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How To Tell If Your Electric Hot Water Heater Is Bad?

There are 2 ways to know if you have a bad electric water heater. One is that the water heater will stop producing hot water. The other is the water heater will leak water. If the water heater stops heating you may have a power/bad component issue. If the water heater leaks, you may have a faulty water heater structure or a leaking valve/pipe.

How to tell if water heater is badHow to tell if water heater is bad

ELECTRIC WATER HEATER LEAKING WATER: If your electric water heater IS leaking water, turn off the circuit breaker and find where the water leak is coming from. If you find a loose valve, bottom drain valve, or top release valve loose, tighten it and that may have been the cause of the water heater leak. If the leak is coming from the bottom of the water heater, the structure of your water heater may have degraded or rusted over the years and may have a structural water leak. If this is the case your water heater will need to be replaced. If your electric water heater is NOT leaking water but NOT producing hot water, see below.

ELECTRIC WATER HEATER NOT HEATING WATER: If your water heater has stopped heating, meaning you get NO hot water anywhere in your house, first check the water heater circuit breaker. If the breaker has tripped, then simply turning it back on will get power back to the water heater. If the breaker has tripped, you need to find out why it has tripped. If the circuit breaker has not tripped and the electric water heater is NOT producing hot water, you need to have a look at the water heater itself.

Note: Usually when an electric water heater stops producing hot water, a heating element in the hot water heater has gone bad. This is the most common reason for an electric water heater to stop producing hot water. At times you may notice the hot water is not as hot as normal or it fluctuates in temperature during a long shower. This may be because one of the two heating elements in your electric water heater has gone bad.

Electric water heater parts identification diagramElectric water heater parts identification diagram

How to check the electric water heater and find out why it is not producing hot water:
1 – FIRST, turn off the circuit breaker to the electric hot water heater.
2 – Check that the wires providing power to the electric water heater are intact and secure.
3 – Be sure the terminal where the power wires attach onto is not melted or broken, if so remove and replace.
4 – Remove the 2 small access panels on the side of your electric hot water heater with a screwdriver.
5 – Use a multi-meter to check to see if the heating elements are in working order. If one or both of the heating elements are bad, remove and replace.
NOTE: If you need to replace a heating element or other faulty internal part, the water heater needs to be fully drained before removing any internal parts. Remember to turn the water supply to the water heater off when attempting to drain the water heater or the water heater will fill with water while it is draining.
6 – If the heating elements are good, you need to test the thermostats with a multi-meter.
7 – If the thermostats have power to only one side, it is an open circuit and needs replaced.
8 – Be sure to check the water heater safety thermostat too if your water heater has one.
9 – Replace bad parts, put access panels back on, close drain valve, completely refill the water heater with water, turn breaker back on, and test the electric water heater.

Electric water heater exploded parts viewElectric water heater exploded parts view

NOTE: Do not attempt this unless you are confident you can do it safely. If in doubt, call a water heater repair technician.

If you do need to replace internal parts on your electric water heater, you need to drain it first, here is how:
1 – Turn off the breaker to the electric water heater.
2 – Turn off the water supply to the hot water heater.
3 – Attach a drain hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater.
4 – Open the drain valve on your water heater and let the water drain out.
5 – Use caution as the water may still be hot. The water coming out will not be mixed with cold water. Use caution to avoid getting burned.

Electric water heater partsElectric water heater parts

If you have a question about How To Tell If Your Electric Water Heater Is Bad, please leave your question below and we will be happy to assist.

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6 thoughts on “How To Tell If Your Electric Hot Water Heater Is Bad?”

  1. My electric water tank has quit producing hot water though it dispensed hot water irregularly at first, running out too fast during a shower, then only getting warm before going completely out. I’m going under the house today to check it out further. When I was under there recently I noticed it had leaked some from the upper element and today I’m going to go into it that spot and see whatever I can. I’d call a plumber but sadly because of several unexpected property crisis I’m pretty shy of funds right now and will attempt to repair it myself. I tried to turn off the power to the tank yesterday but was unsuccessful — none are marked except the Main and it’s a huge case because two apartments were adjoined when I purchased this property. Could it be 2-120’s providing 240? It’s a thick orange wire running from the top of the tank to the box. Please advise with any helpful info you can. I need it! Thanks so much.

  2. I want to know if your hot water heater stops working will you still get any water out of the faucet?
    I don’t get any water out of the hot side but i get water out of the cold side of the faucet.
    Please tell me what the problem is.

  3. My water heater has been leaking lately, and I don’t know what to do.
    I will follow your instructions and turn off the circuit breaker.
    I am not even going to bother looking further into the issue, because I have no idea how it works.
    I think I’ll call a professional to come and look at it!

  4. DIY Project Help Tips

    Ron Granitz,
    We can agree with that… but when a person refers to it, they say HOT WATER HEATER as it DOES produce HOT WATER. It can be called many things… and mostly it is called a HOT WATER HEATER by 99% of people. The purpose of the HOT WATER TANK as you have called it, is to take water that flows into it and MAKE HOT WATER. That is its absolute purpose, hence the name HOT WATER HEATER.

  5. Just FYI, there is no such thing as a HOT Water Heater….it’s either a hot water tank or a water heater, but not a HOT WATER HEATER, if it’s already hot, they why heat it?

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