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How To Test Your Hot Water Heater Element

Updated on March 8, 2012
How to test a hot water heater element
How to test a hot water heater element

You set up your shower, jump in and nothing but cold water. Not exactly the way you want to wake up in the morning. Is it the thermostat? The heating elements? Or is it time to replace the water heater? The first thing you should do is test a hot water heater element. The heating elements keep the water inside the tank hot and ready to use. Some water heaters have two elements, while there are some that use only one. Water heater element testing will help eliminate the possibility that a element is bad or help to determine which element is bad so that you can make repairs and replace the electric hot water heater element that is no longer functioning.

Tools and Materials for Water Heating Element Testing

Phillips-head screwdriver

Multimeter (recommend Equus Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter)

How to Test a Hot Water Heater Element

Turn off the power to the electric hot water heater. The circuit breaker for you unit is inside your home electrical panel box. Look on the inside door of the box for the location of the circuit breaker. There might also be a switch near the hot water heater tank that looks similar to a light switch only it is red in color. Turn the switch to the “off” position

Remove the screws that secure the electrical access panels to the side of the water heater tank with a Phillips-head screwdriver. Depending upon your water heater, you will have one or two rectangular access panels on the side of the tank.

Pull the access panels away from the water heater tank. There might be a piece of plastic and insulation covering the thermostat and heating element. Pull the plastic and insulation away so you can access the wires and terminal screws on the hot water heater elements.

Loosen the screws on the back of the heating element that secure the wires to the element with a Phillips-head screwdriver. The heating element is the round piece above the thermostat and has two wires connecting to it. Pull the wires away from the heating element. Inspect the ends of the wires to ensure they have no cracks or damage. Sometimes the only repair that is necessary is to cut off the damaged end of the wire and strip off the insulation to get a better connection around the terminal screw.

Set your multimeter to read “resistance” or “ohms.” You are checking to determine if there is any current flow going through the heating element.

Place one of the multimeter probes on one heating element terminal screw and the second probe on the remaining terminal screw. The reading on your multimeter scale should show some resistance. If the needle does not move, replace the electric hot water heater element.

Test the second heating element, if the the first one checks out as good and you have two elements. Once you finish testing and/or replacing the heating element, reattach the wires to the terminal screws and tighten the screws with the screwdriver.

Fold the insulation back inside the cavity over the thermostat and heating element. Reinsert the plastic cover over the cavity and reattach the electrical access panels to the tank. Turn on the power switch and/or the circuit breaker to the hot water heater.


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    • kenwrites profile image

      Ken Crawford 5 years ago from Yreka, California

      Thank you Carbon12. Much appreciated

    • carbon12 profile image

      carbon12 5 years ago

      Extremely helpful and useful hub. I voted you up.

      Have a great day my friend.