Electric hot water heater not working - repair or replace? Help!

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by aGrandma, Dec 4, 2010.

  1. aGrandma

    aGrandma New Member

    Messages:
    6
    Location:
    Northern California
    I'm buying a (foreclosed) home and the electric water heater does not work. I had a plumber friend look at it. The supply line was leaking at the top of the tank due to over-tightening. He replaced both supply lines, and the ball valve, and turned on power at the breaker box. There was ice-cold water still in the house. After a few hours there is still no hint of warm water in the house. He said the next thing to test are the heating element(s)? I know nothing about water heaters. Can anyone tell me, is this cost-effective to test and replace a heating element if it's not working or should I just buy a new water heater? Are heating elements expensive? And of course we don't know the reason the heating element might have stopped working. Is this a common occurrence with electric water heaters? This is a Flo-Mor brand and it's about 13 years old.
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    Elements are easily replaceable, and at the same time you should replace both thermostats.

    Electric water heaters can give well beyond 13 years of service....but given the circumstance, how much money do you want to spend on it?
  3. aGrandma

    aGrandma New Member

    Messages:
    6
    Location:
    Northern California
    Do you have a ballpark guess as to how much a thermostat costs? and a heating element?
  4. Jerome2877

    Jerome2877 In the Trades

    Messages:
    397
    Location:
    BC
    Replace it! You could spend the money replacing the parts and it might leak the next day. Anything over 10 years old I recomend replacing it.
  5. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    Ace hardware in brooklyn sells the elements on line for $4.50. Or Coast hardware for about 7$

    Its easy to check and see if there is power to the element. Start with the top element, if it has power, the thermostat is okay, and you could very likely just wait until it fails. To replace that, about 20$

    If your plumber knows anything about anodes, and he can get it out, it will tell you if the heater might be worth repairing. Heres some good information:

    http://www.waterheaterrescue.com/pages/WHRpages/English/Longevity/water-heater-anodes.html

    If the plumber is free, repairs might be ok. But a new one can cost as little as $230 to $300

    http://www.doitbest.com/Main.aspx?Ne=4294967294&N=4294966640&PageId=365
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2010
  6. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,386
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Repair or replace? It's sometimes a crapshoot. Some heaters last for many years, other fail in just a few. Parts are not too expensive, but there's no way to tell how much longer the interior of the tank will last. The labor to replace the parts will exceed the cost of parts by quite a bit. If it was my 10 year old heater, I'd replace it now.
  7. Basement_Lurker

    Basement_Lurker One who lurks

    Messages:
    668
    Location:
    Victoria, BC
    13 years is a good life for a water heater. Best to replace it like these guys are telling you, and not waste money on temporary fixes. The reality is that the water heater is now just a flood waiting to happen...and you don't want to deal with the expense and stress of a flood vs the small expense of replacing the tank now.
  8. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    From what I see inside water heaters today, one that lasted 13 years might last another 13 years. My NEW 6 year warranty rig has a 24" aluminum anode, likely made for an under counter unit. They saved 49 cents over a 48" magnesium, and insured its failure in 5 to 8 years.

    Big steel boats in salt water last forever if you keep the anodes working, and they are not glass coated.

    Then again, some have water chemistry that helps the tank last.

    Some of the water heater sites claim that if the anode is gone or just a wire hanging, replace all.. anode intact 50%, replace anode.

    And if her water heater is outside or a safe leakage spot, why not risk another 13 years? Especially if the plumber is free.

    In my young poor days, I got water heaters off streetside and welded patches on them for well tanks and water heaters. One lasted 12 years, and still was good when replaced. Aim the weld toward the wall for safetys sake!
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2010
  9. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,049
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    You probably just need an upper element, but only testing will tell for sure. I have only replaced a dozen or so thermostats in the 60 years I have been servicing water heaters, but HAVE replace thousands of elements. Normally you only REPLACE a water heater when it starts to leak.
  10. PlumbPowerHouse

    PlumbPowerHouse Plumber

    Messages:
    37
    Location:
    South Carolina
    Replace it. The warranty is probably expired and if you spend money to fix it and it doesn't fix, then your out more money. I would suggest a new heater.
  11. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,459
    Location:
    MD
    The worst outcome is you throw good money after bad, a repair slippery slope. To prevent this, establish a cost/time limit that you will stop at, regardless of how promising things look.

    If you buy a multimeter it will pay for itself immediately.
    Use it to check that the heater is getting power. There may be no problem with the heater at all.
    If there is 240 V +/- 10 % at the heater terminals then power down and check the element. A 4500 W element should read about 12 ohms.

    To help with the repair/replace decision, perhaps the water heater can be easily tested for "likelihood to leak" by putting a slight overpressure into it, let's say over 80 PSI but under the T&P overload valve settings, for a short interval. The factory must do some test like this.
    I don't know if plumbers have the gear to do this.

    The more info you have or can get, the better your decision will be. This info even has a name:
    http://www.google.com/search?client...lue of perfect information"&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2010
  12. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    The next thread indicates granma bought a new water heater.

    Nice if she would let us know!
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2010
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