How Long Do Heating Elements Last In Water Heaters?

When you’re ready to shower or do the dishes, you rely on your water heater to give you hot water. There can be several reasons why the water isn’t hot when you turn it on, like a broken thermometer or a faulty circuit breaker. Another possible cause is that the heating element has stopped working, as they tend to be the first part of an electric heater to stop working.

The heating element in an electric water heater lasts between six to ten years on average. When the heating element no longer heats the water, it could mean that the heating element is beyond its usable lifetime. You should contact a licensed plumber for diagnosis and repair or replacement.

How Long Do Heating Elements Last In Water Heaters?

Keep reading to learn more about why a heating element will burn out, what you can do to correct the problem and get your hot water back, and other reasons why your heater may not be working

Why Does an Electric Heater Heating Element Go Bad?

Electric heater heating elements usually go bad due to normal wear and tear. In a heating element, this can be observed as sediment buildup or simple material deterioration. Once the heating element itself starts to wear out, cracks in its body may render the heater useless.

In unusual circumstances, heating elements may also go out due to one-off events like power outages or dry fires.

If you suspect that your heating element went bad before the end of its usable lifetime, contact a licensed plumber to conduct a diagnostic and identify the problem.

Can I Replace the Heating Element of My Old Water Heater?

Replacing the heating element of an old water heater can be just as costly as replacing the entire unit. In most cases, replacing the entire water heater is a better choice, especially when the unit is older. Newer water heaters are more energy-efficient, giving you hot water for less money.

How Does a Heating Element Work?

A heating element works by warming the water inside the heating tank to the desired temperature. Most large water heaters have two heating elements, one at the top and one at the base of the water heater tank. Small water heaters only have one heating element.

Although large and small water heaters work similarly, there are a few key differences between them.

Large Water Tank

Here’s how a heating element work on a large water tank:

  1. When the water in the tank falls below the designated temperature, the thermostat senses the low temperature and signals the heating element to turn on.
  2. A large water heater will have two heating elements.
  3. The top element will heat the water first until the desired temperature. When you use hot water, the water flows from the top of the water heater to the sink, washer, or shower.
  4. Once the top element heats the water to the proper temperature, cold water enters the water heater from the bottom of the tank.
  5. The cold water triggers the lower element to begin heating the water.
  6. As the hot water passes by the upper element, this element cools.
  7. The cycle of heating the water repeats continuously.

Small Water Tank

The small water tank operates similarly to the large water tank to produce hot water.

Here’s how a heating element work on a small water tank:

  1. Instead of two heating elements, the small water heater has one heating element that responds to the thermostat.
  2. When the thermostat signals the water needs heating, the heating element turns on and heats the water to the set temperature.
  3. The heating element cools until the thermostat signals for heating again.

Reasons Why a Heating Element Is Not Working

How Long Do Heating Elements Last In Water Heaters?

Besides the heating element in the water heater going bad, there are other reasons the water in the tank isn’t hot.

Don’t always assume that the heating element has stopped working.

Here are some other causes for the heating element not to warm the water:

Faulty Circuit Breaker

If the water heater trips the circuit breaker and causes the water heater not to work, there are three main reasons for this occurrence.

These are:

  • There’s water dripping on the electrical lines that connect the water heater to the electricity source. When the water heater is older, the casings that enclose the wiring grow brittle and crack. This leaves small fissures where dripping water can penetrate and cause the water heater not to work correctly.
  • The thermostat heats the water. If the thermostat malfunctions, the water will heat to a high temperature, overloading the circuit to trip the circuit breaker.
  • The circuit line is too old. When a circuit breaker malfunctions, it can be because the circuit line is old (over thirty years) or the circuit breaker doesn’t match the size of the water heater.

Broken Temperature Sensor

The most common reason a water heater stops functioning is that the thermostat isn’t working correctly.

If the thermostat is faulty, your water heater won’t be able to tell the temperature of the water inside it.

This will prevent your heater from doing any heating.

Check the thermostat first before replacing the heating element or water heater.


The heating element in a water heater is an essential component that lasts from six to ten years.

Because the heating element is responsible for warming the water for showers, dishwashing, clothes washing, and more, it is a crucial part of the smooth functioning of your home.

If you suspect your water heater isn’t heating correctly, contact a plumbing professional for diagnosis and repair.

Cheers, tools owners!

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Hi there! My name is Jack and I write for ToolsOwner. I have a passion for everything related to tools and DIY projects around the house. You often find me in my workshop working on new projects.