Plumbing, Heating and Pool Repair Guides

How To Change A Water Heater Element


How To Change A Water Heater ElementThe way that water gets hot in your electric water heater is with something called a “heating element”. Most water heaters will have two electric heating elements in them. There will be one element on top and another element on the bottom. If you have a low boy water heater you probably won’t have dual heating elements.

The water heater elements are controlled by a thermostat. The thermostat can be adjusted so that you can have the water temperature as hot as you desire. The elements and the thermostat are protected by a safety trip system, so if you have no hot water and think your elements are bad you should make sure that its not just the safety that has tripped. This is a common mistake many people make, they go out and buy new elements, they install them and then they realize it was just the circuit that tripped and they replaced the water heater elements for no reason.

Replacing the water heater elements will require a few tools. You will need a large socket to unscrew the heating element, garden hose to drain the water heater, screw driver, and a pair of pliers.
Water Heater Element
Here is how you change the elements on an electric water heater:

1) The first thing you will need to do is to shut the electric off that is powering the water heater. Make sure to shut the actual breaker off at the circuit breaker panel.

2)Now that the power is off you will want to shut the water feed off to the water heater. There should be a valve on the cold side that will shut the water feed off to the heater. If you do not have isolation valves on the water heater you will have to shut the main down unless there is some sort of isolation valve on the line feeding the water heater.

3) You will now want to drain the water heater. If you are replacing the top water heater element you will only have to drain the water heater to right below the actual element. If you are replacing the lower water heater element you will have to drain the complete water heater down.

4) Once you have the water heater drained down to the level under the element that you are replacing you will now want to remove the element cover panel. Once you open the panel remove the leads that are on the element.

5) Once you have removed the electrical leads from the element you can take your large socket and unscrew the water heater element in the counter clockwise direction. Once you unscrew the water heater element you will be ready to replace it with the new one.

6) Now that the broken or failed water heater element is out of the water heater you can take your new element and screw it in the water heater. You will also want to replace the o-ring before screwing in the new element to prevent a leak, once you have done that you should now re-hook up the electrical leads and place the element cover back on.

7) You can now open the valves that you closed. Once you open the water main or the isolation valves you can begin to fill the water heater.

8) Once the water heater is completely full you can turn the power back on to the water heater and let the water heat up. You should have a tank full of hot water in about 20 – 40 minutes depending on what type of water heater you have. Some water heaters have faster recovery times then others.

You might run into a few problems when changing your water heater element. This troubleshooting guide below will help you solve those problems.

Question: “I don’t know where I can buy or find a socket to remove the heater element”

Answer: You can find the heater element socket at the local plumbing supply or at a local hardware store.

Question: “Can I change the elements without draining the water heater?”

Answer: Yes, In fact you can if you are careful and very mechanically inclined you can do this wit ease and here is how. Turn the power off, turn the water supply off and you will need isolation valves on top of the water heater to shut. This will create a tank vacuum. You can then pull the heater element out faster and push the new one in just as fast. You will loose about 2 cup fulls of water if you are good. This is not recommend off course and the proper way is to do what we have described above.

Question: “How do I reset the reset on my water heater?”

Answer: Most water heaters will have a red reset button that you can push to reset the water heater

Question: “How can I tell if my elements are bad?”

Answer: You can use a standard ohm meter to test the elements.

One other tip to remember is that if your water heater is in a basement or an area that is below the grade you will also need a pump to lift the water from the location. A common pump that is used to do this is called a “pony pump”. A pony pump is a small pump that has a high transfer rate and connects in-line with two garden hoses.


  1. We tried to change out our element on our hot water heater(has only one).We used a 1&12inch socket..but the thing is froze up in there.We tried spraying w-d 40 on it ,but still won,t budge.What can we do?

  2. how do I find and remove electrolyst (sorry don’t know how to spell it)rod. It causes us to have bad smell in water. I appreciate any help leading me to the correction of the problem. I understand this rod helps to keep heater working better for longer ut I would rather replace heater than deal with smell

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