How to Reset an Electric Water Heater in Two Easy Steps

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Picture this. It’s a subzero Monday morning. You’ve hit the snooze button six times—and if it weren’t for your spouse threatening to suffocate you in your sleep, you would’ve hit it a seventh time. Instead, you sigh deeply, toss back the covers, and scurry to the bathroom. You turn on the shower, wait for the glorious steam to bubble over the curtain, and hop in. And then, two milliseconds after you soap up, your nice hot shower practically turns to sleet. “GAAAAAAAAH!” you scream. “What the bleepity-bleep-bleep happened to the hot water?!”

OK, admittedly, there are worse plumbing “situations” one could have. But that one? The one with shampoo streaming into your eyes? The one in which you’re groping blindly for a towel in an attempt to stop your teeth from chattering? That definitely makes our list of Top 10 No-Fun Moments in Home Ownership.

Why Electric Water Heaters Quit

So, what causes Hot-Showerus Interruptus? If you have an electric water heater, it’s possible that the unit’s reset button tripped. Every once in a while, those buttons randomly trip. Often, though, it happens because:

  • The unit’s thermostat is faulty.
  • The reset button itself is malfunctioning.
  • The part of the unit that prevents water from getting too hot—the high-limit switch—is no longer working.
  • The heating element has a short.
  • There’s a loose wire somewhere.

Keep in mind that a water heater’s reset button serves an important purpose—interrupting power in the event of a malfunction, such as a power surge or a faulty thermostat. If your water heater loses power repeatedly, there’s likely a problem that should be addressed by a professional Columbia plumber. And please remember that the combination of electricity and water is dangerous—even deadly. Never hesitate to call in a pro to check things over.

For the purposes of this post, we’re assuming your water heater typically minds its manners and this isn’t a recurring issue. With that understanding, let’s walk through two simple steps to get it going again.

First, check your electrical panel.

Head to your electrical panel (usually in the garage, basement, or storage closet), and locate the circuit labeled “water heater.”

  • If the breaker’s in the OFF position: Flip it to ON. If it stays there, you can probably assume all this unpleasantness was a fluke and you can go on about your business. But if it flips back to OFF—either immediately or shortly thereafter—call an electrician.
  • If the breaker’s in the ON position: Flip it to OFF.

Then, push the water heater reset button(s).

Somewhere on your electric water heater, you’ll find a reset button. It’s usually red and often located near the thermostat. It may also be hidden behind a removable metal panel on the unit—and then behind some insulation. Once you find the button, push and release it. While you have the access panel off, see if there’s a second thermostat and second reset button.

If the button trips again immediately after you push it, something’s not working correctly, and you should call in a pro. Otherwise, replace the access panel, then flip the relevant circuit breaker back to ON.

  • If your water heater now has power, you’re all set. (Way to go!) Just keep in mind it’ll take a few hours to reheat the water in the tank.
  • If your water heater still doesn’t work, flip the breaker to OFF, and call us so we can determine what’s happening and get hot water flowing again.
  • If your water heater starts working but the reset button trips again, switch that breaker back to OFF, and let us have a look. Again, your reset button is a safety feature, so if it keeps tripping, something’s not quite right.

Is Your Water Heater Trying to Tell You Something?

One suddenly cold shower is (sort of) funny. But when it keeps happening, that’s an aggravating problem. We’d be honored to stop by and figure out what’s going on, so give us a call today. You deserve nice hot showers!

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