How to Test a Water Heater Element | Bad Water Heater Element Symptoms

How to Test a Water Heater Element

up close view of a water heater element

Your home's water heater is one of the essential comforts in life. If you have ever taken a cold shower in January, you understand this very well. A lousy element in your water heater can deny you of this luxury. If your water heater isn't working, then the element is something you will want to check. Many homeowners do not have to tools nor know how to test a water heater element. The good news is all you need is an affordable multimeter (try the UEI UTL33T ), a screwdriver, and a little knowledge.

How to Check a Water Heater Element

A tank water heater will usually have two elements. Before testing the element, you must disconnect power to the water heater:

  1. Cut power - flip the proper breaker, so there is no electricity running to the water heater.
  2. Set the multimeter to 240v - the water heater has two 120 volt wires connecting to it, so you will want to be sure to prep your multimeter for that voltage. If you do not, you risk damaging this sensitive tool.
  3. Touch one of the multimeter probes to one of the element screws.
  4. Ground the other probe - touch it to the water heater tank.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other connection - if you get a reading in either case, then the power has not been properly disconnected. You need to locate the correct breaker and shut it off before proceeding.

Testing a Water Heater Element in 5 Steps

touch both element screws with probes to test element

Now that you've ensured there is no power going to the water heater, you are ready to test. Remember, there are usually two heating elements in a water heater.

  1. Set the multimeter to RX1K.
  2. Touch the probes together - the needle on the multimeter should show activity.
  3. Remove the wires from the element - loosen the screws and then remove the wiring.
  4. Touch the probes to each element screw - you want to touch each screw simultaneously. If you do not see activity with the multimeter needle, then the element is not working.

    Sometimes you get a false negative with this test. Just because there was activity with the needle does not mean you need to get a new water heater element. You may have a grounded element.

  5. Test for a grounded element - touch one of the screws with a probe and then contact the other probe to some metal part of the water heater tank. If you see movement, the element is grounded and needs replacement.

If your element is grounded, then it might overheat the water and cause the high limit switch to trip, thus disrupting the operation of the water heater. If it's not working, you may need to reset your water heater. Try that before you replace anything.

Bad Water Heater Element Symptoms

The most obvious sign, as mentioned, is that the water is cold. Now, this could mean several different things. It doesn't necessarily mean the element is bad, but it is the most probable way to catch the problem.

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How to Clean a Thermocouple
How to Replace a Water Heater Thermostat
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T&P Valve Replacement
How to Fix a Leaking Water Heater

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