How To Test Water Heater Element

Have you noticed a significant reduction in the water’s warmth from your water heater? It can be vital as hot water is required in every home for many tasks.

However, it can be aggravating if your water heater only provides lukewarm water that isn’t suitable for your needs. The main reasons for this are a faulty element leading to your water heater’s ineffective operation.

Professional electricians and plumbing specialists can troubleshoot and repair such issues, yet they can be expensive. Because of this, it’s better to understand how to assess your water heater element and replace it if it is faulty rather than rely on these professionals.

water heater

In our guide, you can learn more about how to test water heater elements using a digital multimeter. By the end, you’ll know how to check and then cut your bill in half if you need a replacement element. (Learn How To Heat A Basement)

How Do You Check Your Water Heater Element is bad?

It’s unpleasant to turn on the faucet for a shower to find tepid water flowing. Cool water is a hot water heater’s elements shorting out or burning through.

The bottom element is typically placed first; however, this is not always the case. A few easy electrical tests can which part has to be replaced to get hot water flowing.

Here’s an overview of how to carry out testing a water heater element

Tools Needed:

  • Screwdriver
  • Digital multimeter
  • Non-contact voltage tester (can be optional)

Step 1: Isolate the power

Step 2: Remove any metal covers

Step 3: Take out the insulation

Step 4: Locate your heating element

Step 5: Verify the electricity is off

Step 6: Check the element with a multimeter

Step 7: Reassemble your water heater

Here is a more detailed explanation of how to check hot water heater elements.

power off

Step 1. Shut off the Power

Because testing the heater element involves electricity, turn off the water heater to ensure a safe working environment.

Shut off the water heater’s circuit breaker, which is in your home’s central breaker box. You’ll find this as a 1-foot by 2-foot metal in your garage, basement, or under a stairwell.

Any electrician who wired the heater should have labeled the breaker for your water heater in your breaker box.

Flip the breaker for your water heater to the “off” side. If your breaker isn’t labeled, you can turn off the main breaker or all double breakers.

Step 2. Remove the Metal Covers

Your water heater should have two metal plate covers. Two or more Phillips-head screws secure the thermostat and heater element. Screwdriver or power drill bit to remove these screws. (Read Are Space Heaters Safe)

Step 3: Remove Insulation and Plastic Covers

Most water heaters have insulation, which you find inside a thin plastic shield between the metal cover and the heater element. Rigid foam or flexible fiberglass insulation Pry or cut the foam insulation to remove it in one piece. Waer gloves if you have fiberglass insulation and a mask if you need to cut this away with a utility knife.

A water heater’s plastic shield is usually clipped into metal tabs. Light to moderate pulling should snap it. These items should not be taken as they will be replaced after your test.

Step 4. Locate the Heating Element

The thermostat and heating element should now be visible. Screws secure electrical wires on either side of the thermostat over the heater.

The visible part of the tank’s heating element is the 1-inch square base with two screws and electrical wires. These two screws will be your test.

Step 5. Verify the Electricity Is Off

Voltage tester or multimeter the power is off. A non-contact voltage tester illuminates or beeps when it encounters a live wire. Put it near the thermostat and heater wires to turn off the electricity. If it blinks or beeps, the power was not properly turned off.

Turn a multimeter’s “V” to alternating current to test. Connect the red and black probes to the screws. There should be no electricity. It has power if the reading is 110-130. Then retest.

Place the red probe on the screw where the black probe was and the black probe where the red probe was. This will help ensure your reading.


Step 6. Check the Heater Element With Your Multimeter

Heating functionality is determined by circuit resistance. Turn your multimeter’s ohms dial to 0. Place the red probe on one and the black probe on the other to test the heating element screws. The probe touching a screw has no resistance.

If the heating element works properly, your multimeter should read 10-30. Replacing the heating element if the reading is below 0 or 1 is faulty. If your water heater has two heating elements, repeat step 1.

Step 7. Reassemble the Water Heater

Whether your heating elements work correctly, or you replaced one, it’s time to reassemble your water heater. Replace the plastic heating element cover and the fiberglass insulation. Recharge the water heater. If you replaced a heater element, it might take several hours for the water to warm up enough to test your repair.

Signs of a Bad Water Heater Element

Even though testing the element is simple, it’s a good idea to understand the most typical signs of a bad heater element before deciding whether testing it is even necessary. The following are symptoms of a bad heater element:

  • Lukewarm water
  • A small amount of hot water
  • No hot water at all
  • Hot water runs out quicker than normal
  • Water heater circuit breaker trips too often

Smaller water heaters may have one heating element. Most full-sized household water heaters can be dual element water heaters with a lower element and an upper element.

Each of the heating elements serves a different purpose. As a result, based on the specific symptoms you’re experiencing, you can typically figure out which element has failed.

Symptoms of a Bad Upper Element:

  • No hot water in the tank
  • Hot water doesn’t reach the thermostat temperature

Symptoms of a Bad Lower Heating Element:

  • It doesn’t heat the water much
  • The hot water in the tank finishes too quick

You may be fairly confident that testing the elements won’t be a waste of time if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. (Find the Best Solar Pool Cover)

How Much Resistance Should a Hater Element Have?

Your hot water heater should have:

  • A 3,500-watt element and should have a resistance of 16 ohms
  • A 4,500-watt element should have a resistance of 12–13 ohms
  • A 5,500-watt element should have a resistance of 10–11 ohms
  • Turn off the power to your water heater OFF position at the circuit breaker
  • Using a multimeter set to AC volts, check for power on the two screws of the upper thermostat to ensure power is off.
  • Remove the two main power wires that connect to the upper heating element.
  • Set Multimeter to Resistance

You can now check resistance of your heating element: Check the resistance of the upper heating element using a multimeter. Measure the resistance between the two screw terminals on the upper heating element.

If the resistance falls outside such a range, you will need to replace the bad element using an element wrench or 1 1/2″ deep well socket.

You can use a non-contact voltage tester, or you can select to use a multimeter to determine if the heating elements have failed. With a multimeter, you need to know how to use these and interpret the readings.

Step 1: Turn the circuit breaker power off

Electric water heaters typically use a 30-amp double breaker.

Step 2: Open the upper and lower side panels on your water heater

A standard 40-gallon water heater can have two panels on the side of the water heater tank.

Step 3: Remove the insulation covering the elements and thermostats

Fiberglass is common on old water heaters; newer ones have tight-fitting foam

Step 4: Remove the plastic safety covers.

After you remove the insulation, you’ll see a plastic cover over the thermostat and heating element. Remove the plastic panel to expose thermostats and heating elements.

Step 5: Use a non-contact voltage tester to check if the electrical connections have power

This step is necessary for safety.

Step 6: Disconnect element wires

Check to see if the electric water heater wires are burned or melted. Use your eyes and nose, not your fingers. If you discover burned or melted wire, replace them.

Step 7: Check the continuity of the elements

You can use two tools for continuity: a continuity tester or multimeter.

When testing both element screws, the tool should register the reading above. If the element cannot deliver this, it is faulty. If you repeat tests 2 and 3 using a multimeter, the element is bad and needs replacing. If the your heating elements pass all of these three tests, the thermostat is most likely the issue.

How To Test Water Heater Element (1)

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