USA Water quality is supported by its audience. If you buy something through our links, we may earn money from our affiliate partners. Learn more

How to Test Water Heater Element Without Multimeter? – 8 Steps

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

how to test water heater element without multimeter

Electric water heaters are far from fail-proof, especially their heating elements. One way to check optimum function is by testing the water heater element with a multimeter. But what if you do not have this device? Do you know how to test water heater element without a multimeter?

Some folks might scratch their heads, wondering how to assess a water heater element without a multimeter. However, testing water heater element is a straightforward task, and we will show you how to do it with a different device.

Table of Contents

What to Prepare to Test Water Heater Element Without Multimeter

You will need a noncontact voltage tester and an ohm meter to test electric water heater element units. The former identifies whether the voltage is present, while the latter assesses electrical continuity.

Long-nose pliers and a screwdriver will also be necessary to access the heating elements for testing.

Step 1. Disconnect the electric water heater from its power source.


For your safety and your family, always disconnect an electric appliance from its power source when working with it. You do not want to get an electric shock or similar “accidents” undermining your health.

Proceed to the house’s electrical panel, open the cover, and look for the water breaker – LABEL – in the circuit breaker.

Switch it off.

Alternatively, you can remove the water heater fuse from the fuse box.

Step 2. Open the access panel.


Do not check heating element immediately after disconnecting the water heater from the power source.

Wait at least two hours for the water to cool and verify it by opening a hot water faucet and feeling if it is still warm.

Grab your screwdriver and loosen the screws securing the water heater’s access panel cover. Remove the screws and place them in a container, ensuring you do not lose them.

Step 3. Ensure there is no power in the water heater.


There is only one way to ensure you will not get electrocuted when you open the access panel and test the water heater elements. Use a noncontact voltage tester or detector.

Look for the cables that supply electricity to the water heater, especially near the appliance’s high-temperature cutoff switch.

Position the noncontact voltage tester over the electrical cables without touching the wires. A “live or hot” wire will cause the tester to emit a beeping sound or light up, indicating voltage in the system.

Step 4. Access the heating elements.


You should see an insulating material covering the water heater elements. Carefully fold it outward, maintaining the insulation’s integrity. You will replace this in the water heater after the testing.

Notice the heating element screw terminals. You can check the diagram in your owner’s manual if you are unsure where the screw terminals are.

Assess the screw terminals for corrosion and other signs of damage or advanced wear.

Step 5. Test the heating elements.


First, check the heating elements for the presence of voltage. Hold the noncontact voltage detector over the electrical wires connected

Check a water heater element by disconnecting the wires from the heating element terminal screws.

Clamp the red Ohm meter probe to one of the element screws and the black electrode to the other terminal screw.

Read the value in the Ohm meter. A “zero” (0.0) reading shows that electricity does not flow through the water heater elements. It is “discontinuous.”

If your Ohm meter is analog, watch the needle movement. A defective water heater element will cause the needle not to move (read, infinity).

You have a working water heater element if the Ohmmeter reading is not zero or infinity.

You can also use the same procedure to test water heater thermostat.

Step 6. Replace the heating element if defective.

You do not need to perform this step if the Ohmmeter reading is any value except infinity or zero.

A defective water heating element requires replacement. Hence, you should also be ready to have a brand-new heating element before opening the water heater’s access panel.

If you do not have the replacement unit, you can replace the cover and buy a new heating element first. Ensure it is the correct size and electrical rating for your water heater.

You can check out the steps we outlined for replacing a defective heating element in the next section.

Step 7. Return all components to their correct placements.

Fasten the screws in the heating element terminals once you are confident the elements work fine.

Return the thermostat cover to its correct position. Secure the insulating material over the heating element block, ensuring no gaps exist. This step is crucial to minimize unnecessary heat losses and improve overall energy efficiency.

Check for any component you might have missed returning to its original place. You might also want to clean the access panel cover before placing it on the water heater.

Close the access panel cover and replace the screws. Fasten the screws.

Step 8. Reestablish power to the electric water heater.

Head to the electrical panel, open it and turn on the circuit breaker supplying electricity to the water heater. If you removed a fuse in Step 1, it is now time to replace it in its cradle.

Give your water heater several minutes to heat the water before using the shower or any hot water faucet.

Steps to Replace Water Heater Element


Testing voltage on water heater elements is one of the most crucial steps to replacing a water heater element.

After all, you do not want to replace a fully functional heating element, and the only way to ascertain it requires replacing is if you test heating element in the water heater.

You can observe the following steps when replacing an electric water heater element.

  1. Disconnect the electric water heater at its circuit breaker in the electrical panel.
  2. Switch off the cold water supply.
  3. Allow the water to cool. Verify by opening a hot water faucet and feeling the water.
  4. Open the access panel cover, insulating material, and thermostat cover to expose the heating element.
  5. Empty the water heater.
  6. Remove the electric water heater element using the correct tool (i.e., a 1.5-inch socket for screw-in heating elements or  screwdriver for flange types).
  7. Get the new heating element and insert it in its place. Secure it well.
  8. Close the drain valve and fill the water heater tank with water.
  9. Secure wiring connections.
  10. Replace the thermostat cover, insulation, and access panel cover.
  11. Power on the water heater and test.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are all elements of water heater the same?

No, water heater elements are not similar.

Heating elements for electric water heaters can have one of three design types: clamp-in, bolt-in, and screw-in. This classification describes how the heating element connects or secures to the water heater.

Electric water heater elements also vary in voltage and wattage ratings. These differences can impact the appliance’s amperage requirements.

For example, a 1000-watt water heater on a 240-volt system requires 4.17 amps (1000 watts ÷ 240 volts = 4.17 amps). Meanwhile, a similar device running on 120 volts will need 8.33 amps.

Signs of bad water heater element

The following are bad water heater element symptoms, which might require you to call a professional plumber to assess and diagnose the problem.

  • The water in the tank is not as hot as it used to be (i.e., 90 degrees Fahrenheit vs. 120 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The water quickly turns cold. For example, you might previously enjoy 40 gallons of water, but now only 20.
  • Frequent tripping of the dedicated water heater circuit breaker at the electrical panel.
  • Only cold water comes out of the water heater.

The number of volts should a water heater have

Although most electric water heaters require a 240-volt residential electrical system, some products might only run on 120 volts.

Homeowners should check the model-specific water heater manual to know how many volts the appliance should have. Alternatively, water heaters have a label on the casing showing technical information.

The figure can be a reference value when testing a hot water heater element.


If you are wondering how to test water heater element without  multimeter, we can assure you it is possible with only two measurement tools.

First, for your safety, you need a noncontact voltage tester or detector to ensure no electricity runs through the water heater. Second, an Ohm meter will help determine whether the heating elements are defective or functioning normally.

We hope this how-to guide gives you confidence in testing the heating elements as a necessary activity for heating element replacement.

5/5 - (3 votes)