Like their gas-powered counterparts, electric water heaters wear an insulated steel jacket to minimize heat loss; the primary difference between the two is the source of their power. While gas water heaters heat water via a gas burner under the tank, electric water heaters have heating elements that extend into the tank to create the warm water for your showering and dish washing needs. But electric water heater repair is a totally different animal.
When troubleshooting problems with your electric water heater, a broken heating element is often the source of the issue. Fortunately, elements don’t cost much and are fairly easy to replace yourself. However, not all water heater hiccups are the result of element failure. The tips below will help you diagnose and address some of the most common challenges with electric water heaters.
Looking for a strong guide to the best electric water heater to upgrade your home with? Check out our guide on finding the best tankless electric water heater for an extremely in-depth look and buyer’s guide.
Before you do any electric water heater repair, cut the power
Electric water heaters pack a 240-volt punch, so before you attempt to identify the source of the problem, turn off the circuit breaker switch that’s connected to your water heater. To be extra safe, use a non-contact voltage tester to ensure no electricity is flowing into the wires.
Symptom: You’re not getting any hot water
If your water heater isn’t heating water at all, the cause could be one of several things:
- Interrupted power source
- Tripped limit switch
- Broken heating element
If the breaker switch was already tripped when you went to cut the power, flip it on again. If the breaker doesn’t trip, it’s time to reset the heater’s temperature limit. Make sure the breaker switch is turned to off; remove the access panel for the upper heating element along with the insulation and guard, taking care not to touch any wires; press the red high-temperature cutoff reset button and reassemble the guard, insulation and panel. If the water heater still isn’t producing hot water, you’ll need to check each individual heating element and replace as needed.
Symptom: You’re not getting enough hot water
If your family is running out of hot water mid-shower, you may need to invest in a larger unit, not electric water heater repair. Water heaters generally produce hot water at 75 percent of the tank’s total capacity, so a 40-gallon tank will produce 30 gallons at a time. If you’re regularly exceeding these quantities, limiting or staggering showers and using cold water for laundry can help you manage your household needs.
However, if your family’s habits haven’t changed and you experience an abrupt shortage of hot water, you may have a faulty heating element. If the water is consistently lukewarm but never hot, the upper heating element is likely failing. Water that starts out hot but gets cold quickly during a shower may be due to a broken lower element.
Symptom: Your water is way too hot
If your water is scalding hot, the water heater’s thermostats may need to be adjusted to a lower setting. After cutting the power to the water heater and accessing the panel on the heating element, confirm that both thermostats are programmed to the same temperature (between 115F and 125F). If they are set at a higher temperature or they don’t match, use a flathead screwdriver to adjust them as needed.
Symptom: Your water heater is leaking
To prevent major damage to your water heater and the surrounding area, you should address any leaks immediately. Leaks may be the result of faulty valves or plumbing, in which case you should consult a professional plumber, but they can also be caused by issues within the tank, such as loose heating elements or corrosion.
Check the heating elements and tighten them up if necessary. This is crucial to electric water heater repair. If you observe corrosion anywhere inside or outside the tank, it will need to be replaced. Cut off the power and water supply and drain the tank to keep it from leaking further.
Symptom: Your water is rusty or smells bad
Reddish or brown-colored water may be caused by corrosion inside the water heater’s tank, which you can identify with a visual inspection. Corroded tanks must be replaced. If your water smells of sulfur, bacteria growth in the tank or a faulty anode rod may be the cause.
Symptom: The water heater is making odd noises
If you start hearing rumbling, popping or high-pitched noises emanating from your water heater, sediment buildup on the bottom of the tank may be causing it to overheat and boil the water. Your first solution is draining the tank to clear out any debris or buildup. If the noise doesn’t abate, a tank replacement may be in order.
Electric water heater repair doesn’t need to be as daunting as it may seem. Knowing the symptoms and how to solve them is the first step to saving a lot of struggle and your wallet.