Water Heater Element Testing

With the water heater element testing guide below you will need an inexpensive multimeter and a screwdriver.

Testing an elements is a simple and safe procedure. Just follow the steps and safety guidelines below.

analog multimeter

Before we began you'll need a

The meter in the pic. is an analog
multimeter ( uses a needle to give
you a reading).

It can be had for under $20.00 at
most hardware stores and its fuse
protected (will blow a fuse instead
of burning the meter out if its used
on the wrong setting).


If your not sure how to use a multimeter visit this page for an easy to understand guide.

How to check an element

 water heater element testing

Turn the water heater breaker
(power) off.

Remove the access panels,
the insulation and the plastic
safety cover.
The safety cover snaps on and
off, just give it a tug, it should
pop off.
Be careful not to touch any

checking water heater elements

This is a picture of the upper
element, thermostat and limit

The two wires at the very top
(above the red reset button) are
each 120 volt lines coming
from the breaker.

Always check the power coming into the water heater before you< work on it. Breakers can be mislabeled.

Check your water heater for power

testing water heater element

Set your multimeter on 250
volts ac.
Check the meter on an outlet
in your house that you know
is working.
The needle should sweep almost
half way across the face of the
meter, showing that you have
120 volts.

With your multimeter still set on
250 volt ac, place one probe on one of the lines above the reset
button (see pic).

Place the tip of the other probe on the water heater tank. Scratch
the tank with the end of the probe to be sure you are making good
contact. (this will give you a ground).

You should not get a reading (the needle should not move).

Check the other line the same way, one probe on the line,
the other probe on the tank.

If you get a reading on either line the wrong breaker has been turned
off. Find the right breaker and be sure the power is off before going to
the next step.

 check water heater elements

Set the dial on the multimeter
to RX1K (see pic).

Touch the two meter probes
The needle should sweep all the
way across the face of the meter.
This tells you that the meter is
working properly.

When checking water heater
elements or power, always be
sure your meter is working.

water heater element

Remove one of the wires
from the water heater element.
It does not matter which wire
is removed.

Place the meter probes on
each element screw (see pic).

If the needle on the meter
does not move, the water heater
element is bad and should be

If the needle moves all the way across the face, the element should
be good.

Check for a grounded element.

water heater element testing 02

If your water is getting
extremely hot and/or the reset
button is popping out you may
have a grounded element.

To check for a grounded
element, set your multimeter
dial to RX1K.

Be sure the water heater
power is off.

Place one meter probe on one of the element screws. Place the
other probe on the water heater tank or the element base (see pic).
The meter needle should not move.

Check both element screws for ground. If you get a reading
(needle moves) on either one, replace the element.

Visit water heater element replacement if you need help replacing
your element.

If you are not sure what element to buy for your water heater or for general water heater element information please visit the water heater elements page.

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