About 40 percent of U.S. households use electric water heaters. Electric models offer some advantages over gas, including a generally lower upfront purchase price because they’re less complicated than gas models, easier installation since they don’t require gas pipes or venting and greater safety because there’s no potential of a gas leak or dangerous combustion byproducts like carbon monoxide.

The design of electric water heaters is simple, consisting of electrical heating elements installed inside the tank, controlled by a thermostat. Malfunctions do happen and DIY troubleshooting may identify the problem. However, because of the high voltage involved, homeowners should not attempt actual repair. Instead, consult a professional plumber. Here are some of the things that may go wrong:

No Hot Water

Check for a tripped circuit breaker controlling the water heater. If you find one, reset and re-try the heater. If no breaker is tripped—or if a breaker trips again after you reset it—call a plumber. He’ll check for a bad heating element or defective thermostat.

Water Not Hot Enough

Is the water heater thermostat set to 120 degrees? Other potential issues for a plumber include defective heating elements or a heater that’s too small for household demand.

Water Too Hot

Verify that the thermostat is set to 120 degrees. Still too hot? Thermostat may need replacement. Call your plumber.


The temperature and pressure relief valve may be dribbling—a quick, easy fix for a professional plumber—or a plumbing connection may be leaking. However, if the water tank is corroded, you’ll be needing a replacement unit.

Rusty Water

A corroding tank will discolor water. Another source can be a disintegrating sacrificial anode rod that prevents corrosion—a rotten egg odor is also an indicator of a deteriorated anode. The anode may be plumber-serviceable; the corroded tank calls for a new heater.

Strange Noises

Rumbling or popping may be because excessive sediment in the tank is causing water to boil. High-pitched whining may be caused by calcium deposits on the heating elements. Professional flushing or descaling are required.

For professional service to diagnose and resolve problems with electric water heaters, contact Comfort Systems.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Wichita, Kansas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about electric water heaters and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide.