How to Determine Whether Your Electric Water Heater Heating Elements Are Out of Order and Need Replacement

Posted on: 22 June 2017

Many people would find it difficult to make it through the day without the water heating service of their electric water heaters. Electric water heater failure may translate into a lot of inconvenience in the home, including no hot showers, no hot water to wash your dirty clothes, no hot water for cooking, and no hot water for your daily household cleaning.

An electric hot water heating system comprises various heating elements that may act up long before the appliance itself reaches the end of its useful life. As part of routine hot water maintenance, all heating elements will need to be tested so that any faulty heating element can be replaced before it can cause further damage, or result in complete system failure. 

Luckily, testing water heater heating elements is a simple task that almost any DIY homeowner can handle properly with these tips.

Turn off electricity supply to the appliance

It's a no-brainer that electricity is a major safety hazard, and you definitely wouldn't want to be one of its numerous casualties. Before performing any kind of maintenance or repair service on an electrical appliance, it is imperative to make sure that power supply to the appliance has been cut off at the circuit breaker or mains electricity supply. So, turn off the power at the breaker before you can begin testing your water heater heating elements.

Access the elements

Once you have removed the electrical access panel and switched off the breaker, remove the safety cover and insulation to test the wires connected to the heating elements. Electric hot water heaters typically have two heating elements — the upper heating element and the lower heating element. Both elements have a separate thermostat, and one or both elements could be faulty and may need replacement. 

Test the heating elements

To test the heating elements, you will need a multimeter. You can make sure the element tester is in good working order by checking if it works on anything around the house that you know is functioning, like an electrical outlet on the wall. If the tester is working, it will light up or beep.

Each of the heating elements has two wires connected to the heating element contacts/terminals. Before testing for current flow, disconnect the wires from the terminals and then use a multimeter to test each of the elements. You can do this by touching one clip of the multimeter to each terminal. 

If the multimeter doesn't give any reading, then that particular heating element is out of order and will need replacement. If the multimeter records a reading when both heating elements are tested, then your water heater may be experiencing some other type of problem.

If you think the job of testing your water heater heating elements is too difficult, feel free to hire a certified electrician to perform the job for you.