How to Replace a Heating Element in an Electric Water Heater

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The heating element is responsible for heating the water in a water heater. It is a powered element which means you will not turn it on or off via a switch or thermostat. When an electric heating element fails, the best option is to replace it rather than repairing it.

One of the signs that your hot water heater heating element is not working is the water takes too long to heat or doesn't heat at all. While this task may appear complicated, most homeowners have successfully done it themselves. Follow this guide to learn how to replace the heating element in your electric water heater.

Start by Understanding Electric Water Heater Wiring

Before touching any part of your water heater, you should start by understanding the electric water heater wiring. Electric water heaters have two heating elements, a thermostat, and a high limit.

Electric Water Heater
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The high limit switch is vital to the safety of your home as it will shut off the power if the water becomes too hot. If you do not know where these parts are located on your heater, consult your owner's manual or call a professional to assist you.

You might be needing an electric water heater wiring code too.

How to Replace Electric Water Heater Heating Element

1. Shut Off the Power to Your Water Heater

You need to shut down the power to do any work on your water heater. You can flip the circuit breaker off or remove the fuse in your electrical panel. The power needs to stay off until you are done with the work. You should also shut down the cold water inlet valve, so it doesn't deliver the water to the heating element. You'll find the shut-off valve for the cold water supply just above the heating element.

2. Locate the Heating Element

You'll find the heating element directly above the water supply connections. It will be a cylindrical rod with two cables plugged into it. On most water heaters, you'll see a circular opening where the heating element goes.

Water Heater Element
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You should also know that electric water heaters have two heating elements. One is located in the upper access panel and the other in the lower part. One of these elements may have a thermostat, while the other has a timer. It's always best to shut down both the upper and lower heating elements, so you don't have any issues with electricity during your maintenance appointment.

3. Test the Heating Element

At this point, you'll need to use a multimeter to test your water heating element. Turn off the power at the main breaker to your water heater. Now, put one probe of your multimeter through the heating element screws and touch the other probe on each of the screw terminals. 

If both are reading 120 volts, you'll know that they're complete. If one is missing and the other isn't, you'll need to replace either the upper or lower heating element. You can also test your thermostat or timer at this point with your multimeter if you'd like.

4. Drain Water from Heater

Before opening up the unit, you will want to learn how to drain the water heater, making it easier to work with. Drain the tank or turn off the cold source for the water heater. To drain, find the drain plug underneath one of your hot water faucets and simply open it. If you do not have a drain plug, you can shut off your house's cold water supply line. This is located just above the water heater, against your house's wall, and next to your pressure relief valve.

Drain Water from Heater
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5. Remove the Heating Element

You should remove the heating element by turning it counterclockwise using a water heater element wrench. The heating element is located on the bottom of the heater and should be easy to find. It will most likely have a hose or wires attached to it, so do not be surprised if you see something after you take off the panel.

After removing, set the heating element aside so you can work with it without fear of damaging it.

6. Install a New Heating Element

You know that if a heating element is already damaged, you can't replace it. So the next step of action is to find a new element that you can use in place for the old one. Before buying the new heating element, you need to ensure the specifications match the old one. A heating element without the same voltage will not fit into your tank unless you have the right tools for it.

To replace the water heater elements, you must follow the same procedure you used to remove the previous element. You should first turn off the power to your element. Even if you have the new element, it's still best to use caution, given that you are working around electricity here.

Afterward, disconnect your old element from the wires and screw in the new one where the former was positioned.

7. Refill the Tank

The only way to know if everything works as before is to test. To do this, you'll need to fill your tank with e-juice. If the flow is too slow, you might need to remove a small screw or two from the top of your atomizer and adjust them so that they fit snugly in the holes.

You might also hear some water heater noises if you left the hot water faucet on. This is not something to worry about because as the tank fills with water, it forces the air out hence the noise. Allow all the air to get out as the water tank fills before you turn off the hot water faucet.

8. Reconnect Your Water Heater

It's not time to confirm if your new heating element is working. You need to reconnect the wires of the heating element to the electric heater's terminals (or wires) and also ensure they are secure by tightening their screw.

9. Turn on the Water Heater Again

Turn on your water heater again by switching it back on. Monitor your new heating element for any unusual signs or signals. You may notice strange odors, bubbles, or other signs of the heating element not working properly. If you notice any kind of these signs, then you need to stop using your water heater and replace an electric water heating element again.

You should also turn on the circuit breaker and ensure there's no leakage. If everything is okay, then you need to replace the plastic safety cover and cover the access panel. Let it rest for about an hour and verify if your unit is heating as it should. If everything is ok, congratulations; you've successfully replaced the heating element.

FAQs About How to Replace a Heating Element in an Electric Water Heater

How do I know if I have a bad heating element?

The most common symptoms are no warm water, very little hot water, or even steam coming from your heating element. If you notice any kind of these signs, you need to stop using your water heater and replace the heating element again. You should also turn on the circuit breaker and ensure there's no leakage. If everything is good, then you're ready to go.

Is it easy to replace an electric heating element?

To answer this question, absolutely yes! Especially if you just follow the steps that we've provided, and more importantly, use our recommendations on how to replace a heating element of an electric water heater. Replacing an electric heating element is easier than replacing a gas heating element, that's for sure. Just make sure you have the replacement part in hand before you start to do anything else.

Final Verdict on How to Replace a Heating Element in an Electric Water Heater

Replacing a heating element is not a very difficult process even for the rookie, but you need to ensure that you get the right replacement part. Always make sure that you follow our recommendations and take your time when replacing an electric heating element. It will save you from many headaches later on.


Kristina Perrin

Kristina Perrin

Kristina is an expert DIY home remodeler and mom to three. When she's not cooking or experimenting with new recipes, you can find her working on new home improvement projects or writing about her favorite kitchen appliances or DIY projects on Kitchen Infinity blog.

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