Troubleshooting Electric Water Heaters

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Electric water heater troubles can be exasperating, as the cost of repairs can certainly add up. Learning to troubleshoot an electric water heater saves valuable money and time, and the steps for doing so aren't difficult to master with a bit of direction. Three common problems that occur are lack of function, loss of hot water, and smelly water. Knowing how to solve these common problems is essential to troubleshooting your electric water heater.

Lack of Function

  • If there is no electrical current reaching the water heater, it obviously will not function. You should therefore check the circuit breaker or fuses to ensure that a power surge on the same circuit did not cause the breaker to flip. Sometimes, troubleshooting begins with a simple reset of the single breaker: After you switch it fully to the "off" position, it can be flipped back to power on. If you determine that a current is reaching the water heater, it should be turned back to the "off" position, and a sign should be posted warning others not to flip the breaker back on. Next, you should remove the thermostat cover on the heater and check for terminals marked "L1" and "L2." A voltage meter will help to determine whether a current is reaching these terminals. Manually resetting, as detailed in the owner's manual for the heater, may fix the issue.

Loss of Hot Water

  • Should the problem persist after you have verified that the heater is getting power, the next area you should check is the pilot control valve. A faulty valve must be replaced. Signs of wear and tear include flickering or nonfunctioning pilot lights. Check the thermostat and heating elements to ensure that electricity is reaching them---if not, you must carefully remove the wires to the heating element. (Again, this should only be attempted after power is cut to the heater.) Heating elements have two screws exposed, which can be checked with the leads on an ohm/voltage meter to determine whether or not they are receiving any electrical current. No electricity signifies a broken heating element, which will need to be replaced.

Smelly Water

  • Electric water heaters contain an "anode rod," which is placed inside of a water heater to prevent the tank from corroding. However, the anode rod may sometimes decay, causing the water to smell or taste bad. When this happens, bacteria may settle in the tank. In case of such a problem, the water heater must be flushed of all of its contents (the details of which are provided in the owner's guide). A solution should be made of 2 pints of 3 percent peroxide to 40 gallons of water, and this solution should be run through the tank. After allowing the solution to sit for two hours or more, the problem is usually solved. Continued issues may indicate a tank that is decaying, or the need to replace the anode rod.

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