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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Is it difficult to replace the element in a hot water heater? I suspect that ours needs to be replaced. Our electric bills have been higher than we think they should be, with nothing we can think of to account for it (not a lot higher, but somewhat), and I've also noticed lately that we are running out of hot water a lot sooner than we used to. We have a lot of mineral in our water (well water) and most likely there's a build-up on the element. Also, any idea what the new element would cost? I suppose we'll have to go to a plumbing supply place to get it?

Thanks!

Kathleen
 

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Miniature Horse lover
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After Shutting OFF the power to it. And after Draining the Water out. There is a drain at the bottom, Connect a hose to it and drain the entire unit. Then on one side there is an access panel pretty long one, with a screw on top and one screw at the bottom.
The heating element then Screws Out of the w. heater, make sure you disconnect the wires to the element first.
Put new gasket on the new element and screw it back in.
Now I picked up my new elements at a Home Improvement Center, Like a Lowe's, Home Depot, Menard's etc. so it may not be necessary to go to a plumbing place. Just make sure you match wattage etc.
Now there are TWO elements one at the top and another one close to the bottom you would want to replace BOTH. and they run Oh around 25 bucks, or so each.
Even a Farm Supply Store that carries plumbing supples should also carry the elements for hot water heaters.
 

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....I suspect that ours needs to be replaced...
To determine whether it needs to replaced, check it out. Turn the electricity off to the HW heater. Remove the feed wires from the element. Then, using your volt/ohm meter, check for continuity between the two electrial connections on the element. If there is no continuity, the element is kaput.

If dh does not have a volt/ohm meter, you still have a few hours to buy him that Christmas present.
 

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You also most likely have a buildup of minerals in the bottom of the HWH. After draining and removing the lower element you can look and see if there is a buildup on the bottom.

Home improvement stores, plumbing supplies and electrical supply stores sell the elements. You will most likely need to buy the socket to remove them with also.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
To determine whether it needs to replaced, check it out. Turn the electricity off to the HW heater. Remove the feed wires from the element. Then, using your volt/ohm meter, check for continuity between the two electrial connections on the element. If there is no continuity, the element is kaput.

If dh does not have a volt/ohm meter, you still have a few hours to buy him that Christmas present.
No DH here (too bad -- they do come in handy once in a while, LOL!), but my uncle will be down sometime in January if I can't find anyone else to do it before then! :) How much do volt/ohm meters cost? If not too much, maybe it's something I should have, although I generally avoid anything to do with electricity like the plague. (If I had a DH, I probably wouldn't have needed to ask about this on here, come to think of it.)

Thanks for the help, you guys! And merry Christmas!

Kathleen
 

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...How much do volt/ohm meters cost? If not too much, maybe it's something I should have, although I generally avoid anything to do with electricity like the plague...
You should be able to find a decent one with digital read-out for around $30. These are also known as "multimeters." A must have on any homestead, IMHO.
 

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There can be a variety of different access panels and also a different number of elements which require different removal techniques. Some are held in place by bolts as an example. Once the access panel is removed often there will be fiberglass insulation covering the element and wiring on older units so it will need to be moved aside for access.

If replacing the lower element I use a wet or dry vacuum with an extension tube taped to the regular nozzle so that the build up of minerals can be vacuumed from the bottom of the tank before the new element is installed. Regular draining as instructed with new heaters should pretty well eliminate this step so there may be no build up.

While the heater is drained you might as well consider replacing the sacrificial anode rod in the top of the heater at the same time. Corrosion works on it rather than the tank making a heater last longer, with the rod or several being cheaper than an entire tank.

Elements come in different wattages and configurations so knowing in advance which you need and can get may pay to check out before the old one is removed. Should be plenty of information on the exposed end of it in order to ensure correct replacement.

Best wishes.
 

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To remove the minerals that have accumulated at the bottom of the water heater (Why would you want to heat water that is all ready hot?:rolleyes:) I taped a spoon to a long piece of wood and kinda dipped the minerals out. As the minerals accumulate they insulate the heating element and can cause an early failure.
 

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We had a problem with our hot water heater this fall -- it was running, but the water wasn't hot. Found out that soot and corrosion from the flue (it's gas) had accumulated and was preventing the thing from heating up. Vacuumed it off, and now it works as good as new.
 

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On an electric water heater the bottom element is the main one and does teh bulk of the water heating. When the element is tested with a meter there are TWO test that need to be made. With the power off and the two wires disconnected from the two screws on the element first verify that you have continuity from on screw to the other. The lacking of continuity from one screw to the other indicates the element is burned open so no power is fed through the element to make heat. The second thing to test is from one screw to ground on the water heater. If you have continuity then that side of the element is shorted to ground and could waste power. Repeat the same test with the other screw to ground. Again you want no continuity as that is a short to ground. IF either screw is shorted to ground you must replace the element. If there is an open from screw head to screw head then you must replace the element. With a single person living in a home there is no need for the top element. You can disconnect the wires to the top element and save a little money. Unless you use a lot of hot water you will never realize the top element is disconnected. Make very certain the water heater is full of water prior to turning the power back on. Open a hot water faucet until you get water before turning the power on. Got it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thank you, agmantoo. I'm going to print this thread off, so I have it to refer to! We do have three people living in the house, though, so I probably want to keep the top element on the water heater. (I'm just the only person in the house capable of doing much! Grandma's mind is fine, but her body is 95 and slowing down; my daughter is severely mentally handicapped.)

Grandma is supposed to go up to Washington to visit my uncle next week, by Amtrak bus (weather permitting). The return bus trip would be much longer than the trip up for some reason, so my uncle will bring her home. I think the water heater can wait until he gets here (he has one of those meters that he can bring with him), but I'll watch so I know how to do it the next time. It's going to be a little awkward getting at the water heater -- the access panel is in the side of my daughter's bedroom closet! (This is a manufactured home, just barely five years old, so the water heater is fairly new.)

Kathleen
 

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You've had some good advice on how to replace an element. There are some great people here.

You had another issue with increased power usage though. Since the elements are immersed in water, and all electricity used by them is actually converted into heat, the heater element itself is unlikely to be the cause of the increased electric bills. Even if the element had an insulating layer of crud (which it likely doesn't) the resistance would increase as it heats up, and less current would flow, and the same amount of power would be used to heat the water.

However, during the winter, many homes have water coming into the house that is considerably colder than in the summer. Here is what can happen (not saying that it does in your case, but it can). You take a 10 gallon shower each day. In the summer, the water coming into the house is 60 degrees. In the winter, the temp of the water entering the house is 50 degrees. You like a 90 degree shower. Your heater is set to 120 degrees. In the summer, you mix the cold and hot 50/50 and get your shower by heating 5 gallons up 60 degrees. In the winter, that five gallons has to be heated 70 degrees to reach 120 degrees, and because the cold water from the cold tap is no longer 60 but 50, you have to turn the shower knob more to hot to get your 90 degree shower. Add the fact that most folks like a slightly warmer shower in the winter and may waste some water heating up a cold shower stall, and a slight increase in power usage from heating water is inevitable, especially if there are a number of people in the house. You also are likely using electric lights more often, and any electric space heaters would add to the wintertime load.

A kilowatt-hour (what most people buy from the electric company for 10 to 20 cents each) is about the same as 3100 BTUs. What is a BTU? It is, conveniently enough, the energy needed to raise a pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. So, since there are about 8 pounds of water in a gallon, 8 x 60 degrees = 480 BTUs, or a heating cost of between 1.5 cents to 3 cents for each gallon of water heated during the summer months. Figure that 10 gallon shower costs 8 to 16 cents in electric costs in the summer, and maybe 12 to 24 cents in the winter.

Years ago, people didn't like cold cold water, and many basements had uninsulated "tempering" tanks near the (coal burning) furnace. The waste heat from the furnace heated the basement and pre-heated the water going into (wait for it) the HOT water heater. This saved money and made washing more comfortable, since many people washed in water that hadn't been heated by anything other than the tempering tank.

About saving money by leaving out the top element - it doesn't usually work that way. Electric water heaters depend on the stratification of water according to temperature. Hot water rises, cool water sinks. Having both elements on at the same time can defeat the purpose of the top element in some heaters. In those, the top element only stays on long enough to heat the top few gallons of water. This is called a "quick recovery" feature, and allows you to get a little hot water soon after you have depleted it of all the hot water in it. Once the thermostat for the top element is satisfied, it cuts off the power to it, and only then is the lower element energized. That allows the heater to have a circuit that only can carry 20 amps, and works better in situations where the house entrance is only 100 amps total. The lower element continues to heat until the thermostat on it is satisfied. Other installations may have both elements on at the same time, but the top element will still shut off once its thermostat has been satisfied. It is still the same water being heated and using two elements only does it more quickly. The total power consumed is the same.
 
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