How to tell is water heater elements are ok

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by DavidTu, May 10, 2012.

  1. DavidTu

    DavidTu Member

    Messages:
    239
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Is there a way to visually inspect water heater elements to see if they need replacement? Our tank happens to be empty and hasn't been in use recently so before we refill it and hook it up thought we'd look at the elements to see if they need replacement. When I pulled them they are white and partly fuzzy with deposits but tech support at Sears says that's normal. So ids there a way to test them before we refill and turn on?
  2. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,247
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    A continuity test MAY tell you whether they are burned out or not, but the best way to check them is when the tank is full of water and the elements SHOULD be heating.
  3. mikeplummer

    mikeplummer Plumber

    Messages:
    190
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    x2 for a continuity test
  4. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,247
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    But you have to test for continuity between the terminals, and ALSO between each terminal and the tank itself, (which should be ZERO/infinite).
  5. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    for 6 or 9 bucks you can get new ones. Also a clamp on ammeter on the wires when running will tell you if they are pulling the right amps.
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,247
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    I would NOT waste any money on a $6 or $8 element, ESPECIALLY for the bottom element.
  7. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    I'm not sure what that means, but most all are made by one conglomerate no matter the name.

    After burning up many cork-screw types, and special chromium elements, I found a straight short reliance for 8 bucks that lasts forever - I heat with them - and what I have discovered is that the low watt density elements do not get hot enough to cause the calcium to crack from heat and shed off the element. The expensive low watt ones look like stalagtites, and eventually insulate themselves and thus cause failure in short order.

    Unless you have very low solids in your water, I think this is case where short, hot and cheap is better.

    FWIW my bottom element runs with the top by re-wiring. One 30 gallon rig heats a pretty big house. Essentially I concocted a very cheap flow thru water heater with room for the calcium to settle to the bottom and get cleaned out.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2012
  8. JerryR

    JerryR Member

    Messages:
    256
    Location:
    Florida
    What you most likely concocted was a UL violation.
  9. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,313
    Location:
    New England
    Unless the internal AND external wiring are properly sized...AND the manufacturer allows it (i.e., it was designed so it could), running both elements at the same time is both crazy and illegal. There are some heaters designed to allow both elements to run simultaneously, but most aren't.
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