Simple and Cost-Effective DIY Electric Water Heater Repair

While it’s normal for heating elements in an electric water heater to fail, replacing them is just a matter of a simple DIY repair. Keep in mind that you should always be careful when electricity is involved. Please contact a professional if you’re not confident or technically versed in electrical matters.

Electric Water Heater Issues

If your home’s water heater is having issues like running out of water faster than normal or is slow when heating water or maybe it doesn’t even heat water anymore, it’s highly possible that you need a replacement for one or two of the heating elements. These repairs won’t have you break the bank or even leave you in a complicated financial situation – the elements cost less than $30 in your local hardware stores or spare parts dealers.

In this article, we teach you a simple step-by-step procedure of how you can check your heater’s elements, remove the spoilt ones and replace the old with the new. Don’t forget that you can use your water heater for up to 15 years. However, If your unit is old, replacing the heater may be better than repairing it.

Of course, several factors may contribute to the shortage of hot water in your water heater. With that in mind, you should ensure that the circuit breaker is on before you check the elements. Additionally, you may press the high-temperature cutoff button above the upper thermostat. These two solutions may solve the issue, but they may also indicate an electrical malfunction. You can check the heating element if the problem recurs.

If there is no issue with the heating elements, the issue could be the cutoff switch or thermostats. It may be a bit tricky to test them, but since they are affordable (about $20 for both), you can try to replace them.

Taking off the Cover Plates

Start by switching off the circuit breaker to cut off power and take off the metal cover to reveal the thermostat as well as the elements. Be sure that the power is not on by testing the electrical connections using a non-contact voltage detector.

When repairing a water heater, you need to be sure that there is no power flow before you can start to test or repair anything on the water heater. Before you perform any task, find the circuit breaker in the main electrical panel that corresponds to the water heater and switch it off. Now return to the water heater and test whether the current is flowing to the nonconductor voltage detector. Put the tester tip into a powered outlet to make sure that it’s working. If the tester lights up or beeps, you should know that it’s working.

The next thing you need to do is test the cables that are in your water heater. The tester won’t show any electrical current if the metal conduit covers the wires. That means you need to take off the thermostat cover and uncover the insulation. After that, you want to hold your tester almost to the wires on the upper side of the cutoff switch.

Test the two hot wires and hold the tester to touch the metal water heater shell. Suppose your tester does not light up or beep, then you can carry out a more conclusive test on the elements.

How the Interior Works

Electric water heaters in many homes contain two heating elements: the first is near the top of the tank while the second is located at the bottom. The power comes in from the top and reaches the high-temperature cutoff switch, proceeds to the thermostats and elements. Separate thermostats control the top and bottom elements. The top element turns off when the water on the top of the tank gets hot, giving room for the lower one to heat.

Testing a Burned Element

To accomplish this task, you will use a continuity tester. In most cases, there will be wires attached to a battery and bulb. By placing the end of the wires to a continuous circuit, you bulb should automatically light up. The tools can be bought at your local hardware store. It’s even possible to get a tester that is specifically designed for a water heater, similar to other replacement elements.

If you can access a volt-ohm, you can also use it to test the elements instead a continuity tester. Uncover the testing elements by taking off the metal cover and insulation, as well as the plastic plates covering your water heater.

To know whether an element is still functioning, you should conduct a test to determine the continuity of the electrical current. Electricity won’t flow through a burnt element.

To accomplish this task, you want to make sure that the wires are completely off the terminal screws. Now take the alligator clip, connect it with the first terminal, and then touch the second probe. If the tester lights up, then it shows a completed circuit. If there is no light, then the element has gone bad.

Testing a Shortened Element

If the heating element has a short circuit, power will flow to the water heater through the metal tank. When testing for a shortened element, connect your alligator clip to one of the screws (with the wires disconnected) and touch the tester probe near the element mounting bracket.

Repeat the process for the second terminal. The element has a short circuit and needs replacement if the tester lights.

The Red Button Secret

It’s extremely rare for the two elements to test okay, but if you are still not getting results, try to hit the cutoff button. That’s the red button on top of the thermostat. That should help you with the problem, but you may want to consider checking the water heater elements if the problem persists.

Replacing the Element

Drain the tank before you replace the element. With the power off, close off the inlet valve and open the outlet faucet in your kitchen. Connect a hose pipe to the outlet valve and ensure it’s open to drain the tank.

When taking out the failed element to install a new one, you need to unscrew it by tilting it counter-clockwise. You may want to use a chisel or any other suitable equipment if it seems stuck. After that, you can screw the new unit and attach the power cables. Don’t forget to close the outlet valve and add water in your tank until it’s full before you can switch on the unit.

If your test reveals that there are no issues with the elements, your thermostat may be broken. However, testing a thermostat requires a complex procedure that may not be worth the hassle. For that, we recommend replacing the thermostat. Luckily, you don’t need to drain the EcoSmart ECO 27 tank while replacing it. You only need to remove the metal clip holding the old unit and connect the corresponding wires to the new unit.

Buying Heating Elements

When handling water heater repairs, you need to replace the elements with units of the same wattage. If you don’t have that information, check the nameplate on the Stiebel Eltron Tempra 24 Plus, use the model number to search online, or read the instruction manual.

You need a large thread to attach the elements to the water heater or use four nuts, depending on the version available to you. It’s advisable to purchase an adapter kit when using the bolt version.

Low-density elements tend to be folded back, but they are more expensive than simple U-shaped units. However, they give an equal amount of heat but lower the surface temperature by spreading the heat over a large surface. That helps to avoid mineral buildup.

If you notice a huge mineral buildup on your old element, it may be wise to buy a more advanced and modern unit. That will give you not only better performance but also an extended useful life.

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