Water Heater Elements

Water heater elements and the electrical wiring are the two most common problems with electric water heaters.

If you have hot water but it runs out quickly, your lower element/thermostat is probably at fault.

If your water heater seems slow to recover after using lots of hot water, check your upper element. Compare element prices here electric water heater parts.

How Water Heating Elements Work

When electricity passes through a heating element it meets resistance. This resistance creates heat, much like rubbing your two hands together very fast.
The wattage determines how much heat will be produce.

Testing an element is simple and easy with this step by step tutorial.
You will need a multimeter and a screwdriver. An analog meter can
be had for about ten bucks at your nearest hardware store.

To replace an element, you will need an element wrench, screw-
driver and garden hose.

Buyers Guide

You will need to know the voltage and wattage. There are also screw type,flange and raised flanged styles.

You can find the voltage and wattage on the water heater label or on the end of the old element.

A flange type is not as common in newer water heaters. If you can't find one, look for an adapter kit. With this kit you can replace the old flange style with a newer screw type.

In most cases you do not have to buy brand specific elements.

If you are shopping for elements you can compare prices on our page at electric water heater

parts page.

Did You Know?

Common residential water heaters have two elements but they do not heat at the same time.

The heating element is the most likely component to fail on a water heater.

The hotter the element or water the more sediment and calcium build up in the tank.

If a newly installed Water heater element makes a humming or vibrating sound it is because the loop on the element is horizontal in the tank. Tighten the ele. 1/3 to 1/2 turn to stop the humming.

Most elements will only work when submerged in water. If the power is turned on with no water in the tank they will burn out.

This is a 4500 watt 240 volt screw type high density element.

This is the most common residential water heater element.

This is the same size element (voltage and watts) as above except this is a low density element.

Note it is folded back on it self to create more surface area.

What Is Water Heater Element Density?

Density denotes the surface area of the element. The more surface area the lower the density. A low density water heater element will slow sediment build up and they have a longer life expectancy.

How Do They Work
Both elements in the pictures above are 4500 watts. The low density element heats the same amount of water, in the same amount of time but does not get as hot because it has twice the surface area.

This is a flange style 4500 watt ele. This flange style can be replaced with a screw type element using an adapter kit (shown below).

The benefit of using an adapter kit is that a screw type low density element can be installed in the tank.
A low density flange water heater element is hard to find.

This adapter kit can be found in most hardware stores.

Element Testing -how to test an element.

Element Replacement -replace an element with this easy to follow guide.


What Is A Grounded Element?
An element that has an electrical short. It may or may not trip the electrical breaker.
A grounded element can create resistance and continue to heat water on a duel element water heater because there is always 120 volts on the element.
Symptoms of a grounded element are breaker tripped, reset button tripped, extremely hot water, pressure relief valve releasing large amounts of water.

Can I replace an element without an element tool?
Yes you can but if you damage the head without getting the element out you may have to use a hammer and chisel.

Does the length of a water heater heating element make a difference?
No, not as long as you have the proper voltage, watts and style. Shorter elements have a larger diameter therefore the same surface area.

I can here the element sizzling in my water heater when it is heating. Is there something wrong?
Nothing serious. You are hearing sediment and calcium deposits that have covered the element getting hot.

Can I replace a water heater heating element without draining the tank?
Yes, Shut the power off and turn the water supply off at the water heater.Do not turn on any faucets in the house. The idea is not to let any air into the tank.
Put a bucket under the water heater drain and open the drain valve just long enough to let the pressure off the tank (about 3 seconds).
Remove the old element and install the new one.
If you have dripping faucets or the water valve does not shut off tight you may get a little wet. If everything goes well you will loose about 2 cups of water.

My water heater has 4500 watt elements. Can I replace them with 5500 watt elements?
Due to liability, I can not recommend that you increase the element wattage over the original element installed by the manufacturer.
I am not aware of any water heater manufacturer that will warranty a heater if you have changed wattage.
If you do decide to use a higher watt elements, be sure the water heater is wired with #10 wire from the breaker to the heater and that a 30 amp breaker is used.
Also, check that all the wiring connections are tight, both in the water heater and at the breaker.

Do you think a low density element is worth the extra cost?
Yes, if you live in a hard water area.

These elements will cut down on sediment build up.
They do not get as hot because of the larger surface area but they will heat the same amount of water as a standard element.
Another bonus is they will last much longer than a regular element.

Would a low density element use less electricity than a high one?
No. The energy use is the same.

Water is leaking from my water heater heater element. Should I replace it?
Not necessarily. If it is still heating, you can replace the rubber washer that sets between the element and the tank.

Back to top

  1. Home
  2. Water Heater Elements