working correctly and needs to be replaced. If there are two elements, then proceed to check the second one.

Bad Water Heater Element Symptoms

A bad water heater element can be a serious letdown, especially in a home dependent on hot water. There are telltale signs that indicate a water heater element is not functioning as required. The very first sign you will notice is that no hot water is flowing in the house.

Other signs may include the following

  • Extremely hot water indicates that the element thermostat is set too high, well past the factory standards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Lukewarm water is another indication of a failing element. Usually, most water heaters have two elements. Lukewarm water is a clear indication that at least of the elements is faulty.
  • Another sign of a faulty element is that you may notice the temperature of the water fluctuates from being too hot, then too cold, and other time’s just Lukewarm

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How many ohms should a water heater element have?

A standard water heater element should display a resistance of between 10-16 ohms. However, any 10-30 ohms readings still indicate that the water heater is still functioning correctly.

Will a water heater work with one element?

Yes, although it might not heat the water to the desired temperatures. Usually, the top element is the one that regulates the thermostat. If the bottom element fails, the top will continue working undisturbed. However, you might want to replace the damaged element with a new one to reduce the time used to heat water.

How many volts should a hot water heater element have?

When you measure the voltage using a multimeter, the reading should be around 240 volts. However, other elements operate on 120 volts, but most households use the 240 volts element.

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Bottom Line

An electric water heater is an essential piece of equipment in every household. Some home activities, such as laundry, washing the utensils and even taking a shower, fail to move when the machine’s components fail.

Often it is the heating element that breaks down. However, it is not hard to fix, but first, you need to confirm if the problem is really from the element. The above steps show you how to check a water heater element.

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