by Chris Long
"You don't know what you've got until it's gone." Truer words have never been spoken when it comes to hot water. And you never realize how essential it is until it's gone!
Whether you have a good 5-10 minutes of hot water and then nothing (even with the faucet fully-turned to "Hot") or you have no hot water at all, the next time you notice a dip in your water's heat, take a moment before you call your plumber for an emergency visit. You may simply need to replace your heating element.
Performing this simple replacement yourself could allow you to super-stretch your dollars and get a DIY bill for under $30, as opposed to a professional rush job invoice closer to $200!
If all you require is a new heating element, you've come to the right place. The following is a step-by-step, detailed explanation (with pics!) of how to improve your self-sufficiency, stretch your "emergency savings" budget and save the day all at the same time.
1. Assemble your tools
The basic tools you will need for this DIY project are:
- Hot water heater manual
- Element Wrench
- New Heating Element
To make sure you have the correct heating element, locate the appropriate voltage of your tank's heating element(s) by examining the sticker on the front of the heater.
Here is a side-by-side view of the heating element and the element wrench so you can see how they will be a perfect fit.
You will notice there are two holes on one end of the wrench: this is for you to insert your screwdriver to use as leverage to turn the socket wrench.
2. Shut off the electricity to your water heater
You don't necessarily associate electricity with the production of hot water but when it comes from an electric water heater (which is what you have unless yours runs on gas power), you can't have one without the other.
3. Turn off your cold water supply
Make sure you have closed your water tank's intake before proceeding to drain the tank otherwise your tank will refill as fast as you drain!
4. Drain your storage tank / Release the tank's pressure
Although experienced DIY-ers who have done this before may feel comfortable enough to switch the heating element with a full tank, this is not advisable for newbies.
If you have never done this before, it's best to drain the entire tank by attaching a hose to the spout at the base of the tank: make sure one end of the hose is near a drain or outside before you connect the other end to the tank.
5. Remove the cover to access the inside panel
Make sure you don't lose the screws once you have removed them keep everything together near you for easy re-attachment.
Here is a diagram from the manual of the inside of the panel you have just exposed.
6. Remove the insulation
7. Remove the thermostat cover
With the thermostat cover out of the way, you can see this is what the interior panel looks like.
8. Detach the wires from the installed heating element
Once you have determined there is no active electricity coming through the wires attached to the installed heating element, loosen the screws enough so that you can gently pull the wires out and bend them completely out of the way.
9. Remove the defective heating element
Place the wrench over the element and use the wrench and screwdriver to turn counter-clockwise until you have loosened the element, remove it and replace it with the new one.
10. Refill your tank
With the hose removed from the tank spout, and with the new heating element securely in place, turn your water back on and refill the tank. Watch as this happens so you can ensure there are no leaks.
11. Reassemble the panel
When the tank is full, you will need to:
- Attach the wires to the new element;
- Replace the thermostat cover;
- Replace the insulation;
- Re-screw the panel cover.
12. Turn on the electricity and test out your hot water!
It's as simple as that!
If you are still experiencing problems, now's a good time to contact a plumber.
Hopefully you were able to fix the issue yourself and stretch your dollars like a pro! What other seemingly-difficult and intimidating projects have you undertaken yourself? How much money were you able to save?
Chris Long, a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago area, is a regular Home Depot blog contributor on plumbing projects and products. Chris enjoys providing hot water heater tips to homeowners and discussing the latest in plumbing fixtures, such as those featured here.