How to Test the Water Heater Element

(Last Updated On: April 13, 2020)

Imagine that it’s a very cold day and you keep fantasizing of a luxurious, super warm bath. You fill up the top and excitedly, you step in before testing the water temperature first. Ahhh! It’s freezing! That’s how you discover your water heater isn’t working.  Urgh.

I know, I know…Most people check the water before jumping into the tub, but the above scenario does happen! There are several reasons a water heater may not work properly. The most obvious one is if the water heater element is damaged. A damaged water heater element doesn’t heat the water properly and you may end up with luke warm or cold water coming out of your tap.

Because of this, you should keep a check on the water heater element quite often. Water heater element testing is a very simple process. This will help you decide whether or not you should replace the heating element of water heater. In this article I’ll tell you the easy steps using which you can test the heating element of your water heater. All you need to do is follow steps and get to know what this heating element is and how it can be tested.


What is a water heater element?



A water heater element is a piece of alloy that is placed inside your water heater to heat the water and make it hot. There are two heater elements in your water heater. One is in the bottom and the other on the top. These two elements are what makes the water hot. Usually it is the heating element in the bottom which corrodes and needs to get replaced. Still you need to test both of them to make sure the heating element is working properly.

How can you tell if a heating element is bad?

When you test the heating element using the testing tips below you’ll be able to tell that the heating element is bad. The multi-meter reading will be zero if the heating element is bad. Another sign is that your faucets will have no hot water in them.

How do you test a water heater element with a multimeter?

You can test your water heater element using a multimeter. For that you need to know how a multimeter actually works. There are two probes connected to the multimeter. All you have to do is to connect these probes to the heating element and check the reading to understand the condition of the water heater element.

Equipment Needed

These are the items you need to test the water heater element of your water heater:

  • Rubber Gloves for safety
  • Screw drivers
  • Voltage detector: If you don’t have a voltage detector, you can buy one of the following very inexpensively for $10-$15, both with excellent ratings:
  • Multimeter: If you don’t have a multimeter, you can buy one of the following very inexpensively ranging in price from close to $10 to up to $35. We have added links to the following from least expensive to most expensive below. All listed have excellent ratings, so if you are only going to use this one time, you may want to opt for one of the least expensive options:

Voltage Testers and Multimeters

Product TypeProduct NameProduct Image
Voltage Tester
Neoteck Non-Contact Voltage Tester
Voltage Tester
Tacklife VT02 Non-Contact Voltage Tester
MultimeterEtekcity Digital Multimeter
MultimeterAstroAI Digital Multimeter
MultimeterCrenova MS8233D Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter
MultimeterKAIWEETS Digital Multimeter


Steps for Water Heater Element Testing

Turn the Breaker Off

This is the most important step you should always take while testing or cleaning any kind of electrical equipment or product. You may get shocked if you get in direct contact with the current flowing through them. Before you start the process of testing the hot water heater heating element, you must switch off the flow of electricity by turning off the breaker inside your main electrical panel.

Release the Panels

To test the heating element, you’ll have to first remove the cover of the panels where the heating element is kept. There are two panels on the water heater. One is on the top and another on the bottom. Use your screw drivers to remove the screws from the cover of the panels and release them.

Remove the Insulation

After you release the panels, you’ll see that there is insulation on the heating element. The insulation is given on it for safety from the conduction of electric current. The insulation can be a fiber glass or polystyrene foam. Make sure you wear safety goggles and gloves while removing it from the heating element or might get exposed to current.

Remove the Plastic Safety Cover

There is a plastic safety cover behind the insulation. It is also for your safety. You can remove this cover simply by pulling it off from the heating element. Below this cover you will see the heating element. The plastic cover actually snaps off the heating element and the thermostat. Be careful not to hurt yourself.

Ensure the Electricity is not Flowing through the Water Heater

It will be very risky for you to touch the heating element before checking whether there is any electricity still flowing to the water heater. You can check this very easily by using a noncontact voltage detector. A noncontact voltage detector is a tool that helps you check the flow of voltage in any object without getting into contact with it. To check the electricity of the water heater you will have to take the detector near the wires connecting with the face of the heating element and then next to the wires connecting with the thermostat. If there is any electricity present in the heater, the detector will set off an alarm. Be safe while doing this make sure you don’t get into any contact with the heater.

Loosen the Screws

Now that it’s safe to get into contact with the water heater, you should loosen up the screws of the heating element. Use your screwdriver to loosen the screws just a bit and then remove the wires from the screws safely. Once done loosening the screw, make a note of the wattage value of the heating element. You can find it on the side of the element. We will need this wattage value to test the heating element of the water heater.

Test the Heating Element

Pull out the the multimeter. By checking the register of the multimeter you can say that is your heating element okay or not. To check that you’ll need to set the dial of the meter to Rx1k which is (resistance X 1,000 ohms). Now touch one of the screws of the heating element to one of the probes and touch the other screw with the other probe. If the multimeter registers any reading then your element is working properly. If your meter doesn’t show any reading then you you know the heating element of your water heater is bad. You’ll need to change it.

Use the Second Test

If you don’t trust the first test, there is another one you can try. In this second test you will have to touch the screw of the element with one probe of your multimeter and the other probe with the metal base of the element. If the needle of the multimeter moves, then you can assume the element is bad and needs to be replaced.

The Third Test

Another simple method is to touch the screw of the heating element with one probe of the multimeter and touch any metal portion of the water heater. If the pointer moves, then the element is corrupted and needs to be replaced. The pointer moving means that the current  is flowing through it perfectly and it hasn’t stopped working. If the pointer doesn’t move, it means that there is a leakage in the flow of electricity and you could have been shocked if you got in contact with the water heater in your home. Again, please stay safe!

Do the Reverse after Testing

After you have completed the water heater element testing, you will now have to put back things the way they were. First screw the wires back in properly. Put the plastic cover back on the thermostat and the heating element. Install the insulation again on the panels. Attach the panels back to the hot water heater near the water tank. Go back to the breaker box and turn the electricity to the water heater back on.


Water heater element testing can be risky for first timers. Make sure you are wearing the necessary safety gear and have all of the equipment in advance of starting this task. If you are handy and want to save some money, this may be a great test for you to try, otherwise, you may want to hire a professional.




Tankless Reviews was created with the goal of helping people to understand the benefits and practical knowledge related to tankless water heaters. After purchasing my very first tankless heater years back, I realised that other people needed to hear about the incredible money-saving ability of this household item, and wanted to share my lessons with you!