How Heating Elements Work In Your Water Heater And How Repairs Are Done When An Element Goes Bad

If you have an electric water heater that's not making enough hot water, or if you don't have any hot water at all, a faulty heating element could be to blame. Electric water heaters usually have two heating elements in them, and one or both can go bad. Here's a look at how the heating elements work, why they go bad, how to tell when a heating element goes bad, and how a plumbing contractor might make repairs.

How The Heating Elements In A Water Heater Work

Your water heater may have two heating elements, but they don't usually work at the same time. Instead, each has its own thermostat and works in its own way to make hot water. One of the elements is near the top of the tank and the other is at the bottom.

The top element is responsible for keeping water in the tank hot. The bottom element is responsible for heating up cold water. When water enters the tank, it goes to the bottom through a dip tube. The bottom element heats the water, and the water rises to the top where the top element keeps the water warm until it flows out to a faucet, and then the cycle starts all over.

Why The Elements Go Bad

The heating elements can go bad due to old age. The elements slowly corrode over time. When the bad element is removed from the tank, it might be rusted through. These plumbing parts can also go bad when they get coated with a mineral buildup that can cause problems with the way electricity flows through them.

How To Tell When An Element Is Bad

Different things can cause your electric water heater to stop making hot water, so it's often difficult to know if the cause is a heating element without testing the element with a multimeter. If an element is bad, the water may be totally cold or it may heat a little and then you run out of hot water. A bad element can also cause the circuit breaker to flip off.

How A Plumber Makes Repairs

Replacing a bad heating element is a fairly quick and easy plumbing repair. First, the plumber turns off the power to the heater and checks the elements with a multimeter to verify the problem is with the elements. The heating elements can be accessed by removing two panels from the side of the water heater. An element is usually located behind a wad of insulation and a plastic shield. Removing the bad element is a matter of unscrewing it and pulling it out. Once the element is out, the plumber can probably tell by looking if it is bad.

The new heating element can be put in, connected to the wiring, and enclosed behind the panel. Depending on where your water heater is located, the plumber may not even need to drain the heater to change a bottom heating element. However, if there is a risk of getting flooring wet, the plumber may need to drain the water heater first and refill it when the element or elements are changed.

Water heater elements aren't very expensive, so it's much cheaper to replace one or both elements than it is to buy a new water heater. However, if the elements failed due to old age, that might signify your water heater needs to be replaced before too much longer.

Contact a local plumbing contractor to learn more about this repair.