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Question DetailsAsked on 2/16/2017

After replacing my upper heating element why does my hot water heater only work for a few hours?

I noticed my hot water wasn't getting hot. I checked the diagnostic reader and found my upper element was bad. I replaced my upper heating elements (2X's). Each time it worked for about 5 hours then the diagnostic reader indicated I needed a new upper heating element. Why would it work for a few hours and then give me the same reading later. I hit the reset button each time and again it worked a few hours but later I got the same problem. Where do you think my issue is on this?

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3 Answers


hmmmm - since it is heating for 5 hours (presumably reheating up to full water temp each time) then it is not the element that is the problem, and if running 5 hours without trouble I can't see if being a wiring problem to that element either. Sounds to me like a control issue or a bad diagnostic sensor, because it is evidently saying that the element is not heating when it is - if that upper element is actually heating.

I would check that the sensor leads were not disconnected or grounded out when the element was replaced, and that they (if disconnectable type) are firmly connected at the control box.

One other possibility - would require a volt-ohm meter check (if you are an electrical DIY'er) at the upper element leads to see if they are actually getting power when the heater is in a mode where the upper element should be on. Check manual on when that is - some units use both elements to recharge, then only uses one to maintain the heat level - most use only one element at a time, one for top level heating and other after that to heat the cold bottom water. And sometimes on fancier more energy efficient units that maintainer element (usually top) is a two-heat element - full power for recharging, only the lower-power part for maintaining it hot.

Could also be the lower element is the only one getting power and is the primary element in your water heater (rare), then when the primary heating is done the upper one kicks in to maintain the heat (though logically the maintainer should be at the bottom because the hot water rises) - and this is where the problem is detected by the control box because the top one is not getting power from the wall due to bad wiring connection, bad shutoff switch or disconnect at the wall, bad breaker, etc.

Usually, if the first element to heat (top usually) goes out you get no heat at all, because the top one (first to heat) is never satisfied, so does not turn on the lower one to heat the bottom water. If the bottom one goes out, top one will heat the top of the tank but the bottom will not heat, meaning you will run out of hot water faster than usual. Check manual for how yours operates - might give you a hint.

If yours is top heat first, then bottom - and you are getting heating, then the top element must be working - maybe the bottom one is the one not working if getting some hot water but not full tank worth.

And those sensors on the elements - some brands use a temperature sensor to see if the element is heating - others use a continuity check to see if the element is drawing power or not. And be sure the sensor wires were not swapped to the wrong lugs if they were disconnected.

The 5 hour thing does have me stumped - because that is too long (usually) for a bad wiring connection to heat up enough to break contact, and unless a pretty large water heater and you are fully depleting it, too long for the reheat cycle in most cases too - so should be shutting off (due to reaching full temp) in less time than that - typically 2-3 hours up to about 60 gallon heater from ground temperature water to full hot (120-130 degrees) - as much as 3-5 if larger tank and very cold incoming water (say below 45-50 or so) AND tank was fully drained duringn installation of element.

One other thought - if you emptied the water heater down, and did not refill it completely and flush the air out of it by running the hot water faucets to get the air out, then if there is air in the tank at the top element level, it can burn out quite quickly because it is designed for water submersion - especially if the type that is a "dry" element - fits inside a metal tube in the wall of the heater and does not have to be drained to change the element. Could be, if that is the case, you have accidentally burned out 2 new elements - though a quick ohmeter check on them should determine if that is the case.

My next step would be to call the manufacturer for help debugging this issue - though I would guess they will probably say replace the control box/board for probably $100-250 parts plus $100-200 for a plumber to do it if not a DIY'er for things like this.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD



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Answered 3 years ago by Member Services


One thing I alluded to but did not emphasize - depending on HOW your elements operate, the conclusion that the upper element was the bad one might have been flawed.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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