How Do You Replace a Burnt-Out Heating Element in an Electric Water Heater?

16 November 2020
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When your electrical water heater stops providing your home with hot water, it may be due to one of the heating elements burning out. Heating elements sometimes become covered in limescale, which insulates them and causes them to overheat. Overheating damages the heating element, and will eventually cause it to stop working. In order to fix the problem, you'll need to repair or replace the broken heating element. To find out how to do it, read on.

1. Purchase the Right Replacement Element

The first step is to find and purchase a replacement heating element that's compatible with your water heater. Your water heater will have a label on the side that will tell you the voltage and wattage of its heating elements. You'll need to purchase a replacement heating element with the same voltage and wattage. You can also select one with a lower wattage, although it will heat your water more slowly. Don't install one with a higher wattage, since this can overheat the electrical wiring inside your water heater and start a fire.

You'll also need to find out which connector style your current heating element uses. Heating elements either screw directly into your water heater tank or are attached to it with a flange. You can find out which connector your heating element uses by looking it up in your owner's manual.

2. Turn Off Power to the Water Heater and Wait for the Water to Cool

Start by turning off the power to your water heater at your home's electrical panel. Once the power is off, you'll need to wait for the water to cool down. If you have a newer water heater, this may take several hours—they're insulated very well. Check the water temperature by running a hot water faucet. If it's cool to the touch, you're ready to replace the heating element.

3. Drain the Water Heater

Once the water is cool, attach a garden hose to the water heater's drain valve. The other end of the hose should be placed next to a drain outside your home, or in a bucket in order to provide a safe place for the water to drain to.

If no water comes out when you open the drain valve, it means that there is a build-up of sediment that is blocking your drain valve. You'll need to unclog it using a screwdriver or wet/dry vacuum so that the water can flow.

4. Remove the Access Panel and Broken Element

When your water heater tank has fully drained, unscrew the access panel connected to the heating element you're replacing. Most water heaters have separate access panels for the lower elements and the upper elements. If there's insulation behind the access panel, remove it and store it someplace where it won't get wet. After removing the access panel, you'll need to remove the heating element. 

5. Install Your Replacement Element

Once you've removed the heating element and the gasket, replace it with the new element that you purchased. For a screw-in heating element, insert it into the socket and tighten it with a screwdriver or plyers. For a flange-connected element, replace the screws holding the flange against the tank. If you're using a conversion kit to install a screw-in element in a water heater that uses flange-connected elements, screw the flange onto the water heater tank, insert your element into the socket in the flange and then tighten it with a wrench. Replace the insulation (if necessary) and the access panel to complete the repair.

At this point, you need to refill the water heater. Running your heating elements without water in the tank will immediately destroy them due to overheating. Turn the water to your home back on and wait for the tank to fill. Keep an eye on your water heater to make sure that it's not leaking. If you notice that the tank is leaking, you'll need to tighten the heating element's connector. It may take several minutes for the water heater to fill fully. You can check its progress by running a hot water faucet. When water comes out of the faucet in a steady stream, you can turn the power to the water heater back on.

Overall, replacing a heating element isn't that difficult. If you aren't sure which replacement heating element to buy, call plumbing contractors near you and have them replace the element for you.