How to Investigate a Malfunctioning Electric Water Heater

If you're having trouble with your electric water heater, you may have more problems than just a shortage of hot water. You may have no hot water, or not enough, but you could also have water that is too hot. Many of these problems are caused by minor electrical problems or settings on your thermostat, most of which you can quickly test yourself.

Check the Fuse Box

When power is cut to your water heater, you may not notice it for a few days until all the hot water inside has been used up, so don't rule out a broken circuit just yet. Any other troubleshooting steps will be useless until you make sure that your tank is getting power. Go to the fuse box and reset the circuit just to make sure everything is working from there.

Make Sure Your Heater Is Getting Enough Power

Even if there is power flowing to your water heater, if it's not an adequate amount, it won't work. Check the paperwork or stickers on your tank to see how many volts it should be receiving. Next, use an electric test meter to see how many volts are going through.

Remove the cap on top of your heater to expose the power wires, then put the meter probes into the wire nuts to see what shows up on the meter. If it's the correct amount, you've now at least discovered that your heater is receiving power, and the right amount of it.

Test the Reset Button Circuit

Whether you have a single or dual-element heater, you have a reset switch, and you'll need to test whether it's faulty or not. To do this, look at your elements. You'll see the reset switch, typically surrounded by four to six screens. You only want to look at the four screws surrounding the reset switch in a box shape.

There are two circuits here you'll need to test. Touch your meter probes to the top left and bottom left screws, then to the top right and bottom right screws. In both cases the meter should once again display current. If not, your reset switch is probably faulty.

Make Sure Your Elements Aren't Grounded

Your elements are what heat your water by creating resistance, which provides heat. The problem is, if your elements are grounded – which is essentially an electrical short – they won't ever stop. This means that they will continuously produce heat even once the water in the tank passes the temperature on your thermostat, and you will get extremely hot water.

If your element is grounded, it may have to be changed. This part should be done by an electrician for safety reasons, but if you decide to do it yourself, first make sure that all power is cut to the tank completely.

Clean Sediment from the Elements

As sediment builds up on the elements, this can cause various problems. Your water may be very slow to reheat, or you could have sudden and occasional gushing of water from the relief valve.

To fix this, just clean off the buildup of sediment from your elements. Again, make sure all power is cut to your tank before touching your elements or attempting to clean them. For assistance, talk to a professional like Meserve Electric.