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How Can You Recognize A Faulty Water Tank Heating Element?

Two of the most common failures on electric water tanks are the thermostats and water heater elements. The water heater elements provide the heat that keeps your water warm, and the thermostats control the heating elements to maintain a safe and comfortable temperature for your home's water.

Both components can fail on water heaters in otherwise good condition, leading to poor or inconsistent heating. Fortunately, you can typically repair a water heater with a faulty heating element or thermostat as long as the tank isn't leaking. This guide will help you determine if your water heater troubles are due to a faulty element or another problem, such as a failing thermostat. 

The Basics of Water Tank Heating Elements

Electric water heaters are relatively simple devices, although they use a few tricks to help maintain your water's temperature without wasting too much electricity. Tank-style electric heaters use resistive heating elements. These elements take advantage of the basic electrical property that passing electricity through a wire with high resistance generates heat.

Your water heater's elements directly contact the water in your tank. As electricity passes through the wires, they heat up and transfer that energy to the surrounding water. The tank's relatively cool water also helps dissipate heat from the heating elements, preventing them from overheating and burning out.

Most electric water heaters use a dual-element system that relies on two separate heating elements with independent thermostats. The top element is generally the more important since your supply line pulls hot water from the bottom of the tank. The lower heating element operates only when the top half of the tank is already warm, providing additional hot water for heavier demand.

The Signs of a Faulty Heating Element

If both heating elements fail, your tank will stop producing hot water, and you won't need to wonder if there's a problem. Most water heaters will have reset buttons on both heating elements. You can remove the cover panels and check if one or both buttons have popped out. You can try pressing the reset button to start the heating element, but you may have a faulty element if it keeps popping out.

The signs of a single heating element failure can be slightly more subtle. If you rarely use much hot water, you might not notice any trouble. On the other hand, your water tank probably won't be able to keep up with higher demand. Likewise, your electricity bills may increase since the remaining element must work harder to maintain your tank's temperature.

While you may be able to run your water tank with a single heating element for a short time, you shouldn't ignore this problem. Not only will your tank struggle to maintain adequate heat, potentially creating an environment for bacteria, but you may also overwork and burn out your other heating element. Repairing the damaged element is the best and most effective option to restore your heating.

Reach out to a water heater repair service to learn more.