Beginner's Guide To Testing Electric Hot Water Heater Elements

Inside your hot water heater are two heating elements. These elements heat the water to the temperature set on the thermostat. Unfortunately, they don't last forever and can eventually burn out or erode. If you water isn't as hot as it used to be, or you run out of hot water sooner than you used to, chances are, you have a heating element that has failed. Below, you will learn how to test the heating elements to determine which one needs to be replaced.

To complete this test you will need:

  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Multimeter
  • Non-contact voltage tester

Cut the Power

To complete this test, you will not need electricity, so protect yourself from accidental electrocution by cutting the power at the breaker panel.

Access the Heating Element

You should see two access panels located on the side of your hot water heater – one towards the top and the other towards the bottom. Remove the screws holding these panels in place and set them aside somewhere that they won't get lost.

Once you remove the panel, you should see some insulation. Carefully remove the insulation – you want to keep it intact so that you can put it back when you have completed the project.

Test for Electrical Current

The non-contact voltage tester is used to test for the presence of electrical current. This tester will show you if it is safe to continue with the test. If it shows positive for electrical current, the hot water heater is still connected to the power supply – you turned off the wrong breaker – repeat this test until you have no power going to the unit.

Test the Heating Element

Look for two screws in the exposed area – one is connected to a blue wire and the other is connected to a yellow wire. Loosen those screws and remove the wires from under them.

Set your multimeter to 1,000 ohms. Touch one screw with one test probe and the other with the other probe. The multimeter needle should move across the dial to the right if the heating element is working. If the needle doesn't move, the heating element is bad and needs to be replaced.

If the test shows the heating element is in good working order, re-position the wires under the screws as they were before you removed them. Tighten the screws, replace the insulation, position the panel and insert the screws.

At this point you have learned one of three things – your need a heating element replaced, you need both heating elements replaced or the heating elements aren't the problem. Contact your local water heater repair expert for further assistance. One place you can call is C B Lucas Heating & Air Conditioning.


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