No one really enjoys a cold early morning shower. If your hot water runs out prematurely or never feels warm, you probably need a new heating element in your water heater. Water heaters typically have two heating elements. One near the top and one near the bottom. If you are lacking enough hot water, one of the elements is out. If you have no hot water, both have stopped working.
Before replacing them, always make sure that the problem is not a thrown breaker or blown fuse. Having installed and repaired many electric water heaters over the years, I can tell you to allow about 30 minutes for this repair plus the time needed to drain and refill your water heater.
Always start an electrical project by turning off the power.
With the power off, turn off the cold water inlet valve. This valve is usually on the cold water pipe coming to the water heater. If there is no valve, turn off the water to the house. Open a hot water faucet anywhere in the house. You may get a short burst of water. It should quickly subside to no flow. If it keeps running, you have not turned off the water to the water heater.
Leave the faucet open.
Hook a hose to the fitting at the bottom of the tank. Run the other end of the hose outside. Open the valve where you have attached the hose and drain the water heater tank. When the tank is drained, close the valve and remove the hose.
Open the access panel over the heating element that you are replacing.
This should be an oval or rectangular piece of metal. Remove the panel and any insulation that may be covering the heating element. You should see two wires running to the element once it is exposed.
Loosen the screws and remove the wires from the heating element.
Use an end wrench or a socket and ratchet to unscrew the element from the water heater. Once it has been unscrewed, you can just pull it out through the opening. You may find a unit where the element is held in place by screws. Remove the screws and slide the element out of the unit.
Compare the old element to the new one.
Any time that you can compare a new part to the old one before installing the new piece, it is a good idea. Small physical differences usually do not matter as long as the specifications on the elements are the same, and the new element will fit into the water heater.
Reinstall the screws to fasten the heating element to the unit.
If the element screwed into the unit without screws, reinsert the element and tighten it up. Be sure to properly seat the gasket if it is a separate item. Attach the wires to the new element.
Replace the access panel.
Turn on the water and refill the tank. Monitor the open hot water faucet until water runs out of it. Let it run for a while longer to bleed any excess air pockets that may remain in the line or the water heater. You will know this has been achieved when the flow is even without any pulses or breaks. Check for leaks around the new element. If there are leaks, tighten the element until the leaks stop. Replace the insulation and access panel.
Turn on the power.
After the tank has refilled and any leaks have been repaired, turn the power on to the unit. Wait about an hour, and there should be hot water for you to use.