How to Maintain an Electric Water Heater
Kevin: Did you know that 40% of households make her hot water using electricity?
Richard: Really? I thought it was 41!
Richard: But it makes good sense. In many parts of this country, electricity is the most cost-effective way to make hot water. Many people don’t have a choice of gas or oil, and sometimes you just can’t get the flu products up and out of the building into the chimney or outside.
Kevin: So an electric water heater is not going to have the flu coming up out through the centre?
Richard: Right. You can put it just about anywhere.
Richard: So, I thought today we do a little anatomy lesson…
Kevin: I love your cut-away.
Richard: Now, this is a unit that came back from a recent project. Electric water heater like this is a glass-lined steel tank.
Kevin: And that glass lining helps preserve this tank from rusting.
Richard: Right, and keep it thrusting, okay. Cold water comes into the tank through the top- right here- but it goes inside of this dip tube and introduces itself into the bottom of the tank.
Kevin: And the hot water naturally wants to be up here in the top half of the tank.
Richard: That’s right. That’s why it leaves the tank right through this tapping right here and goes out to the faucets.
Kevin: Got you.
Richard: Okay. Now, inside the tank, there’s also this rod. This is called an anode rod.
Kevin: Maybe you can tell us about this. This also helps preserve the tank because these ones corrode before the glass liner.
Richard: Very good. That’s a sacrificial anode rod. Now, electricity comes in here- 220 volts- comes down to this point right here and now it comes down and either goes to one of two elements.
Kevin: So these elements are actually what makes the water hot?
Richard: That’s right. There’s one at the top and one right down here at the bottom. So what brings these units on is a thing called a thermostat and it sits right here. Let me show you how it looks like close up. This thing sits and touches the wall of that steel tank.
Kevin: So it’s actually reading the temperature of the water inside?
Richard: That’s right. So you set it for about a hundred and twenty-five, you don’t want to go much higher, you don’t want to scold anybody.
Kevin: Got you.
Richard: Okay. Now, when it says “I need to heat up the tank” it sends voltage- 110 volts- to each of these wires to this element right here. Now, always, the first element to come on is the top element. It will do what it can and once that’s satisfied, it will now bring on the lower one.
Kevin: Okay. Good anatomy lesson. What typical problems can I expect with an electrical water heater?
Richard: People complain about no hot water- don’t overlook the obvious. It could be that there’s no power coming from the electrical circuit panel but, if you prove that you are getting power into the water heater and you still don’t have either element on, I would look at this. Right above the thermostat, there’s a thing called the ECO- an emergency cut-off right here. And so this is designed to act as a safety. If you set this for 125, if this ever didn’t work and you kept on heating the water, this would feel the temperature. Once they got to 170, it would this button out and knock out both the elements. You can only get it on by resetting right here.
Kevin: So you’re saying if both elements are out that’s what would cause no hot water?
Kevin: What if one element were out?
Richard: Well, you’re going to have one of two symptoms: you’re either going to have lukewarm hot water, it’s just not enough and that means one of the elements is out, or you can have the complaint of “I get plenty of hot water but not enough anymore” and that means it might just be that the lower element is out. The top one is only heating the top, in this case, 40 gallons.
Kevin: We go through that…
Richard: And then it goes to cold.
Kevin: Got you. Okay. So, how do I determine which element is broken and can I fix them?
Richard: Well, you can’t fix them but you can test them and you can replace them. They make replaceable elements. It’s a couple of choices: one is made out of copper and one is made out of stainless steel. You can see this has one loop right here. This one has one loop but it’s much longer and actually it double backs on itself. I prefer this one for two reasons; one is its stainless steel and the other is this larger surface area should make it last longer.
Kevin: Okay. Great. So how do we test it? Obviously here is an old busted up one, how do I know if this is working at all?
Richard: If there was a lot of minerals in this element, you kept on putting voltage in here, it could make this element break and that means there would be no continuity- no ability for current to travel through this element.
Kevin: How do we know?
Richard: So I’m going to test it with this. This is a continuity tester. So if the light comes on it means that it’s good. That’s good. If I was in the field, I would want to make sure I turned the electricity to the water heater first, then I would want to disconnect the electrical wires.
Kevin: So this thing I’m looking at right here is actually the back end of this element?
Richard: Exactly. Same thing, just like that.
Kevin: Got you. So we disconnect everything?
Richard: Okay. So we test this one…
Kevin: And again it’s working. Let’s say it wasn’t.
Richard: Okay. Well, they make a wrench, a socket wrench that is made expressly for changing this element. That fits on here. You can go counterclockwise…
Kevin: Great. We’re obviously going to want to drain the tank once we get to…
Richard: You learn. Actually, when the water shoots out you know it’s time, you’re too late.
Kevin: Alright get that out.
Richard: Goes there.
Kevin: I work that thing.
Richard: And the new one comes with a gasket as well. The other tip I will tell you is if you go through the trouble of draining the tank and put in a new element, you should also put in a new thermostat and ECO at the same time.
Kevin: Great, Richard. Now, 40% of Americans knows what’s going on in their basement.
Richard: That’s right.