How to Replace a Water Heater Element in 5 Simple Steps

In this article, we have explained How to Replace a Water Heater Element, diagnosing the problems, their solutions, styles, and types of heating elements, and we have given some useful tips for beginners.

When a water heater often runs out of water, takes time to heat up, or is not able to deliver hot water at all, then there is the dire need to replace the heating element.

The process of replacing a heating element isn’t difficult and you can easily repair it by yourself. When electric current passes through heating elements in a water heater it heats both elements. There are separate thermostats to control each heating element.

Diagnose problems With The Heating Element

It is quite easy to find out the fault in a heating element. If there is a constant flow of lukewarm water it can be because of defects in the upper heating element.

If there is short availability of full hot water the reason for it can be a defect in the lower heating element.

The age of the water heater also matters a lot in finding out the issues in the heating element. If your water heater is older enough then you might consider replacing it with a new one.

To diagnose problems with the heating element, check the circuit breaker first if it has been tripped or turned off. Then check the reset button to cut off temperature. If the circuit breaker keeps on tripping after resetting, the definite problem is with your water heater element.

Check out the Guide about Electric Tankless Water Heaters of this year as well.

Preparations Required While Changing The Heating Element

Immersion heaters or heating elements are completely immersed inside water. The most important thing to keep in mind is that heating elements are reliable for only electric water heaters and not for gas water heaters.

Gas water heaters have different kinds of heating mechanisms in them such as gas burners.

Styles of Heating Element:

Two unique styles of heating elements are available in the market.

An-image-to-differentiate-the-Screw-in-and-Bolt-in
  • Screw-in:

The most common type of heating element is screw-in and we are going to discuss and cover most of the instructions concerning it. All new water heaters use this type of heating element and elements are screwed at their proper place.

  • Bolt-in

Different styles of bolt-in elements are also present. In most of the older heaters, this type of heating element is present.

There are four bolts use to secure the element. Universal Adapter Kit is also available in the Market to adapt a screw-in heating element into a bolt-in heating element.

Location of Heating Element:

Location of Heating Element-How to Replace a Water Heater Element

Two heating elements are present in an electric water heater, an upper & a lower element.

The upper one is located at the backside of the access panel and the lower one is the heating element this is needed to be replaced because most of the sediments accumulate in the bottom of the water heater where the lower element is present.

Eventually sediments lower the effectiveness of the water heater and it will lead to breaking the whole element.

How to Purchase New Heating Element

There are a few things to keep in mind while purchasing a new heating element. It is highly recommended to buy one having an equal voltage, style (screw-in or bolt-in), and wattage.

Similarly, the voltage of older and new heating elements should match with each other but the life of the element can be extended by lowering the voltage.

Note: Never purchase a new heating element of more wattage as compared to the previous element.

Types of Heating Elements

A water heater’s element has three types. If the lifeline of your water heater is near the end then installing a least expensive and high watt density heating element will be a perfect choice.

If you are a resident of an area with plenty of hard water then try to get some expensive and reliable options.

High Watt Density:

The most commonly used type of heating element is the high-watt density heating element. It is an ideal choice to make for all kinds of replacements by matching wattage and voltage.

Most of the time, the original heating element and the new one are of the same high watt density.

The advantage of using high watt density heating elements is the ability to prevent corrosion and they are the least expensive.

Low Watt Density:

Areas with hard water require a low-watt density heating element. Their fold-back design makes them able to produce enough heating space.

Though they are low watt in density they never compromise efficiency. These elements help to lower limescale build-up that is most common in hard water areas.

With equal wattage and voltage, a low watt density heating element can easily replace a high watt density heating element.

Lime Life Element:

With 5 years of warranty, these premium elements are ultra-low watt density with the best quality nickel and surface of stainless steel. They are perfect to discourage limescale buildup.

They are most expensive but long-lasting in comparison to the above two and are ideal for areas with an intermittent supply of water.

Supplies/Tools:

  • Wrench and sockets
  • New heating element
  • Garden hose
  • Voltage tester
  • Screwdrivers
  • Rags

Testing A Heating Element

Before replacing a heating element it is important to test an electric water heater to avoid any shortcomings.

  • Turn off Power Supply
  • Turn off electrical power at main power panel with the help of turning off the circuit breaker
  • Wait till the water in the tank cools down
  • Check water temperature by opening a faucet to run water down.
  • Remove Panel Cover
  • Remove the access panel cover and the insulation cover.
  • Fold insulation cover outwards and quite away from the heating element to expose terminals and circuit wires.
  • Use a tester for testing wires for power.
  • When you find out power is off, loose screws of terminals and disconnect wires of the circuit.
  • Test Heating Element
  • Use a multi-tester for this purpose with OHM’s setting
  • Connect the red lead to the screw terminal and the black lead to another screw terminal.
  • If there is zero reading of ohm, there is no supply of electricity through the heating element.
  • It will show that there is a fault in the element and need to be replaced.
  • But if there is some ohm resistance value then there is no fault in the heating element but there could be a problem in the upper/lower thermostat.

How to Remove A Stubborn Water Heater Element?

If by above testing you find out a fault in the heating element of your water heater then here is the time to go for its replacement. Now you need to remove that old faulty heater element with a new and better one.

How to Replace Heating Element:

Here we have arranged a stepwise list to help you replace the faulty heater element. If you feel comfortable keeping safety measures in consideration, you can do it by yourself; otherwise, you can hire a qualified plumber.

Step 1: Turn Off Power Switch

  • The first and most important step is turning off the circuit breaker and shutting down all power supplies.
  • Use a tester to check there is no longer supply of current passing through it.

Step 2: To Drain Valve Attach a Hose

  • To drain the valve, attach a hose and then open the valve.
  • Make sure the drain valve is not clogged and you‘re not going to drain the tank at this step.

Step 3: Turn Off Water Supply

  • Don’t forget to turn off the water supply to the water heater. Close the cold water inlet valve that is present above the heater.
  • Allow air to enter the tank to release hot water pressure. You can do it by opening a faucet.
  • Open the hot water tap only, not the cold water tap, and leave that tap open for a while.

Step 4: Detach Access Panel Cover

  • With the help of a screwdriver detach the panel cover, an upper panel from the upper element, and a lower panel from the lower heating element of the water heater.
  • Place the insulation in a dry place that is usually present in the thermostat and panel door.
  • Remove the plastic cover from the thermostat.
  • Use a voltmeter to check the power supply.
  • Examine the wires carefully, and repair damaged wires if there are any.
  • Now loose the screws and disconnect two-element wires from the element.

Step 5: Remove the Element

  • With the help of a wrench remove the heating element.
  • Keep the water heater in place loosen the element in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • After loosening the element drain tank by opening the drain valve.
  • Now remove the element and remove that “O” ring that seals the tank.

Step 6: Install new Heating Element

  • Clean the threads and gasket area to remove dirt before placing the new heating element.
  • Bind the new “O” ring, and make sure never to use an older “O” ring.
  • Slightly push the element inside the tank and then make it tight with the help of a wrench.
  • Place two wires to the element and tighten them in their perfect place. Check twice that wires are strong and will not slip in the future.

Step 7: Fill the Tank Again

  • Close the drain valve and turn on the water supply to the water heater.
  • Do not switch on the electrical supply until the tank isn’t filled.
  • Check carefully if there is any leakage in the newly installed element. In case of leakage tighten the element.
  • Turn off the water supply if the flow of water becomes steady after filling the tank.
  • Place the insulation cover. Thermostat cover and access panel cover on their place.
  • Now turn on the circuit breaker for the supply of power to the water heater.

How to Replace a Water Heater Element in a gas water heater

There is no need to change or replace the heating element in a gas water heater because a heating element is present in an electric water heater while a gas water heater uses a flame or gas burner for creating heat to warm water.

About Zarmish Fakhar

Zarmish has been working as a freelance research writer for 5 years. She is a Zoologist and social media activist as well. She has worked for many reputable newspapers including Dawn. She is a valuable member of Aqua macho as her passion for clean water and eco-friendly products are booming day by day.

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