How do I Troubleshoot Electric Water Heater Problems?

Plumber troubleshooting an electric water heater

Electric water heaters are a reliable and safe source of hot water for your home or business. However, when issues do arise, you want to be able to identify the cause and apply the right fix quickly.

Before you start to troubleshoot water heater issues, it’s essential to remember safety first. Shut off the power to your water heater at the breaker box before you begin to look at your electric water heater. Here’s how you can troubleshoot some of the most common electrical water heater problems.

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Water Temperature Issues

Several types of water heater issues can cause problems with water temperature. When water is running too hot, it usually means the thermostat is set too high. Check to make sure the upper and lower thermostats are set between 110 and 140 degrees.

When the water is not hot enough or if it runs out too quickly, the problem can be an undersized water heater, crossed hot and cold connections, or a faulty heating element or thermostat. Rule out a crossed connection by turning off the water supply and turning on a hot water faucet; if hot water still flows, this could indicate a crossed connection. After this, you will need to check other elements to ensure everything is functioning correctly.

Not connected meter for consumption measuring of a cold water on a wash basin beside mounted handle mixer tap and water flowing from him on background of a wall with green tilesNo Hot Water

When there is no hot water, the problem can stem from lack of power, a faulty electric thermostat, or a defective upper electric heating element. Start by ruling out power problems. If, when you go to turn off the power at the breaker box, it is already switched off, then you have discovered the problem. Just reset the breaker box, wait an hour, and then try out the hot water. If that was not the problem, you might need to test the thermostat by checking the water temperature at the outlets or repair the elements.


Water leaks can be caused by a faulty temperature and pressure relief valve, excessive pressure, overheating, a stuck valve, a leak from an overhead or adjacent plumbing connection, loose heating element bolts, a bad gasket or a leaking water tank. To check the temperature and pressure regulating (“T&P“) valve, place a bucket under the overhead pipe, open the valve, and flush it clear of debris.

If it still leaks, repair or replace it. Next, to reduce excessive pressure or heat, lower the thermostat. After this, check for loose pipe connections, and use a wrench to tighten any you find, being careful not to over-tighten. Next, check the heating element bolts, tightening them, if needed. If the heating element is still leaking, you may need to replace parts.

Discoloration or Odor of Hot Water

Rust-colored water can be caused by corrosion inside a glass-lined tank or a failing anode rod. A decaying anode rod can also release hydrogen gas. Most often this can be detected by the smell of rotten eggs coming from your hot water. To fix this, flush the water heater. Then, treat the tank and pipes for at least two hours with a solution of 2 pints of 3% hydrogen peroxide to 40 gallons of water, and install a new anode rod. If the smell persists, you may need to replace parts of or the whole heater.

Water Heater Noise

A low, rumbling noise can be caused by sediment rattling in the tank as air bubble moves past it. Treat this by flushing the water heater and cleaning off any visible sediment. A high-pitched, whining noise can be caused by a build-up of scale on electrical heating elements. To treat this, first, flush the water heater. Then, clean the scale from the water heater tank and elements.

Many of these troubleshooting efforts may require more technical knowledge than you feel prepared to handle. For stress-free, expert testing and replacement or repair of your electric water heater, talk to the plumbing professionals at Magnificent Plumbing.

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