Appliance Tips: Repairing Your Electric Hot Water Heater

Don't you hate it when you want to take a long hot shower and then, just as you step in, the water suddenly turns to ice. Well, here's a guide to fixing your electric water heater.

It's pretty easy to tell when the water heater isn't working properly: there's little to no hot water. Finding the right solution can be just a simple because there are only about three common problems for electric water heaters: the thermostat just needs to be adjusted, the thermostat needs to be replaced, or the heating element inside the heater needs to be replaced. So before you pull out your toolbox or run to a home improvement store, here's how to test to see what needs to be fixed. First, check to see if the water heater is turned on. If it is, look at the thermostat on the water heater to see if it's set correctly. Usually people forget that the weather can have an affect on the water's temperature; if it is cold outside and the heater is located in an unheated area, the thermostat on the heater may have to be turned up. If you set the thermostat and the water still isn't hot, then it's time to head for the tools.

Now, how hot was your water? Was it warm but never got hot? Or was it hot for a time then it suddenly went cold? You need to notice this because most electric water heaters have two heating elements and the test results determine which element must be replaced. If the water was just warm and never got hotter, than you're going to have to change out the upper element. If the water is hot but suddenly goes cold, than you need to replace the bottom element.


1. Turn off the power to the heater from its circuit breaker. Take the access cover off and check for an electrical current with a neon tester before working. If there is still a current, you may have to turn off the power to the whole house. Don't forget to test a second time.

2. Turn off the water that goes to the heater, and then drain the water heater.

3. Put on safety gloves and push the insulation aside. Disconnect the wires that connect the heating element to the thermostat.

4. Remove the element by using tongue-and-groove pliers to unscrew it from the opening. Now take out the old gasket out of the heater's opening.

5. Now get the new gasket and cover it with pipe joint compound, and then slide it onto the new element. (To know which element replaces the old one either look at the nameplate on the side of the heater or take the element with you to the hardware store.) Now put the new element into the heater's opening and tighten with the same pliers.

6. Rewire the element to the thermostat, set thermostat temperature, and reset the thermostat (push the red button). Turn on the hot water throughout the house and then turn on the water to the hot water heater. When the water flows through the hot water faucets, turn off the faucets and turn on the power.

7. Replace insulation and access cover.

If you're still out of hot water, then you're going to have to change that thermostat.

1. Turn off the power from its circuit breaker, remove the access cover, push aside insulation, and test for a current with a neon tester.

2. Disconnect the wires that connect the thermostat and label them. Take out the thermostat.

3. Put in the new thermostat and connect the wires.

4. Push the reset button (red button) and set the thermostat to the appropriate temperature.

5. Replace insulation and access cover.

6. Turn on the power.

© High Speed Ventures 2011