A sudden loss of hot water in the house is often caused by a tripped reset button as a result of a bad thermostat, short heating element, loose wiring or a faulty reset button.
Short heating elements and bad thermostats are the 2 main causes of a tripped reset button but someone they trip due to a power surge among other reasons.
A water heater reset button which is also known as an emergency cut off (ECO) switch is a device that turns off power to the water heater in case of an unsafe condition. Usually, it trips when the temperature of water inside the tank exceeds 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
An electric water heater has 2 thermostats. The reset button is found on the upper thermostat. In most water heaters, the thermostat and reset button are found behind a cover plate and are concealed by a piece of insulation.
To reset an electric water heater, start by turning off power to the heater then remove the upper thermostat cover plate. Remove the piece of insulation and press the reset button (usually red) until it clicks. If it doesn’t click, press and hold for at least 5 seconds.
Water heater reset buttons should not be used interchangeably with the heater’s circuit breaker. If it keeps on tripping, you have a problem with your water heater that you need to address.
From experience, I have noted that a water heater reset button that keeps tripping is most of the time fixed by replacing either the thermostat or the heating element.
Sometimes the reset button itself is faulty and it will trip even before the water temperature in the tank hits 1800 F. In that case, it is advisable to replace the whole thermostat and not just the reset button.
How to Reset and Electric Water Heater
Resetting an electric water heater is quite easy, and something every homeowner should learn how to do. It is however important to make sure that you are doing it safely.
The following are the steps to follow when you want to reset your electric water heater:
1. Turn off Power to the Water Heater
There are 2 ways to switch off power to a water heater. You can unplug power from the outlet or you can turn it off at the circuit breaker. For this, repair I suggest that you do it at the circuit breaker.
Your home’s electrical panel will be located in a storage closet, garage or basement. Look for the circuit breaker marked “Water Heater”. Flip it to the off position.
At times, your water heater will trip the circuit breaker in case of an unsafe condition. You may therefore find your water heater circuit breaker already in in the off position.
If you find that your water heater breaker is in the off position, flip it to the on position and observe it for a while. Your water heater will continue heating water normally if there is no other problem and the issue was just a one-off thing.
If on the other hand the breaker flips back to the off position immediately or after a short while, you definitely have a problem with your water heater. You can either bring a professional to fix it or you can attempt it on your own if you are confident about it.
2. Press the Reset Button
Depending on the type of water heater you have, the location of the reset button will be different. Look for a red button very close to the to the thermostat.
With a properly working water heater, the reset button will be pushed down to engage and create contact for electrical connectivity and continuity. If instead it has popped out, then without a doubt it has tripped and will need to be reset.
Press/push the reset button until you hear it click. If it doesn’t click immediately, you will need to press it for about 5 seconds to reset it.
For most modern water heaters, the reset button is usually installed together with the thermostat and covered with a metal plate. To access the reset button, you will first need to remove the cover plate.
An electric water heater has 2 thermostats (and 2 heating elements). The reset button is usually installed with the upper thermostat. That is the cover plate you will need to remove.
- The cover plate is attached to the water heater body using 2 screws. Use a screwdriver to remove the screws. Put them away safely since you will need to reuse them.
- With the cover plate out of the way, you will see a piece of insulation covering the reset button and thermostat. Remove it to access them.
- You will see the reset button which will most likely be red in color, labeled as such or even both. Press the button in until it clicks. If it doesn’t click press it and hold for at least 5 seconds.
- Put the insulation back and secure the cover plate with the screws. Turn on the power to the water heater and wait for about 20 minutes to see if the problem is fixed.
3. Check for Electrical Continuity
If the above procedure fixes your problem, ignore this step. On the other hand if your water remains cold, there is still one more thing you can do before calling in a plumber or electrician.
Check for electrical continuity across both the 2 thermostats and the 2 heating elements. If one or more of these devices is faulty, they will need to be replaced.
A thermostat turns off power to the water heater when the water temperature reaches the set value (in most cases 1200 F). If the thermostat is faulty, it will fail to turn off the heating element which will continue heating the water until the 1800 F setting where the reset button will trip, cutting off power to the water heater.
If one of the heating elements have a short, it will continue heating water even after being turned off by the thermostat. Again, water temperature will rise past the 1800 F level causing the reset button to trip.
- To check for continuity across the heating elements, start by removing the cover panel and insulation, but before that make sure that power to the water heater has been turned off.
- You will see 2 wires connected to 2 screws at the bottom of the panel. That is the connection for the heating element Loosen the screws a little and disconnect the wires.
- Set your multimeter to the continuity setting and put the 2 prongs on each screw. If there is continuity then the heating element is ok. On the other hand if there is no continuity, the heating element is bad and will need to be replaced.
- Repeat the procedure for the lower access panel.
Note that the upper thermostat and heating element are always in communication with the lower ones. If there is a problem with one of the pair it will affect the other one as well.
To test for electrical continuity across the thermostats, you will also need to repeat the above procedure. Disconnect the wires on the screws and measure for electrical continuity across 2 opposite screw heads.
Replacing a thermostat is quite easy. You will only need to pull out the old one and insert the new one and after that adjust the temperature. Check out more on that in this video.
To replace an electric water heater heating element, you will first need to drain the tank. Once the tank is drained, grab a 1 ½ inch socket wrench and unscrew the old element. Replace it with a new one and tighten it in place. Check out more in this video.
4. Call a Plumber
If you have tried everything without success or you are not very comfortable working on a water heater, contact a professional in that field. It goes without saying that pros have seen many of such problems and will know exactly what to do.
As you already know, professionals charge a tidy sum for their services and that is why I always recommend that you attempt the repair on your own before reaching the phone and giving them a call.
As you wait for the expert to come, have power to the water heater turned off for safety reasons.