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How to Troubleshoot an Electric Water Heater

Part 1

The most common type of electric home water heater, as shown in Figure 1, is a constructed as a metal tank that is insulated around the perimeter. The water in the tank is electrically heated using two elements which are generally mounted in the upper and lower portions of the tank.

electric hot water heater

Figure 1 - Electric hot water heater

Tank style water heaters have been in use for decades. They are very reliable and usually have a life of 15 to 25 years.

Figure 2 shows the location of the parts of a tank style electric hot water heater.

componets of electric hot water heater

Figure 2 - Components of electric hot water heater

The 7 most common problems associated with water heaters are:

  1. Water is cold at faucets
  2. Shortage of hot water
  3. Water has a reddish brown color
  4. Water smells of sulfur (rotten eggs)
  5. Water tank makes gurgling noises
  6. High pitch whining sounds
  7. Water below base of hot water tank

Caution: Safety first! It is important that you follow proper safety guidelines when working with electricity.

  • Turn off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse at your electrical distribution panel or load center.
  • Turn the incoming water supply valve to the off position.
  1. Water is cold at faucets:
  2. The most common water heater faults associated with a lack of hot water are:

  • The electric thermostat is malfunctioning
  • The upper electric heating element has deteriorated and is no longer functioning

multi meter

Figure 3 - Multi-meter


Using a multi-meter, as shown in Figure 3, verify that the thermostat is receiving power.

If the thermostat is not receiving power check the electrical wiring and connections.

If the thermostat is receiving power, it is most likely defective and needs to be replaced.

Using a multi-meter verify that the upper element does not have an open circuit.

If the upper element is indicating an open circuit it needs to be replaced.


Part 2

Part 3