What Would Cause My Electric Water Heater to Stop Working?

By Lyle Weischwill | May. 09, 2022 5:34 am PST

Your water heater is one of the most forgotten-about appliances in your home—until it quits working. Once you realize that there’s no hot water, the water heater jumps up to become the most noticeable appliance you have. No one in your family will be happy until you get the water heater fixed.

To fix an electric water heater as soon as possible, follow the troubleshooting advice discussed below.

Basic Water Heater Troubleshooting

Fortunately, you may be restore the hot water supply simply by resetting the house circuit breaker for the water heater. A tripped circuit breaker is one of the top causes of water heater failures. Shut the hot water heater breaker off then turn it back on. Give the water heater a half hour to heat up (if it’s working) and then check for hot water through one of your faucets.

If you get hot water after resetting the breaker, then the problem may be fixed if the breaker inadvertently tripped and it doesn’t continue tripping.

If the water heater breaker trips again, then you’ll likely need to have a service technician examine and repair the water heater. The service technician will check the circuit breaker and electrical supply wiring for the water heater. A short in the supply wiring or a bad circuit breaker could be causing the breaker to trip. An internal failure such as a broken heating element can also cause the breaker to continue tripping.

When resetting the water heater circuit breaker doesn’t work at all, then the water heater may be getting power while an internal water heater failure is causing the problem.

Continue with the troubleshooting below to fix the water heating problem.

Reset the High-Temperature Limit Switch

Electric water heaters have a high-temperature limit switch on their upper heating element. When that switch trips, the heating elements don’t get electrical power and the water heater won’t work.

This limit switch has a reset button. Pressing the reset button may allow the heating elements to get power so the water heater will work. Follow these steps to reset the high-temperature limit switch:

  1. Shut off the house circuit breaker for your water heater.
  2. Remove the upper heating element cover to access the high-temperature limit switch.
  3. Press the red button on the switch to reset it.
  4. Reinstall the heating element cover.
  5. Reset the house circuit breaker for the water heater.

After a half hour, check to see if the water heater is heating water normally.

If resetting the limit switch restores the hot water supply to your home, you’ll need to monitor your water temperature for overheating. The high-temperature limit switch tripped for a reason, likely because you have a shorted heating element or defective thermostat causing the water to overheat. You’ll need to resolve overheating problems to prevent scalding. Water temperature should never exceed 120 degrees. If the water overheats after resetting the high-temperature limit switch, have a service technician diagnose and repair your water heater or follow the DIY troubleshooting tips in our Water Too Hot: Electric Water Heater Troubleshooting to resolve that problem.

Conduct Advanced DIY Water Heater Troubleshooting

If the water heater doesn’t work after resetting the high-temperature limit switch, then you’ll need to either conduct some advanced water heater troubleshooting or have a service technician diagnose and repair the water heater failure.

Sears Technicians created a safe and highly-successful DIY advanced troubleshooting video to help you determine the cause of a water heating failure if you want to try to fix the problem yourself. Follow the advice in this video to find and fix the cause of the heating failure on your own:

The video begins with the basic troubleshooting described in the first 2 sections described above. It then goes on to guide you through checking water heater components to safely find the cause of the water heating failure.

If you get to a point in the troubleshooting where you’re not completely confident that you can safely continue, schedule a service technician to diagnose and repair the water heater.

The DIY water heater troubleshooting shown in the above video differs from the diagnosis techniques that service technicians typically use when examining a water heater to find the cause of a heating failure. Safe DIY troubleshooting doesn’t rely on live voltage checks while service technicians often use live voltage checks to quickly find the cause of water heater failures.

While many DIY’ers have been able to find the cause of water heater failures using troubleshooting advice shown in the video, some failures such as a bad circuit breaker can only be found using live voltage checks which should only be conducted by a trained service technician.

Sears Technicians have the training, tools and expertise to quickly find the cause of a water heater failure. Rely on our technicians to diagnose and repair your water heater or any other appliance in your home that quits working.

While the technician is in your home, take advantage of appliance Cleaning & Maintenance offers that the tech discusses with you. Keeping your appliances well-maintained will help them work more efficiently and last longer. Regular professional maintenance will also help prevent costly breakdowns of the appliances you depend on every day.

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