The old-style heating elements were made of metal, but today's heating element is usually a combination of wire coils and ceramic insulation in order to provide hot water easily.
If you suspect that your heating element might be faulty and need an immediate replacement, then it's time to test it out.
In this article, we will discuss how to check the heating element of your electric water heater and some signs you should look out for to know if it needs replacement.
What's Inside an Electric Water Heater Anyways?
The electric water heater is a key component of any home. It provides hot water for showers, dishwashing, and laundry
In the event of an emergency, hot water can be used and cooled down to provide drinking water. But what exactly is inside a typical residential water heater?
The typical hot water heater is a metal box with an insulated outer shell or plastic safety cover and heating elements. The two most common types of heating elements are the rod type (consisting of long, thin pieces of low-carbon steel) and the flat ribbon type.
A rod-type water heater can be up to five feet in length, while the hot gas passes through its center before being blown into tubes all around it.
On the other hand, ribbon-type water heaters consist only of copper or aluminum wire that loops back on itself many times – usually about 100 times for residential units.
Testing the heating element of your water heater to see if it's working is a great way of figuring out what might be wrong with your heater before calling in for service or waiting until you have no choice but to wait on an emergency call-out.
In other words, being proactive is much better than being reactive when it comes to electric water heaters.
How to Test Water Heater Element
Below are the steps needed for you to test the water heater element and ensure that it's working as expected and giving you all of the hot water you need.
Step 1: Disconnect the water heater from the power source
To disconnect the water heater from the power source, you will need to turn off the circuit breaker that provides electricity to your water heater.
This can be found in a panel box or at an electrical service entrance. The circuit breaker may also be labeled for “heating” and it's usually either the last one on this list or close by when looking over them all.
The next step in checking on your water heater heating element is to make sure that there are no live wires before proceeding with removing anything else connected to the water heater so another person doesn't get electrocuted while standing near it.
This could include turning off any light switches as well because they provide current even if not powered up properly or left on after the use of other appliances like microwaves, televisions, etc.
Step 2: Open the metal base box cover
This bare metal part cover is usually found at the front of the water heater.
To remove it, you'll need a screwdriver to unscrew any other screw securing it into place. You can also use a heating element wrench and then use your hands to pry open the metal cover away from its resting position.
If something doesn't look right here, don't proceed until figuring out the why-for example if some of the wire connections are loose or if there's a problem with the ground.
When you're ready to proceed, unscrew any screws that may be holding the heating element in place and then use your hands to pull it out of its casing-this might involve some light tugging so go slow and steady at first.
You can also find safety goggles for working around exposed wires which have come out of their protective wrapping but these are optional since they don't always work well when one needs good visibility while doing such delicate tasks as replacing old heating elements
Step 3: Detach the insulation
Detach from your water heater's insulating jacket by pulling back or cutting with scissors for pieces that won't detach easily when pulled back-especially those attachment points located at joints where two lengths of wire come together.
You might also have fiberglass insulation – fiberglass is an excellent insulator and does not conduct heat well. It's also resistant to mold and mildew growth, which can cause structural damage in your home or office building.
Protect yourself during this process
Make sure to protect yourself during this stage with gloves and goggles.
Take your time with testing heating elements
It's easy to cut the wire insulation too short when attempting to detach from an attachment point at a joint where two lengths of insulated wire come together.
If you do, that will shorten the life span of your new heating element by making it susceptible to overheating damage.
Be careful what you slice
When using scissors for cutting through joints to make attachments easier, be careful not to slice any wires on either side as they may become exposed and cause unintended consequences such as electrical shock or fire hazards.
Detach insulating jackets close enough so that there is no slack in them once removed from their original position but leaving some slack might allow you to stretch them when they are in a new position without damaging the insulation.
If your heating element is rigid, take care not to damage it by bending it too sharply.
Always keep both hands on each end of a long piece that has an attachment point near its center.
Do not use pliers for cutting wire as this can cause breakage which will alter the length of the life span of your heating element due to overheating damages.
Step 4: Confirm that the power is off
Before proceeding, confirm that the power is off.
If you feel resistance while turning the heating element with a wrench or pliers, this means that there is still electricity running through and you need to turn off the power first before proceeding any further.
Step 5: Locate the endpoint of the heating elements in the open panel
If you need to find the endpoints of your electric water heater element, it is easier to get a clear view in the open panel.
The ends are often marked with red caps and usually have some exposed metal that will be visible on either side of the heating unit.
It is important to take care not to touch the metal box or any other parts of the system when taking measurements so as not to cause an electrical shock or damage to anything else.
There are also small white wires coming from each end which can be used for reference points if needed.
Once you've found where one wire starts and stops, you should then try and locate its corresponding opposite wire by following its connection back up into the heating unit before cutting it off at this point with pliers or wire cutters.
The next step is to measure the length of each wire from end to end and compare it with a chart that can be found online or in an instruction manual for your particular electric water heater model.
If you find that one has grown longer than the other then this would indicate a problem with either the heating element, thermal protector (circuit breaker), upper thermostat, or even possibly wiring issues which could need further inspection by a professional electrician.
Step 6: Note the reading of your water heating element
Your water heater element is an important part of your appliance, so it's critical to know how the temperature on the gauge relates to what you are getting out of your tap.
There are a few different ways that you can test water heater elements: Celsius vs Fahrenheit.
Once your gauge is set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, take note of how far up on the dial that setting has gone.
Your temperature may not be as high if your gauge reads in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit; so make sure to do some conversion before writing down any numbers.
Once you know which way the adjustment valve goes, adjust accordingly until both settings are at 120 degrees F (or as close as they will go).
Now turn off hot water for a few minutes then re-test using cold water after turning it back on again.
A non-contact voltage tester is a device that can also be used at this stage to test for electrical voltage without touching the wires. It works by sending an electric current across two probes and checking for changes in the magnetic field.
Based on the results, you can now decide how you will proceed.
If breakage is found, then it means that it needs to be replaced with a new one as soon as possible before anything else happens.
It will also help reduce the use and waste of energy if done quickly enough because when heating elements break off completely, they can cause a large amount of wasted energy which can not only lead to additional costs but also more problems like increased pressure on other elements and leaks due to high-pressure buildup in pipes.
Step 7: Reattach the disconnected parts
Finally, it's time to put everything back together.
If there was enough time for a thorough job with no interruptions or distractions, then your task is complete at this point but if not, you can go over another round of checking things.
This includes items such as looking inside pipes and around fittings to make sure that nothing else has been damaged during the process.
If something looks like it's a loose end, out of place, or wrong, take care of it ASAP because neglecting small issues now could lead them to snowball into bigger problems later down the road which will require more expensive fixes.
Causes of Failure of Water Heater Element
A water heating element is designed to last for several years, but there are many reasons why it might fail.
Let's look into some of the most common ones.
Malfunctioning Upper Thermostat
If you are experiencing a malfunctioning thermostat, it may be time to test, troubleshoot and repair it. If problems persist, you might need to replace the water heater element.
To test if your thermostat is faulty, turn off the power and let the water cool down for a few minutes. If the burner stays on or heats up again after turning off the power, this indicates that there may be an issue with your thermostat.
A thermostat monitors the temperature of your water heater and turns off power to it when it gets too hot.
A faulty or broken thermostat will keep heating the unit, leading to a malfunctioning element that is either burned out or on fire.
When a power surge hits your house, it can send electricity through electrical wiring and appliances.
This is not just inconvenient for the homeowner but also dangerous because of potential fire hazards.
A good way to protect yourself from this danger is by testing your water heater element with an ohmmeter to make sure that there are no shorts or open circuits in the heating element.
If you find any problems when testing your water heater element, you should replace it as soon as possible to avoid any potentially harmful situations.
Bad Wire Connection
There are many reasons why your water heater might not be working, but one of the most common is a bad wire connection.
If you're having trouble with your water heater and have had it professionally looked at before, or if you've tried to fix it yourself without success, you may want to consider checking the wires on the heater element for corrosion or lose connections.
It's a simple task that could save you some time and money.
All you have to do is disconnect the wires from each other and look for corrosion or lose of connections.
If you see any, tighten them up with a Philips head screwdriver (or use terminal clamps) before reconnecting them back together.
Tools needed to test water heater elements
Tools needed to test water heater elements:
The multimeter is the most important tool for testing a water heater element and can be found at any hardware store. With this voltage detector, you'll be able to test electrical connections and ensure that a faulty element is identified asap.
You'll be using the screwdriver to remove the metal cover and reveal the electrical connections that you'll be testing. Any faulty element can then be replaced.
Some other common elements or tools to test the water heater element
Other common tools or widgets associated are electric water heaters, an upper heating element, element screws, two heating elements, plastic cover, a first and second water heater element that also might include an upper element or lower heating element, digital multimeter, mineral deposits, alligator clip, continuity tester, high limit switch, garden hose, plastic plate, metal plate, element wrench and more. If this lingo confuses you, it's okay — you're not alone.
Water heater elements are parts of water heaters that can get complicated when you get to the nitty-gritty of it. However, for the most part, a hot water heater will do its job as long as you do basic checks over the years.
Test the water heater element before it's too late
One thing that homeowners often forget to do is test their water heater's heating element.
If the heater element goes bad, it can lead to a whole host of problems including burns and fires. A good way to tell if your heating element needs replacement is by looking for corrosion or rust on its surface.
You should also keep an eye out for any discoloration in the water heater tank as this could be another sign of trouble brewing with your boiler.
Remember, all water heaters have a heating element so you'll want to periodically check it during routine inspections and replace it when necessary.