How to Change a Heating Element in an Electric Hot Water Heater

Here is the situation. You used to be able to take long hot showers, but lately the water doesn’t stay as hot for as long. You are asking yourself, “What is the problem? And how am I going to be able to fix this? I am no mechanic.” Well, if you read this article, you may be able to save money by not having to hire a mechanic.

Let’s start at the beginning of a hot water heater and its anatomy.

Most electric hot water heaters have two thermostats, one near the top of the tank and one near the bottom, and are covered by removable metal cover plates. The thermostats are pressed firmly against the bare metal wall of the hot water heaters tank.

The top thermostat should have a high limit switch that will trip if the water gets too hot. When it trips it shuts off the electricity to both the upper and lower heating elements.

If you want to reset the high limit switch there is usually a red button that you must press. When the upper limit switch trips it is often an indication that something else has gone wrong with the heater. That usually will mean that you need to replace the thermostat though. We will cover that a different time.

Because we are having problems with having a smaller amount of hot water supply than we can isolate the elements as cause for problem. (Not all the time, but mostly)

Here are instructions that I follow when I change an element. First I get all tools I will need.


2 new heating elements, Philips Screwdriver, Circuit Tester, Garden Hose, and an Element Wrench.

�· First I shut the shut off power to the hot water heater at the breaker box.

�· I shut off the main water. The switch may be next to your heater or underneath your house. Unfortunately mine is in my crawl space.

�· Run hose outside or bathtub or somewhere to dispose of nasty, rusty water. Hook up the water hose to the bottom of the tank and drain it out. Once it is opened up and you have a little bit of water coming out then open up the release valve.

�· Once the tank is empty then you close all valves and then take off the two safety plates using the Philips screwdriver. Then make sure that there is no power using tester. Then as long as there is not any power use the Philips screwdriver to loosen the screws holding power wires on.

�· After wires are removed grab your element wrench and loosen element. You may have to get a small cheater bar or something for leverage if element is corroded and rusty. Turn counter-clockwise. Loosen. Remove.

�· Take new element out of package and put Teflon tape/ pvc tape on it and screw it in.

�· You might as well just do both since you are in there. Do the same thing to the other element as you previously did.

�· Now just go in reverse, but not exactly opposite. Make sure water is in tank before you power heater back up.

�· Hook-up the two wires. Install safety plates. Turn on main water. Wait for tank to fill up. Then turn on circuit breaker.

There should be some air in your lines so don’t get freaked out when it hisses really loud.

Good job! You just saved yourself well over $100.

Any problems contact a plumber or handyman. Good luck!

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