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Electric water heaters have two heating elements, a lower and an upper element. These metal heating elements are made of metal and get hot from electrical resistance, similar to what you would find in an electric cooking range.

But do you know which one usually goes bad first? Or how to test, repair and replace a heating element? Or the difference between a screw-in or flange type heating element? In the tutorial Electric Water Heater Troubleshooting I'll explain all that and how to troubleshoot an electric water heater, test a heating element, and how to remove and replace a faulty heating element.


October 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm
(1) Bill says:

Absolutely the best, most comprehensive “article” pertaining to (electric) water-heater problems I found while searching the internet.

March 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm
(2) Julie says:

when changing elements should I have them both replaced at the same time. I had the bottom change and replace both thermostats but left the top element in and now when I turn it on and it fills up it squirts out the temp. pressure relief valve. With changing the other element would this fix the problem?

February 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm
(3) Somi says:

Excellent article, but doesn’t go into issues due to hard water. Our 17-year old heater passed all the test, but still had to be replaced because of mineral deposits on the heating elements.

December 30, 2013 at 11:32 pm
(4) Richard says:

We had lots of family here for Christmas vacation and it seemed like we were running out of hot water, before all the showers were done.
I decided to turn the upper thermostat up to 150 and the lower one to 140. We started running out of hot water faster! I checked the elements and thermostats and everything showed the correct voltage and continuity. Checked the cold water intake tube. No problem.
Is it possible that I turned the upper thermostat up so high, that when so much water was being used, the upper thermostat never had a chance to click off and send power to the lower element?
I just turned both thermostats down to around 130, but it’ll be a few days before I can see if this idea works. What do you think?

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