Many of us take our water heaters for granted until they break down. In fact, you probably don’t even think about your water heater until you’re stuck taking a cold or lukewarm shower and need Houston water heater repair. If you have an electric water heater, then one of the most common causes of water heater issues are burnt out heating elements.
Just like lightbulbs, heating elements in your water heater can burn out over time. If this happens, you generally don’t need to replace the entire water heater, just the failed element. Let’s talk about signs you might have a faulty heating element, what causes them to burn out, and how to test and replace water heater heating elements.
Houston Water Heater Repair: Signs of a Burnt Out Water Heater Element
So, how do you know if you have a burnt out water heater element? Generally, they show many of the same signs as other water heater issues. For example, you might run out of hot water quickly, only get lukewarm water, or may even have cold water instead of hot.
Of course, it’s important to check a few things before you assume it’s a heating element. For starters, check the circuit breaker that corresponds to the water heater. It may be that you’re dealing with a flipped breaker and all you need to do is turn it back on.
Also, look at the wires near the breaker box and the top of the water heater. Check for signs of damage. If the wires are damaged, it’s time to call an electrician.
One last thing you can check is the water heater reset button. These are designed to cut off power during a malfunction, but sometimes they can flip for seemingly no reason. If you’re dealing with no hot water, then check this button, usually found under the access panel for the upper heating element. If the button is pushed out, push it back in. You might be dealing with a faulty heating element or another water heater issue if the button pops out again. However, if it stays in and the water heater keeps working, then it may have tripped accidentally and you may not need Houston water heater repair.
How to Test Water Heater Elements
Once you’ve determined that you have power going to your water heater and you believe you might have a burnt out heating element, then you’ll want to test them. Testing water heater heating elements is a pretty simple process that most homeowners can do on their own.
You’ll need a few things to test for faulty water heater elements, including:
- Phillips head screwdriver
- Goggles/eye protection
You likely have gloves, a screwdriver, and some type of eye protection around your home, but you may need to pick up a multimeter. These devices help measure electrical conditions and you can pick them up at your local hardware store. They’re useful to have around for a wide range of things like testing batteries, diagnosing small electrical issues, and testing your water heater elements.
Here’s how to test your water heater elements with a multimeter:
- Turn off the power at the circuit breaker
- Detach the panels over the water heater elements
- Remove the insulation beneath the element panels (don’t forget your gloves and eye protection here)
- Remove the plastic safety cover over the heating element
- Turn your multimeter dial to the lowest ohm setting
- Touch the probes on the heating element screws
If you don’t get a reading or you get a very low multimeter reading from the heating element, then it may be faulty and need replacement. Generally, the elements should read between 10 and 16 ohms.
For 3,500 watt water heaters, the multimeter will usually read 16 ohms for the heating elements, 4,500 watt water heaters should read 12-13 ohms, and 5,500 watt water heaters should read around 10 ohms.
If your heating elements read properly from the multimeter, you may need an expert plumber to diagnose the problem of why you don’t have enough hot water.
What Causes Water Heater Heating Elements to Fail?
Why might your water heater heating elements burn out? There are many reasons you might need Houston plumbing repairs for burnt out water heater elements. However, the most common culprits include:
- Mineral buildup
- Air pockets
- Power surges
- Faulty wiring
Mineral buildup happens frequently in areas with hard water. As the minerals and limescale build up on the heating element, they can act as an insulator and prevent the heating element from transferring heat to the water. This can make the water heater work harder and cause premature failure for your heating element. Flushing your water heater regularly can help reduce mineral buildup on heating elements.
Air pockets are another thing that can cause issues with your water heater’s heating elements. You see, the heating elements need to be fully immersed in water to work properly. However, if air gets trapped inside your water heater tank, this can cause heating element dry firing. Essentially, this happens when the heating element gets too hot because it’s not transferring the heat to the water in the tank. When it overheats due to air exposure, this can melt the internal components in the element and cause it to fail.
Just like other electric appliances, a power surge can also burn out the heating element. This is because during a power surge, the heating elements can overheat and become damaged.
Bad wiring can also damage heating elements in your water heater, as they can make them burn hotter than normal. However, in these cases, you’ll want to call an electrician to fix the wiring before you replace the heating elements. Otherwise you’ll likely have the same problem over and over again.
Houston Water Heater Repair for Burnt Out Heating Elements
Luckily, in most cases you can simply replace the heating elements instead of replacing the entire water heater. Our plumbers offer quick response to your service calls and offer high quality Houston water heater repair services. We can help diagnose the problem with your water heater and also replace the heating elements to get your water heater back in action.
DIY Houston Water Heater Repair Replacing the Elements
Of course, you can go the DIY route if you would like. Though, we recommend making sure you know exactly what you’re doing before taking this project on yourself. Remember, water heaters are high voltage appliances and repairing them can be dangerous without knowledge and experience.
If you’re determined and comfortable to replace the heating elements in your water heater, the first step is to purchase new ones. Keep in mind that the replacement needs to match the length, mount type (screw-in or flange), wattage, and voltage of the old one.
Once you have your replacement element, here are some steps to follow to replace water heater heating elements:
- Turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker
- Turn off the cold water inlet valves
- Drain the water heater tank
- Remove the heating element access panel, insulation, and plastic safety cover
- Unscrew the wire connections
- Unscrew the heating element (Use a water heater element wrench for screw-in elements or a screwdriver for flange mounted heating elements)
- Remove the old element
- Place the new element inside and tighten
- Reattach the wires to the new heating element
- Open a hot water faucet to let air leak out while the tank refills
- Close the drain valve & open the cold water inlet valve
- Wait until the tank fills completely
- Check for any leaks around the heating element and tighten as necessary
- Replace the safety panel, insulation, and cover panel
- Turn the circuit breaker back on for the water heater
Experienced Houston Plumbing Repairs
Any time you need plumbing service or a 24 hr. plumber in Houston, call our team at Santhoff Plumbing Company. We’ve been serving the Greater Houston area since 1974 and are proud to be one of the highest rated plumbers in the area. We are available day or night to help you whether you have a water heater on the fritz or a burst pipe flooding your home. Our team offers quick response for all your plumbing needs. Call us now at (713) 665-4997!