Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

Having to call in a plumber or electrician every time something stops working can turn out to be expensive over time. Nor does it seem like value for money when you see him first making sure that the appliance is indeed plugged in – he has learned that many house calls can be resolved this way in ten seconds flat.

Practically speaking, knowing a few simple tricks can not only save money, but avoid the frustration of waiting for a repairman who has you “next on my list.”

The Fountain

One too-common problem electric heaters display is that water simply pours out of the pipe at the top, constantly. This can seem like a disaster, but it’s usually a simple fix: the pressure relief valve is simply stuck. Turn off the stop tap to the heater to block the flow, and replacing the valve should be easy if you have basic plumbing skills. Quote the heater’s manufacturer and model number at your local plumbing supply store and you’ll have a new part in no time.

If this isn’t your complaint, it is probably that your electrical water heater has recently started to produce only tepid water, or needs an hour to become hot again after someone’s taken a brief shower.

First Things First

Yes, the first step is always to see if it’s plugged in, meaning whether mains power is actually getting to it. Check the circuit breaker board, which will hopefully be labeled switch by switch. If the water heater’s switch is halfway down, press it fully down and then fully up to reset it. On the heater itself, near the thermostat, you’ll find another safety switch, which you can usually reset by pressing the button.

If either trips again immediately, call an electrician: Something Bad is going on and live power is not something you want to experiment with.

The Elements

These are the components which actually heat up the water, and are ridiculously easy and cheap to replace. When you compare buying a $10 part to a $200 outcall fee, to perhaps $1000+ for a new unit, things quickly come into perspective.

Firstly, TURN OFF THE POWER. If you don’t know how to use a voltage detector or multimeter to verify that it’s safe to proceed, think carefully about whether you should. If you do, screw off the cover plates to reveal the elements’ contacts. You’ll need a continuity tester or multimeter for the next steps.

Check that there’s a high resistance (or no continuity) between the element contacts and the metal plate into which the element fits. If there is continuity, you have a short circuit somewhere and the element should probably be replaced.

Next, measure between the element’s two contacts. This time, it should be continuous, of show a resistance of around 15 Ώ. If not, off to the hardware store you go.

Next Steps

An electrical water heater is such a simple device, you can eventually fix it just by swapping new parts for old until it starts working. If this interests you and you have a free afternoon, by all means go for it.

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