Troubleshooting Guide: Water Heater Elements

Posted on: 24 February 2021

Electric water heaters contain one or more heating elements. These elements are powered by electricity, and they have the sole job of heating the water in the tank. If the elements fail, your tank will no longer produce hot water.

Signs of Heating Element Failure

Element failure is usually obvious. A failing element will no longer heat the water properly. This may be a complete failure, which means that there is no hot water at all. It can also be a partial failure, which means the element heats but it either produces insufficient heat or it powers down before heating to the desired thermostat setting.

There is also the case of a failed element providing more heat than it is supposed to. This can lead to boiling water in the tank, pressure leaks from the overflow valve, or loud noises from the tank. This is a dangerous issue that must be fixed immediately.

Common Failure Causes

Heating elements may simply fail from burning out due to age. Electrical shorts and issues with the thermostat can also cause an element to fail so that it no longer heats. In some cases, the element is working correctly, but hard mineral buildup on the element either interferes with the temperature sensors or is preventing the heat from the element from reaching the water.

Overheating is most often caused by an electrical short in the element or thermostat failure. Hard water scale buildup on the surfaces and bottom of the tank, as opposed to on the element itself, may also lead to overheating. This occurs because the scale buildup reduces the water capacity in the tank, thus allowing the element to heat the water too rapidly so the temperature soars above the set level.


An old element or one that has suffered a short must be replaced. In some cases your technician may also need to fix wiring between the element and the thermostat. The thermostat may also require replacement. If hard water has coated the element, it may need to be cleaned or replaced. Your tech will also replace the anode rod in the tank, which is a device that minimizes scale and corrosion inside the tank.

There is one fix for an overheating element due to mineral scale in the tank. The tank must be flushed out to remove scale and then the element needs to be inspected for damage.

Contact a water heater repair service if you are having issues with heat output from your appliance.