How To Troubleshoot An Electric Water Heater

hands with tools working on electric water heater

Your electric water heater may develop a number of problems, including lack of hot water, strange sounds, rusty water, strange smells, or no water coming through the pipes. Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you with these most common problems with electric water heaters.

Check Breaker and Reset

If you are not getting any hot water, first check the circuit breaker. This is especially true if you have an older heater.

Check the reset button. Remove the top thermostat cap of the water heater and use a voltmeter to see if there is current running to the terminals. Place the testers on the L1 and L2 terminals. If there is a current, then press the red reset button.

Check Current to Heating Element

If the water in the tank is cold, you may have a problem with the thermostat or heating element. Test the current running to the heating element. If there is no current, then the problem is with the thermostat. If there is a current, then you will need to shut off the power from the circuit breaker and remove wires from heating element.

Use your ohmmeter and touch the leads to the screws of the element at the same time. If there is no reading, the element is bad and will need to be replaced. If there is a reading, then you can perform another test. Check each screw individually by touching the screw and the side of the tank. There should not be a reading. If there is, the element is shorting out.

Check Bottom Components

If you do not find anything wrong with the upper heating elements and controls, you can reattach the wires and check the bottom components. Restore power to the breaker and do the same tests as you did previously. If you find something, then replace the part. Most of the time, the replacement involves a simple swap out that will require only removing and reinstalling wires.

Funny Noises From The Tank

You might hear some strange noises emanating from the electric water heater. This can be from common heating and cooling of the water that is expanding the tank. However, it could mean that there is air getting into the water line.

Check the water valves for any signs of bubbling or leaking. Adjust the thermostat to ensure that the water won't boil. You can try to tighten the valve to see if this stops the noise. If not, then use a small bit of solder to form a tighter seal.

Rust in Water

When you turn on the hot water and see a rust color coming through the pipes you can have one of two problems. The first is serious and will require replacement: the lining on the inside of the heater has deteriorated and is beginning to rust.

The second is a problem with the water table. By installing a water purifier in the main line, you should eliminate the abnormal coloring. However, you should have your water checked to see if something has changed in the water table.

Strong Smell of Rotten Eggs

If your water or heater smells like rotten eggs, this is sulfur and means that there is something wrong with your water, not the electric heater. You can have a water softener and purifier installed into the main water line to filter this out. If the problem persists, you will have to have a new well dug and water lines relocated.