July 1, 2015

How to replace an electric water heater heating element

By Lyle Weischwill
How to replace an electric water heater heating element

This DIY repair guide explains how to replace a heating element on an electric water heater. A typical electric water heater uses two heating elements to heat and maintain hot water. A broken heating element produces no heat, causing the water heater to produce very little hot water or to run out of hot water quickly. Replace a broken heating element with the manufacturer-approved replacement part.

Follow the steps in this repair guide and video to replace the heating element in Kenmore, State, Rheem, A. O. Smith, Whirlpool, Reliance and GE water heaters.

Quick links
Tools required
Work gloves
Phillip screwdriver
Heating element removal socket
Repair difficulty
Time required
30 minutes or less
Repair difficulty
Time required
30 minutes or less
Replacing a heating element in an electric water heater

This video shows how to replace the heating element in an electric water heater.

Instructions

  1. 01.

    Shut off the electricity

    Switch the 2 house circuit breakers dedicated for the water heater to OFF.

    Wear work gloves to protect your hands.

    Switch the water heater circuit breakers off.

    Switch the water heater circuit breakers off.

  2. 02.

    Drain the water heater

    Turn off the cold water supply to the water heater.

    Attach a garden hose to the drain valve located at the bottom of the unit and run the garden hose outside.

    Open a hot water faucet in the house or flip the relief valve open on the water heater.

    Open the drain valve and allow the tank to drain until empty.

    Tip: You don't have to drain all the water if you're only replacing the top heating element. If you're replacing the lower heating element, drain all the water.
    Turn off the cold water supply.

    Turn off the cold water supply.

    Attach the garden hose the water heater heater drain valve.

    Attach the garden hose the water heater heater drain valve.

    Flip the pressure relief valve to the open position.

    Flip the pressure relief valve to the open position.

    Open the drain valve.

    Open the drain valve.

  3. 03.

    Remove the heating element

    Remove the heating element’s access cover mounting screw and pull off the cover. Fold the insulation back to expose the heating element.

    Lift up the tab located at the top of the plastic shield to release the shield from the thermostat and remove the shield.

    Loosen the screws securing the wires to the heating element and disconnect the wires.

    Unscrew the heating element from the tank using a heating element socket.

    Pull the heating element out of the tank.

    Tip: Clean the area around the element opening of any sediment before installing the new element.
    Remove the access cover screw.

    Remove the access cover screw.

    Remove the element cover.

    Remove the element cover.

    Fold the insulation up.

    Fold the insulation up.

    Remove the shield.

    Remove the shield.

    Remove the wires.

    Remove the wires.

    Unscrew the heating element.

    Unscrew the heating element.

    Pull out the heating element.

    Pull out the heating element.

  4. 04.

    Install the new heating element

    Insert the new heating element in the tank and tighten firmly.

    Reconnect the wires to the new heating element and tighten the screws.

    Reinstall the plastic shield over the thermostat and heating element.

    Fold the insulation back over the thermostat and heating element.

    Reinstall the heating element cover and screw.

    Tip: Install a new gasket on element when replacing the heating element or when reinstalling it after cleaning.
    Install the new heating element.

    Install the new heating element.

    Tighten the new heating element.

    Tighten the new heating element.

    Reconnect the wires to the new heating element.

    Reconnect the wires to the new heating element.

    Reinstall the thermostat shield.

    Reinstall the thermostat shield.

    Fold the insulation down in place.

    Fold the insulation down in place.

    Reinstall the heating element cover.

    Reinstall the heating element cover.

    Reinstall the screw.

    Reinstall the screw.

  5. 05.

    Close the drain valve

    Close the drain valve and remove the garden hose. Flip the relief valve to the closed position.

    Close the drain valve.

    Close the drain valve.

    Remove the garden hose.

    Remove the garden hose.

    Flip the pressure relief valve to the close position.

    Flip the pressure relief valve to the close position.

  6. 06.

    Fill the tank with water

    Turn the cold water supply on to the water heater and allow the tank to fill with water.

    Once you see water coming out of the hot water faucet, turn the hot water faucet off.

    Tip: Clean the area around the element opening of any sediment before installing the new element.
    Warning: Don't restore power to the water heater until the tank is full of water.
    Turn on the cold water supply.

    Turn on the cold water supply.

  7. 07.

    Restore power

    Flip the house circuit breakers to the on position.

    Flip the circuit breakers to the On position.

    Flip the circuit breakers to the On position.

Warning: Undertaking repairs or maintenance to appliances or power equipment can be hazardous. Should you choose to undertake repairs or maintenance, you are assuming the risk of injury to your person or property. In an effort to reduce the risk, use the proper tools and safety equipment noted in the applicable guide and follow all instructions. Do not proceed until you are confident that you understand all of the steps and are capable of completing the repair. Some repairs or maintenance, however, should only be performed by a qualified technician.

Symptoms common to all water heaters

Choose a symptom to see related water heater repairs.

Main causes: water supply needs chlorine treatment, anode rod too reactive
Main causes: thermostat temperature set too high, thermostats need adjustment, faulty thermostat, shorted heating element
Main causes: thermostats need adjustment, water heater capacity too low, bad heating element, thermostat failure, excessive tank sediment
Main causes: lack of power, no gas supply, thermostat limit switch tripped, bad element, bad thermostat, gas valve failure, bad thermocouple
Main causes: broken heating element, thermostat failure, excessive tank sediment, tank size too small, burner valve assembly failure
Main causes: faulty pressure relief valve, water is overheating
Main causes: loose water pipe fittings, leaky drain valve, bad temperature-pressure relief valve, leaky heating element, cracked tank

Repair guides for electric water heaters

How to replace an electric water heater thermostat

If the water temperature fluctuates or you don't get enough hot water, follow these instructions to replace your water heater's thermostat.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 30 minutes or less
How to replace a water heater temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve

Replace a broken temperature/pressure (T&P) relief valve on an electric water heater using these instructions.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 30 minutes or less
How to replace an electric water heater heating element

If your water heater runs out of hot water quickly and one of the two heating elements has failed, replace the element following these step-by-step instructions.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 30 minutes or less

Articles and videos common to all water heaters

Use the advice and tips in these articles and videos to get the most out of your water heater.

December 16, 2015

Using a wiring schematic to trace a current video

By Sears PartsDirect staff

Find out what’s wrong with your appliance by following a circuit.

December 9, 2015

How to read a wiring schematic video

By Sears PartsDirect staff

Learn how to decipher symbols so you can buy the right part for your problem.

August 1, 2015

Water heater common questions

By Sears PartsDirect staff

These common questions and answers can help you make the most of your water heater.