Tips & Resources

6 Ways to Troubleshoot an Electric Hot Water Heater

Having trouble with an electric hot water heater? The trouble could be the heating element, improper settings, high water pressure or lack of tank maintenance. Electric water heaters are similar to gas water heaters in that they both heat and store water in an insulated steel tank. The difference is in how they are powered. Gas burners heat the water from below, while electric heaters have both upper and lower heating elements.

Here are six common issues to look for before calling for service. Be sure to turn off the power before checking electrical parts.

1. For no hot water

This problem could be a lack of power to the heater or a failed heating element.

2. For inadequate hot water

The tank capacity may not be large enough to meet your needs, for example, if you often have multiple people showering at once. If excessive demand is the issue, consider limiting shower duration, installing low-flow shower heads, and limiting how many water-using appliances (dishwasher, laundry) run at or close to the same time. Another option for high-demand households is a tankless water heater that provides continuous hot water. Lukewarm water could indicate a failed or defective heating element.

3. For water that is too hot

Check the heat setting on the thermostats. Adjust the temperature to the desired setting, then adjust the thermostat to the same setting. The temperature for hot water should be no higher than 120 degrees for safety.

4. For water leaks

Leaks can be caused by a number of factors including a faulty temperature and pressure relief valve, excessive pressure, overheating, a stuck valve or leaks from nearby plumbing. Check the valves and plumbing connections, loose heating elements and tank corrosion. If the leak continues, the tank will need to be drained in order to prevent serious water damage to the surrounding area.

5. For rust-colored water or bad odor

Check for corrosion inside the tank or pipes, or for a failing anode rod. A decaying or rotten egg smell can be caused by the release of hydrogen from the anode rod or corrosion inside a glass-lined tank. The tank will need to be drained and treated with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. If the smell persists, the options are replacing the anode rod or getting a heater with a plastic-lined tank.

6. For noise

Sediment build-up can cause overheating. Check for boiling water, which may cause a low, rumbling sound. The build-up of scales on the electric heating elements can cause a high-pitched whining. The tank will need to be flushed so the sediment or scales can be removed.

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