How to Troubleshoot the Most Common Electric Water Heater Issues

A working water heater is essential in every household, especially in areas where it’s always cold or during the winter season. We use it whenever we take a shower, do our laundry, and wash the dishes. Decades ago, we heavily relied on heated water from the stove or communal baths that offers warm showers. But in this modern age, we can now enjoy the luxury of warm water by using water heaters.

Water heaters are familiar fixtures used in many residential homes and even small commercial spaces. It generates and stores heated water inside insulated tanks that are available in various sizes, typically capable of holding 20-80 gallons. The size of the tank also should correspond to the number of people inside the household or facility.

Electric water heaters have individual components that work as a unit to ensure function. Aside from the tank, other parts include the fuel source or heating element, anode rod, thermostat, dip tube, and valves. They also look similar to gas-fueled units since both utilize an insulated steel tank to reduce heat loss.

Electric water heaters are still vulnerable to occasional damage despite their coherent functionality. Identifying its components and learning how the unit works are necessary to determine what’s wrong with your heater. To help you further, here is a comprehensive guide on troubleshooting the most common water heater issues.

1. Inadequate Hot Water

If you think that your electric water heater is producing insufficient heated water, then your unit may be too small to handle the household’s water demand. A quick fix for this issue is to ensure that the demand doesn’t exceed the water heater’s capacity.


Electric water heaters must ideally have 75% hot water for their overall capacity. Suppose the demand is too great for the heater’s maximum volume. In that case, you can limit the length of your showers, use low-flow showerheads, and create a schedule for dishwashing and laundry to spread the water distribution to different times of the day or week instead of doing all chores at once.

However, if your unit suddenly produces less water than usual, its heating component may have failed. A constant distribution of lukewarm in the shower, for instance, is a clear indication of a defective upper heating part. But if the water supply runs out quickly, you have an issue with the lower heating part.

2. No Hot Water

When your electric heater doesn’t produce heated water, the issue may result from lack of power, faulty upper electric heating, or a defective thermostat.


You first need to rule out power problems by resetting tripped circuit breakers and replacing any blown fuse. If the issue isn’t with the power source, reset the temperature limit on the electric heater.

  • Turn the breaker off in the unit’s circuit inside the service panel.
  • Remove the upper heating element’s access panel.
  • Be extra cautious not to touch the wires or electrical terminals when removing the insulation and plastic safety guard.
  • Press the high-temperature reset button above the upper thermostat.
  • Return the safety guard, insulation, and access panel.
  • Turn on the heater’s circuit breaker.

If none of these suggested solutions work, you may need to replace the equipment’s heating element.

3. Water Temperature is Too Hot

When the water runs too hot, one or both of the unit’s thermostats may be too high. Immediately check your electric water heater to prevent any scalding incidents in your household.


  • Before doing anything, shut the water heater’s power off in the service panel.
  • Remove the heating element’s access panels, insulation, and safety guard. Do not touch the wires or power terminals.
  • Use your non-contact voltage tester to test all the cables.
  • Once done, inspect the heater’s thermostats and set the temperature for both to 120 F.
  • Return the insulation, safety guard, and access panels for each heating element.
  • Turn the heater on and test the water’s temperature.

Save money by turning down your water heater thermostats. For each 10ºF reduction, you could save 3-5% on your electricity consumption.

4. Stored Water Takes Too Long to Reheat

Reheating an entire water supply with an electric heater takes longer than using a gas-fueled heater. The time required to reheat the stored water varies on the application, wattage of the heating elements, heater models, and the power supply.

However, if the heating process takes longer than usual, there could be sediment or mineral build-up on one of the heating elements. Another factor to consider is that the thermostat has worn out and couldn’t sense the tank’s temperature.

5. Water Leaks

Water leakage is usually the result of leaking valves or plumbing pipes, and it can also be related to issues with the tank. It’s minor damage, but leaks can lead to something more severe and hard to fix.


Ensure that the heating elements are tightly secured. If one or both heating parts are loose, connect them with a wrench. In addition, if you see signs of corrosion inside the water tank, there is no repair for this, and you need to replace the tank. Turn off the power and water supply to the heater and drain the tank completely.

6. Rust-Colored Water or Bad Odor

If the running water from the heater comes out with a yellowish or brownish tint, there could be corrosion inside your tank or the pipe connection. If so, you need to purchase a new insulated tank.

But if the water comes out with a rotting smell, there could be a bacteria infection inside the water storage tank. Immediately call your plumber so that they can replace the anode rod in the tank.

7. Tank Making Noises

When your electric water heater starts making noises, it can be challenging to determine the cause and deal with it, especially if the sound is inconsistent. Here are some of the noises that come out of water tanks and what these noises mean:

  • RUMBLING – Sediment build-up is a common challenge with hot water tanks, especially if you live in areas with hard water. Mineral deposits can settle inside the unit and cause several issues. To remove the build-up, drain the tank with a long hose and use a descaling solution to help break down the limescale inside.
  • POPPING – Popping sounds are also due to limescale and sediment build-up inside the water tank. You can apply the same hose and descaling solution when you consistently hear a popping sound, but it would be better to flush out the sediment. Aside from build-ups inside, the popping noise can also come from the exposed aluminum anode rod in the tank. Your plumber can replace the rod with a magnesium anode rod if this is the issue.
  • SIZZLING OR CRACKING – These noises are usually attributed to the sediment build-up in the lower heating element inside the tank that you can quickly resolve by flushing and draining the unit. It would be best to deal with the issue early since your heating bills may go up as the heating element struggles to produce heat due to the sediment.
  • TICKING – Changes in water pressure, loose pipe straps, and heat trap nipples can all cause tickling noises inside the heating tank. However, these issues are not actual problems that you need to resolve. As long as the changes in the pressure are not frequent or rapid, it will not cause issues with the system. As for the loose pipe straps, you can easily tighten or replace the belts.

When to Replace Your Electric Water Heater

Sooner or later, you’re bound to spot signs that your heating unit needs to be replaced. Even the latest water heater model has an expiry date of roughly a decade. While you can prolong its lifespan by regular maintenance with the support of a watertight floor access panels channel frame, some issues leave you no choice but to replace the heater.

  • When the frequency of repairs on the unit increases in a short period, replacing the heater is more cost-effective than occasionally scheduling repairs.
  • If the electric water heater is over ten years old
  • Corrosion inside the tank
  • Leaking tank
  • Insufficient tank size


Most problems that arise with a water heater should be dealt with exclusively by a proficient professional working with electric hot water tanks. Even experienced DIYers should avoid trying to fix water heaters since it can potentially lead to a leaking gas line, vent line, scalding, or a possible flood.

Water is one of the most important and utilized resources in every household. In most of these daily usages, heated water is required. Hence, when you encounter a noise or any issue with your heating unit, address the issue immediately to ensure the comfort of your home.