How Can We Test The Heating Element In A Water Heater?

heating element

Running out of hot water too soon? Not getting any hot water at all? The problem could be with the heating element in your water heater. There are some tests the do-it-yourselfer can perform to determine if that’s the case, but please be sure to read this first.

Please Answer These Questions Honestly

Armstrong Plumbing, Air & Electric has nothing but admiration for the DIYer, but before you tackle this water heater problem in your Lubbock, TX home please give us honest answers to these questions:

  • Do you own a multimeter electrical tester?
  • Do you know how to use it to test the resistance in a circuit?
  • Are you comfortable working around electricity and very hot water?

If you answered no to any question, then your best option is to call in expert help from Armstrong. If all the answers are yes, then read on and let’s see what you can find out.

All About Heating Elements

Electric water heaters can have one or two heating elements inside the tank. If the water heater isn’t producing any hot water, you should first suspect a problem with the upper element. If your water heater produces some hot water, but not as much as it should, it’s more likely to be a problem with the lower element. If the circuit breaker controlling the water heater is continually tripping, chances are the element has grounded and is creating an electrical short.

Let’s Dive In

Here are some basic steps to test your heating element(s):


  • Turn off the correct breaker at your main electric panel
  • Locate and remove one or two panels on the side of the water heater
  • Remove the plastic safety cover from the element face exposing the screw terminals
  • Loosen the screws and remove the wires
  • Set the multimeter to Rx1k (resistance times 1,000 ohms) and touch the probes to the screw terminals
  • Depending on the wattage of the heating element you should get a reading of between 10 and 16 ohms
  • If there’s no reading or the numbers are way out of whack, the element likely needs to be replaced


  • Touch a probe to one of the screws and the other probe to any metal part of the water heater
  • Now move the probe to the other screw
  • If you get a reading on the meter on either of the two tests it means the heating element is grounded and must be replaced


  • This time touch one probe to a screw and the other to the metal base of the element
  • Repeat the test with the other screw
  • Once again if you get a reading, the heating element is bad and must be replaced

Always Here to Help

If any of this doesn’t make sense or just sounds too complicated, then please call in the pros from Armstrong Plumbing, Air & Electric. Our experts can diagnose the problem and determine if repair or replacement is the best option for your Lubbock, TX hot water heater. Be sure to like and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more great information like this.