How to Check Electric Hot Water Elements

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If your heater does not produce enough hot water, check its heating elements.
If your heater does not produce enough hot water, check its heating elements. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Electric hot water heaters typically have two heating elements--one located at the top of the tank and the other at the bottom. Upper and lower thermostats, as well as a high limit switch, maintain these elements. If your hot water heater produces an insufficient amount of hot water, one or both of these elements may have burned out. Old age, mineral deposits and power surges can lead to faulty electric hot water heater elements.

Things You'll Need

  • Ohm meter/multimeter
  • Phillips head screwdriver

Turn off the power supply at the circuit breakers.

Locate the electrical access panels on the tank. There will be one next to each element. Remove the top access panel with a Phillips head screwdriver. Remove any insulation that may be over the element.

Remove the two wires that are screwed into the terminals of the element. Bend them out of your way.

Touch the red and black probes of your Ohm meter or multimeter to the terminals of the element. If you are using a multimeter, make sure it is set on “RX1.” If the reading is less than 50 ohm, the element is working properly. If it reads higher, or infinity, the element will need to be replaced.

Use the multimeter to obtain a reading from the terminals of the element to its metal casing. This will check for a possible short circuit. If the meter shows any continuity, a short circuit exists and rewiring will be necessary. Replace the access panel.

Check the lower element using the same procedures.

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