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Step-by-Step Guide to Replacing a Broken Heating Element

A malfunctioning water heater can be a real inconvenience, especially if the culprit is a broken heating element. While it may seem like a daunting task, replacing a faulty heating element is a manageable DIY project that can save you time and money. In this step-by-step guide, Ethical Plumbing will walk you through the process of replacing a broken heating element in your water heater.

Before You Begin:

Ensure your safety by turning off the power to the water heater at the circuit breaker or by switching off the gas supply if you have a gas-powered unit. Additionally, turn off the water supply to the heater.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Materials:

You’ll need the following tools and materials:

  • Screwdriver
  • Multimeter (for testing)
  • Pipe wrench or adjustable pliers
  • New heating element
  • Teflon tape
  • Garden hose (optional for draining the tank)

Step 2: Drain the Tank (Optional):

If you’re experiencing a leak or suspect that the tank is full of sediment, it’s a good idea to drain it. Connect a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and direct it to a suitable drainage location. Open the drain valve and let the water flow until the tank is empty.

Step 3: Remove the Access Panel:

Locate the access panel on the side of the water heater. Use a screwdriver to remove the screws securing the panel in place. Set the panel and screws aside.

Step 4: Disconnect the Wires:

Inside the access panel, you’ll find the thermostat and heating element. Before removing the element, use a multimeter to ensure there is no electrical voltage present. Disconnect the wires from the heating element terminals.

Step 5: Remove the Old Heating Element:

Using a pipe wrench or adjustable pliers, carefully unscrew the old heating element from the tank. If it’s challenging to turn, you can use a bit of penetrating oil to help loosen it. Once the old element is removed, inspect it for damage or corrosion.

Step 6: Install the New Heating Element:

Wrap the threads of the new heating element with Teflon tape to create a watertight seal. Carefully screw the new element into the tank, making sure not to overtighten it.

Step 7: Reconnect the Wires:

Attach the wires to the terminals of the new heating element, ensuring they are securely fastened. Double-check that the connections are tight and free from any exposed wire.

Step 8: Replace the Access Panel:

Reattach the access panel to the water heater using the previously removed screws. Make sure the panel is secure.

Step 9: Restore Power and Water Supply:

Turn the power back on at the circuit breaker or relight the pilot if you have a gas water heater. Turn the water supply back on and allow the tank to fill.

Step 10: Test Your Water Heater:

Check for any signs of leaks around the new heating element. Once you’re confident there are no leaks, switch on a hot water faucet in your home to remove any air from the system. You should have hot water flowing shortly.


Replacing a broken heating element in your water heater is a DIY task that can be accomplished with some basic tools and safety precautions. However, if you’re uncomfortable with any part of the process or encounter unexpected difficulties, it’s advisable to consult a professional plumber. Regular maintenance and timely repairs can help extend the life of your water heater, ensuring you have a reliable source of hot water when you need it.