Top Element Electrical

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by BillM, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. BillM

    BillM New Member

    Messages:
    20
    Location:
    Michigan
    Good morning All.....
    I'm attempting (1st time novice) to replace Lower element on a GE water heater......shower goes cold after about 15 minutes......from what I've read, and testing of lower element with multi-meter, its shot......so I'm currently draining water heater, and ready to install lower element.....

    I thought I'd replace upper as well, since I'm 1/2 way thru this project as I write this......just got back from HD with an upper element......when I went to disconnect red power, I got some 'minor' sparking......scared me enough to back off of it, but I'm no electrician or plumber? Lower element disconnected without any sparking........a bit nervous, to say the least.....breaker at circuit panel has been shut off, and elements reading 0 volts on the meter.....

    Am I ok to pull out upper element, just to do preventative maintenance, or am I in over my head right now? Whats with the minor sparking?

    Thanks in advance!

    -Bill
  2. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,799
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    Are you sure you have the right breaker off?
  3. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,453
    Location:
    Connecticut
    What does your meter say the voltage is on the 2 upper screws on the upper thermostat where the power is connected at?
  4. BillM

    BillM New Member

    Messages:
    20
    Location:
    Michigan
    Yes....breaker is "off"......all water now drained from the water heater......I'm thinking I'm just going for the lower element, and go with the theory of "if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it".......so, I'll stay away from top element......
  5. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,460
    Location:
    MD
    . . . probably because it has failed to an open circuit, like your multimeter said. Open circuit = no current = no sparks.

    The sparking top element is probably still good, but you can check it more precisely with your meter using the resistance function. Ohms = voltage squared divided by power.
    For 240 V and 4500 W you should get 12 to 13 ohms.

    For safety you need the elements to read zero voltage from pin to pin, and zero voltage from either pin to ground.
    It's the voltage with respect to ground that mostly hurts people. The current then goes through their chests rather than just through their fingers.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010
  6. Winslow

    Winslow Plumber

    Messages:
    450
    Location:
    Hawaii
    is this an older house? Are you sure the heater is wired correctly? I got jolted once because even though the breaker was off there was electricity to the heater because of the way it was wired. Hot wire directly to the heater then the loop was broken through the breaker after the heater. Had that happen on a couple of disposers too. Electricity is nothing to fool with.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010
  7. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,293
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    IF the upper element has power to it, and I cannot imagine how it would spark if it did not, and you have drained the water from the tank, then the element is already shot and has to be replaced. You NEVER work on an electric heater until you are ABSOLUTELY sure that there is no power to it, in any form. The lower element would NOT spark if the upper one was energized, which is the case since the upper one sparked, but that does NOT mean you would not get a shock if you touched the wire while you were grounded.
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