How to Troubleshoot and Repair an Electric Water Heater

  • 01 of 07

    Electric Water Heater Troubleshooting

    Residential Water Heater
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    Electric water heaters look similar to their gas-fueled cousin. They both use an insulated storage tank jacket made of steel with insulation between the storage tank and the tank jacket to reduce heat loss of the heated water.

    However, in an electric water heater, the water is heated using an upper and lower heating element as opposed to a gas burner used with a gas water heater. Think of it this way: a gas water heater uses a heating system like a gas furnace and the electric water heater uses a...MORE heating element like an electric oven.

    Gas or electric water heaters are one of the most dependable appliances in our homes and the electric version of the water heater is tops in reliability. There are no moving parts to speak of and repairs, when needed, are easy to make.

    Let's take a look at the most common electric water heater problems you may experience and how to troubleshoot and repair them.

    Possible Water Heater Problems You May Encounter

    • No hot water
    • Inadequate hot water
    • Water temperature too hot
    • Leaky pipe connection
    • Leaky water storage tank
    • Rust colored water
    • Rotten egg odor
    • Low rumbling or popping noise
    • Higher pitched whining

    Safety Tips Before You Begin

    • Shut off the power to the electric water heater by turning off the circuit breaker or fuse powering the heater.
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  • 02 of 07

    The Problem: No Hot Water

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    A water heater that isn't producing any hot water is a frustrating conundrum. There are a few possible causes to this problem, such as a lack of power to heating elements (tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse handling water heater circuit), a faulty electric thermostat, and a faulty upper electric heating element. To diagnose the problem and make necessary repairs, follow our troubleshooting guide below.

    How to Fix It: No Hot Water

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  • 03 of 07

    The Problem: Inadequate Hot Water

    Male Finger Turning Up Tankless Water Heater Temperature
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    If your water heater is producing hot water, but not enough of it, your unit could be undersized in comparison to your hot water demands. Make sure hot water demand does not exceed the capacity of the water heater. The water heater should have 75% of its capacity as hot water (Example: a 40 gallon WH should be used for a demand of 30 gallons).

    If your unit is not undersized, you could have crossed cold and hot water connections from faulty plumbing installation or you have a faulty electric lower...MORE or upper heating element or high or low heating element thermostat. (A constant supply of lukewarm water during a shower is indicative of a defective upper heating element. Short duration hot water supply during a shower is indicative of a defective lower heating element).

    How to Fix It: Not Enough Hot Water

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  • 04 of 07

    The Problem: Water Temperature Too Hot

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    Just as frustrating as no hot water is too much hot water. If you're experiencing this problem, it's possible that your heating unit thermostat setting is too high or, less obviously, your water has a high mineral content, which causes corrosion of the heating elements in your heater.

    How to Fix It: Water Is Too Hot

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  • 05 of 07

    The Problem: Water Leaks

    Close-up of drain pipe leaking water
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    Water leaks can be caused by leaking valves, bad plumbing connections or from the tank itself. There are a number of steps you should take to stop and fix the leak. Start by shutting off both the water supply to the heater and the electrical power.

    How to Fix It: Leaking Water Heater

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  • 06 of 07

    The Problem: Rust Colored Water or Bad Odor

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    Does your water come out of the faucet with a brown, yellow or red tint to it? There could be corrosion occurring inside your water heater tank or the pipes in your home. If your water comes out smelling like rotten eggs, there could be bacteria in the tank. You might need to replace your anode rod. Learn how to troubleshoot this problem so you no longer have to deal with gross-looking or -smelling water.

    How to Fix It: Discolored or Smelly Water

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  • 07 of 07

    The Problem: Making Noises

    Plumber fixing Water Heater
    Julia Nichols / Getty Images

    Are there noises coming from your water heater? Does it sound like a low rumbling or popping noise? Or maybe it's a high pitched whine? The noise you're hearing may be the sound of boiling water. Excessive buildup of sediment in the bottom of the tank is causing the bottom of the tank to overheat and boiling water to occur.

    How to Fix It: Making Noises