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How To Repair A Water Heater With A Heating Element Leak

by April Carlson

As a homeowner, appliance issues are a common concern. If you have a water heater, then the concern may be a leak coming directly from the tank itself. While many leaks cannot be fixed and require you to get a brand new water tank, you probably want to avoid this if you can. After all, a water heater with a tank can cost around $900 to install. If your water heater is leaking water near the control panel of the device, then the device is likely leaking fluid around the heating element. Keep reading to find out how to resolve the leak issue.

Turn Off The Power

The heating element will sit in the control panel of the water heater, and this panel typically sits underneath a metal cover. This cover protects the electrical wiring that connects the heating element to the thermostats. Your water heater will have an upper and a lower thermostat. The lower thermostat activates the heating element when the water inside the tank drops to a certain temperature. The upper thermostat turns the heating element off when the water inside the tank is fully heated. 

The upper and lower thermostats connect to the back side of the heating elements with wires. Most heating elements are screw in types that can be twisted into an opening in the water tank. A rubber seal sits around the screw part of the heating element and can deteriorate over time. This is often the reason for the leak around the element. This part can be easily replaced. However, the wires that connect to the heating element may become wet and form a short. You want to prevent this from happening and you also want to make sure that you can complete your fix as safely as possible. This means turning off the power to the appliance and also checking the wiring to make sure that electricity no longer runs to the water heater.

Flip the breaker attached to the water heater and then remove the screws that keep the metal cover attached to the outside of the control panel. Prepare your multimeter at this time to check for electrical current. Use the probes on the device to touch the wires attached to the thermostats. If you get a zero reading from the multimeter, then it is safe to continue.

Replacing The Element Seal

Once the power has been shut off successfully, use a screwdriver to loosen the screws of the screw terminals that keep the thermostat wires in place against the heating element. Bend the wires gently to the side to make sure they are out of the way. You can remove the heating element from the water heater at this time. You will need a special socket attachment to do this. Go to your local home store and pick up a water heater socket. 

Before you can remove the heating element from your water heater, you will need to drain all of the water. Shut off the valve on the cold water supply pipe and then use the drain valve on the bottom of the water heater to empty the tank.

When the tank is empty, place the water heater socket on your socket wrench, place the socket over the outer part of the element that fits the socket, and twist to the left. Pull the element out of the tank once it is loose. You will notice a rubber ring on the inside screw end of the element. Remove the ring and take it to your local home store. Find a replacement, fit it on the heating element, and replace the element. Reconnect the wires you removed from the element, turn the power back on, turn on the water supply, and inspect the element to make sure it no longer leaks.  For more help, contact a plumbing company like Lewis Plumbing.