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8 Causes of Heating Element Failure in Hot Water Systems

A defective heating element may cause the supply of hot water to run out quickly or that the water is only lukewarm. Only electric water heaters use heating elements to heat water. According to the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE), 45 percent of the energy used for water heating comes from electricity. Consequently, a lot of people is expected to encounter problems associated with electric water heaters. There are several mechanisms causing the heating element to fail.

Dry‐Fired Elements

Water heaters must operate when the heating elements are immersed in water. A dry‐fired element occurs when the heating element is not submerged in water. An element can generate enough heat to burn through its copper core in less than a minute. Air pockets can develop when you are unable to bleed the line on the water heater regularly, allowing the upper element to burn while not immersed in water. Make sure that your water heater is full of water before applying power to the unit.

Excessive Scale Build‐Up

Mineral deposits in the water accelerates the wear and tear process of heating elements. The lower heating element may be encased from the collection of mineral sediments at the bottom of the water heater tank. Consequently, hot water systems need to work harder that may result to failure. You can prolong the life of the water heating elements by draining the water tank every few months to get rid of the mineral sediments.

Wiring Issues

A water heating element may cease to work due to poor wire connection. Damaged wires can also constitute a safety problem due to the risk of arcing or hot wire grounding. You can avoid this by performing regular maintenance checkups.

Power surge

A power surge caused by an electric utility or a lightning strike may result to sudden voltage increase that can burn the water heating elements. The thermostats and the heating elements must be replaced if it is known that a heater was involved in a lightning strike.


A thermostat may also cause the heating elements to stop working. Thermostats have high limit switch that shuts off power to the heating elements when temperatures exceed normal. Try to identify the reason why a thermostat caused the activation of the high limit switch.

Split Sheath

The copper sheath of a heating element contains magnesium oxide powder that aids in the transfer of heat. If the powder gets wet, the copper sheath will expand causing it to split due to a chemical reaction. Contact the manufacturer and have the heating element replaced.

Open Circuit

A heating element may not be working due to a broken nichrome filament. You can verify the continuity of a heating element by using a multimeter. Once verified that the heating element has an open circuit, contact your manufacturer and have it replaced.

Vibration Break

Excessive vibration may cause the heating element to break, resulting to failure. This problem is common in fold‐back than with straight type elements. Fortunately, this problem is also covered by warranty.