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Question:
I have an electric hot water heater, but the water only gets warm and quickly turns cold. What could the problem be?

– Dan G., Eastport

Answer:
The problem is most likely the lower heating element.

Here’s why:
There are two heating elements in the hot water heater: an upper and a lower, and two thermostats: an upper and a lower.
The upper thermostat, located above the upper heating element (behind the top access door) controls both the upper and lower heating elements. The purpose of the upper thermostat is to heat the upper portion of the water heater with the upper heating element.
Once the preset temperature is reached, the thermostat turns off the power to the upper element and then sends the power to the lower thermostat, located above the lower heating element (behind the bottom access door). If the water needs to continue to be heated, the lower thermostat sends power to the lower heating element to provide hot water for longer periods.

So, if the water is getting warm but then quickly runs cold, the lower element is most likely burnt out.
If you are not getting any hot water at all, then the upper heating element is most likely burnt out. The upper thermostat heats the upper element first; if the upper element does not heat up, then the thermostat will not reach the preset temperature and will never move the power to the lower thermostat.

**Remember to always turn the power off and double-check to make sure it is off with an electrical tester. You will need special tools to remove the heating element. If, for any reason, you’re not comfortable with electrical issues, don’t take the chance, call your electrician. We are always available for advice or to make the repair for you.