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Water Heater Elements – Under Warranty or Not?

water heater elements
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We recently spent a little time discussing what to do if your home’s water heater starts leaking and the steps to minimize the damage. Now I want to spend a little time discussing the internal parts of a water heater, primarily the thermostats and the heating components called the elements.

The thermostat is pretty self explanatory in that it works the same way the one for your air conditioner does, only instead of air temperature we are measuring water temperature. The elements are what actually do the heating. If you look at the front of your typical water heater you will see two rectangular plates on the front of the heater approximately eight inches tall and four inches wide. One will be located at the top and one toward the bottom of the heater. The elements live in your water heater behind these plates.

The way the elements work is rather interesting, neither of them operate at the same time. When a heater is first installed, the top element engages and heats until it reaches the set point of the thermostat. At that point, with the top of the tank heated, the lower element engages for a short period of time to bring the bottom of the tank to temperature. Since heat rises over time the bottom element is the one that ends up doing most of the work when there is a demand for hot water. Okay, so what happens if one of the elements in the tank stops working? You will first notice a lack of hot water or water that is just lukewarm. Once your friendly neighborhood plumber (that would be us) diagnoses a bad element, the next question is what caused the failure and what about warranty?

Manufacturers will cover some things and others not so much. The not covered are mostly obvious; power surges, lighting strikes, or elements that had electricity applied to them without the tank being full of water. The not so obvious one is a buildup in calcium on the element itself. In cases where the water is very hard (full of heavy minerals) the elements will build up a calcium scale causing them to fail. The recommendation is to remove and de-scale the elements annually as part of the maintenance of your water heater. Of course we all know regular maintenance of anything makes it last longer and perform better.

The things that are covered are basic, if you develop a leak at either of the aforementioned rectangular plates in the heater this is likely caused by a defective seal around the element and is covered. If the sheath around the elements develops a pinhole, the magnesium oxide powder on the internal part of the element will expand if exposed to water causing the sheath to split, once again covered. Finally, they cover the elements if one of the nichrome wires in the element has failed. This is determined with a simple continuity test after the element is removed from the heater.

Most manufacturers typically have a six-year warranty on the tank, elements and thermostats so if you do have an element or tank failure in the first six years make sure your service provider (hopefully us) processes it under warranty.

Until next time does anyone have another word for Thesaurus?

House Whisperer out!!


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