How to Replace a Water Heater Element How to Replace a Water Heater Element

What You'll Need
Socket wrench set
Garden hose
Work light

If you have lived in your home 10 years or more, you may have found that a water heater element has a limited life expectancy. When it fails, so does your supply of hot water. You may think your entire water heater needs to be replaced, but actually other components in the water tank may still function normally. To replace a heating element, follow the seven steps below.

Step 1 – Check for a Tripped Circuit

Before going to the expense and trouble of replacing a water heater element, check to see if your heating problem can be traced to a tripped circuit breaker. A circuit breaker protects both element and thermostat, so check to see if a tripped breaker may be your problem.

Step 2 – Shut Off Electrical Power and Water

Before proceeding with removal of your defective water heater element, shut off your power at your breaker box. Also shut off the water valve that feeds water into the heater.

Step 3 – Drain the Unit

If you have dual heater elements and the top element is defective, you will need to drain only the water from the top water tank. To replace the lower water heater element, you will need to drain the entire tank. Attach one end of a garden hose. Take the other end of the hose outdoors and then open the valve to drain the water.

You can avoid draining the water heater if you work fast enough. First close the isolation valves you'll find on top of the water heater. While you are removing the old element and attaching the new one, you will see a small amount of water draining. If you're not confident in doing this with speed, you'll be better off just draining the water before you change the element.

Step 4 – Disconnect Electrical Connections

To disconnect the heater's electrical connections, remove the panel cover and disconnect the electrical wires. If they are connected to screw terminals, loosen the screws and pull the wire free. If the wires are connected with wire nuts, unscrew the nuts.

Step 5 – Remove the Water Heater Element

Use a socket wrench to remove bolts that hold the water heater element in place. Then, remove the defective part. If you have difficulty seeing the element’s wire connections or attaching bolts, you may need to use your work light.

Step 6 – Install Your New Water Heater Element

Insert your new element into place. Attach it by screwing in the bolts you removed. Reconnect the electrical wires and reattach the panel cover.

Step 7 – Finish

With your new heating element connected, you can now restore your electrical power and open the water valves you had closed. Your water tank will begin to fill, and the water will begin heating. In approximately 30 minutes, you should have hot water.

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