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Water Heater Element Replacement, A Step By Step Guide

With this water heater element replacement guide, you get the knowledge to test, select a new element, and install it. The typical plumber service call will cost you over $100. With this guide, you can keep most of that money.


We will look at replacing a screw-in type immersion element because it is the most common type.

If you have a 4 bolt flange type element, you can adapt this procedure for your purpose.

Is the element the problem?

We will begin by testing the element to see if it is bad. To begin, shut off the breaker for the water heater. Next, you can remove the access cover(s) and pull back the insulation. Verify that there is no power to the unit with a multimeter.

Now, you can disconnect the electrical wires from the element(s). Using a multimeter, check the resistance between the two terminals on the element. The typical resistance should be between 10 and 20 ohms. If your reading is zero, then the element is shorted and must be replaced. If the reading is much higher than twenty, the element is open and requires replacement.

Next, you should check the resistance between the terminals and the tank itself. The reading should be very high or the element is grounded and requires replacement.

Element removal

To proceed with water heater element replacement, you will need to drain the tank. You should shut off the water supply to the tank, attach a hose to the drain valve, and run it to a sump or outside. Open a hot water tap and the drain valve to empty the tank.

After the tank is empty, you can shut the drain valve and disconnect the hose. The element can now be removed by unscrewing it from the tank. A special water heater element removal wrench can be purchased to do this or you can use a 1 1/2 inch deep well socket, or a large crescent wrench.

Selecting a replacement

With the element removed, it is time to select the proper replacement. The element will have a wattage rating stamped on the face of it as well as an operating voltage. Your new element should have the same rating.

The elements come in three grades which are high density, low density, and extra low density. This refers to the amount of heat produced per square inch. This is determined by the materials used in making the element. In general, the lower density elements last longer than the higher density units.

Installing the new element

The new element should be screwed into the tank tightly. Then, you can reconnect the wires. Place the insulation back in place and put the covers back on.

Now, you can open the water supply valve and refill the tank. When you get a steady stream of water from the open tap, you can close it. Turn the power back on to the water heater and complete your water heater element replacement by observing proper operation.

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