When an electric water heater fails to heat water properly, either the power to the water heater has been interrupted or there is a problem with the controls or heating elements. For other water heater issues, please see Water Heater Troubleshooting & Repairs.

Always shut off the power to an electric water heater before working on it. And never work on it if there is standing water pooled on the floor near the appliance. Shut off the circuit to the water heater and call a qualified water heater repair person.

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Electric Hot Water Heater
Electric Hot Water Heater EuToch / Shutterstock.com

Step-by-Step Electric Water Heater Troubleshooting

Perform these diagnostics:

1 Be sure electricity is being delivered to the appliance. Check the main switch on the water heater and the circuit breaker (or fuse) that serves the water heater. If the circuit breaker has tripped, reset it by flipping it all the way to OFF and then back to ON.

reset circuit breaker
Turn the circuit breaker all of the way off, then flip it back to “ON.” © HomeTips

If a fuse has blown, replace it with a new fuse with the same rating. If the circuit breaker or fuse repeatedly blows out, call a qualified electrician to check and repair the circuit. Note that the water heater should not share a circuit with another appliance—it draws too much power when heating.

2 Check the high-temperature cutoff in the water heater. Open the panel and push the reset button. If the button doesn’t make a clicking sound or you still don’t have power after pressing it, then your high-temperature cutoff is probably bad. Call an electric water heater repair person. 

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Electric Hot Water Heater diagram
Diagram of Electric Hot Water Heater Components ©HomeTips


3 If there is any water inside the compartment, this could cause the thermostat to malfunction. Leaking water means that your water heater may need to be replaced. If this is the case, be sure to read the Water Heaters Buying Guide and related buying guide articles before making your purchase.

If these steps don’t solve the problem, you may have a problem with your heating elements. You can replace these yourself following the manufacturer’s instructions if you feel comfortable doing so, or call a water heater service professional.

Water Heater Troubleshooting Video

To take you a little further into troubleshooting and repairing your electric water heater, refer to this video below by Sears Parts Direct.

If you find that a heating element needs replacement, check out the informative video below by Dan Jiles. Pay attention to the fact that, even after the circuit breaker was shut off, the power to the water heater was still on. WOOPS! This video shows you how to avoid this potentially shocking—if not deadly—mistake!

A particularly helpful aspect of this video is that Mr. Jiles shows you how to remove the element when the tank is still full of water. You’ll need to have an inexpensive water heater element wrench on hand as well as the replacement water heater element on hand and ready to go. We recommend that you wear rubber gloves. Unless the water heater stopped working more than a few hours ago, the water spilling out will be hot.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort