Help in Removing Screw-In Element for Electric Water Heater

afishNovember 24, 2007

Our troubleshooting (and friend's opinion) leads us to believe we need to replace one or both elements in our electric water heater. We've used pliers, channel locks, and the element wrench - nothing has aided in loosening the element. We're assuming that the inside is likely pretty scaled.

Any suggestions on what else we can try to remove the elements?

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bus_driver

I use a 3/4 drive ratchet with the proper size 6-point socket. A short extension from the ratchet to the element may be necessary. Troubleshooting on the elements that leads to uncertain conclusions was either done improperly or by unsuitable methods.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 10:19AM
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terribletom

Every so often, a corroded element can be a real bear to remove.

If you have a wire brush handy, first try cleaning up any scale around the threads (breaker off, natch, with the wiring out of the way!). Then apply some vinegar to the joint. This may or may not help much, since it isn't likely to penetrate deep enough to free a seriously frozen joint, but it could help just enough.

I agree with Bus Driver that a good quality socket (6-point's better in this case than 12-point--but either one) is better than those thin-wall element removal tools.

But if the thin-wall element wrench is the best you have to work with, and you can't borrow a large socket with a long bar or big rachet, then it's a matter of figuring out how to apply more torque.

Try using a longer rod through the hole in the tool to get more leverage or, if you have a large pipe wrench, use that on the element tool as an additional "persuader". (The latter is likely to deform the tool, but it's only a $6-$7 item, worthy of treating as a throwaway, compared to the cost of a new hot water heater.)

You might also try heating the perimeter of the fitting (not the element) with a propane torch, but be careful not to overdo this by heating any of the wiring or electrical parts.
Good luck with this.

As an aside, when (if?) you've replaced the element, don't forget to fill the tank up fully and "bleed" off air by turning on a hot-water faucet for a while before you reconnect the power. A dry element can burn out quite quickly!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 12:17PM
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bus_driver

To phrase my thoughts a different way, I never remove an element unless it is leaking or I know for sure that it is electrically faulty.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 4:07PM
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joefixit2

I have gotten stubborn ones loose with a cold chisel and a 16 oz ball peen hammer. Set the chisel about 3/4 to the left edge of one of the flat surfaces on the hex part of the element and give it several good whacks till it begins to move. This is a last resort method and once you begin, you will no longer get the socket to fit since you will distort the hex, you will need to drive it out with the chisel or large channel locks. If this fails, replacing the water heater is not too hard. From the sounds of it it must be pretty old.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 6:49PM
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afish

Thank you all for your advice - we'll be trying some of these suggestions tomorrow. We're relatively new owners to the home, so I'm not certain as to the age of the heater(could be almost 20 yrs). We were actually looking to get a tankless water heater in a year as part of our basement remodel. And I'd rather not have to rush out and buy one without doing the proper research... we'll see, I may not have a choice.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 8:39PM
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cobraguy

terrible tom's ideas are very good. Use some heat on it. Then follow bus driver's suggestion of a good socket and wrench. Without that, you're going nowhere. Hit it with the wrench when it's hot and it should come free. If not, then you're off to get another water heater.

I don't know where you live, but around here, if we had a 20 year old water heater, it would take a crane to move it. It would be so full of crud you wouldn't believe it.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 8:01AM
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brickeyee

You can hit the rental yards for a 3/4 inch drive socket and wrench.
They are rather pricey (around $100 for the ratchet alone), so purchasing them for the few times a homeowner needs anything that large is probably a waste.
Even a 3/4 inch breaker bar (around $70) will do the job, but those and a socket are still pretty big $$.
When you are trying to get these things loose always push UP on the bar.
You can generate more force than your weight (and weight is all you can push down with).

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 10:42AM
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maryde

This is now my problem, too. I hate to pay a plumber for something I can do and have done in the past.

When I ran into the "can't get enough torque on the wrench", not to mention limited light and insulation that doesn't budge, I called up my local handyman and asked him for advice. He agreed with Terrible Tom and the Bus Driver, and also said I could spend about $4 on a socket made specifically for this with a nice large hole in it to add anything you want to use as a little bit of persuasion to get the socket moving. I have a small propane torch, but I don't think I can use it with the risk of harming anything else in the available space I had. As it was, I had to use super scissors on the insulation to enlarge the hole for access. I have small hands. I don't know how people with bigger hands do all that work in such tiny spaces.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 7:16PM
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mike_kaiser_gw

You can probably determine the age of the water heater from the manufacturers plate. If there isn't an obvious date, the serial number usually contains that information and a call to the manufacturer can help you decipher it.

If the heater is indeed 20 years old, it is most likely at the end of it's useful life. Replace it.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 12:42PM
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alphonse

Step #1, prove the element is bad.
If so, apply a small drop of penetrating solvent to the element threads. A small drop.
Take a flat ended punch or similar chunk 'o metal and lightly tap on the periphery of the hex. Lightly. This helps to break the corrosion/fit between the thread flanks.
Proceed with element wrench/alternatives. An initial trial in a tightening (clockwise) direction can help.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 7:01AM
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jemdandy

Auto mechanics agree that a 6 point socket is better than a 12 point for loosening subborn screws. A 6-point socket can deliver more torque before rounding off the corners than a 12 point.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2009 at 5:06AM
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fivekitten_yahoo_com

Just going to post my experience since this is old. I had a very old element that needed to be removed and I couldn't budge it even though I bought the proper special wrench, tried oil, chiseling, etc. I called a local plumber, he brought a huge breaker bar, and took it off and replaced it in a couple seconds and it cost me fifty bucks. Looked later and that was about the price, or slightly lower, than the breaker bar extension he used. BUT the element just went again six months later!!! (I think, OHM is 2, should be 15, thermostat and power is fine.) Had a power outage maybe did something since that's when it went out. Anyhow, just want to say that if you have the element already, tank drained and ready to go, a plumber might be an option to buying a breaker bar. Although since this happened again, I might "break" down and buy the breaker bar myself. (pun intended :)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 1:04PM
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brickeyee

"I bought the proper special wrench"

They are a bit of a joke.

3/4 inch drive sockets and a breaker bar make short work of it.

Hit a rental yard.

They are expensive tools.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 4:53PM
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countryboymo

One of the above or a combination of these will help get the old element out. I noticed in your post about a tankless and wanted to throw another option out there which would be great for a basement remodel. The Marathon water heaters have a lifetime tank warranty with a poly tank and extra insulation. I think the elements and stat have a 5yr warranty.. possibly a 10.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 3:26AM
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dkenny

one thing that has not been suggested..

impact..use a hammer to tap the socket while some is try to turn it.use and impact driver..pneumatic or electric.

just because the size of the socket requires a 3/4..Get an adapter for 1/2"..far more common..

forget using the stamped metal sockets with a hole for the bar.
fyi..its about $15 in for the socket and adapter..think Northern tools..

yes I bought a set..just to remove the 1 3/8" elements..
so I don't think there expensive..

but..like other suggested..are you sure the element is BAD! what is the Rx reading? and current reading? clues..it might be still be covered in scale..mine was..

-dkenny

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 7:19PM
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brickeyee

"just because the size of the socket requires a 3/4..Get an adapter for 1/2"..far more common.. "

You may simply tear a 1/2 inch drive apart.

Turn off the power to the heater, disconnect at least one of the element wires and then check the resistance.

It should be about 12 ohms.
Most fail open, or infinite resistance.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 8:36AM
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dkenny

one thing that has not been suggested..

impact..use a hammer to tap the socket while some is try to turn it.use and impact driver..pneumatic or electric.

just because the size of the socket requires a 3/4..Get an adapter for 1/2"..far more common..

forget using the stamped metal sockets with a hole for the bar.
fyi..its about $15 in for the socket and adapter..think Northern tools..

yes I bought a set..just to remove the 1 3/8" elements..
so I don't think there expensive..

but..like other suggested..are you sure the element is BAD! what is the Rx reading? and current reading? clues..it might be still be covered in scale..mine was..

-dkenny

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 5:23PM
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brickeyee

"Get an adapter for 1/2"..far more common.."

It can take enough torque to remove a badly seized element to damage a 1/2 inch drive.

I am always amused watching folks try to remove a tight item by pushing down on the breaker bar.
You can only exert a force equal to your weight that way.

Pull up on the bar.
You can generate more force than you weigh using your muscles.

I have encountered a few elements so tight the water heater itself started to move.

before you drain the heater try to at least move the element.
The weight of the water is to your advantage here.
As soon as the element breaks loose, THEN drain the heater and finish removing it.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 4:45PM
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tl45

"We're relatively new owners to the home, so I'm not certain as to the age of the heater(could be almost 20 yrs)."

it is well past its useful life. replacing an electric heater is pretty easy once you understated how to empty it. you should not spend any time wrestling out an element in a heater over ten or fifteen years old.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 8:38PM
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brickeyee

"you should not spend any time wrestling out an element in a heater over ten or fifteen years old."

Since a heating element is under $20 it is likely to still be worth replacing, especially if there is no sign of any leaking from the tank.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 9:26AM
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goldennailsalon

the problems is you do not have the right tool. For that the element is not balanced/ or at level. it is going to be hard to screw-in the element, even for a professional. At www.bangslush.com they sell the element socket for just 14.99 with free shipping. It is specially engineered for the electric element. It provides the element a locking mechanism. It is like three hands helping you while you get the job done in minutes

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 10:58PM
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eline65

I'd also replace the anode if someone is going to remove parts from the tank. Anode are designed to go first, to preserve the heating elements. If the element failed, you probably needed a new anode years before. however you choose to get them out is apparently already discussed in detail.

Also, check out Autozone or O'Riely. They have free loaners! :)

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 12:48AM
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goldennailsalon

Especially engineered for 1 1/2" electric water heater elements,
1/2" drive - 1 1/2" snug fit for easy removal and replaement of the elements,
Element will snap on onto the socket, not like other socket, the element will not fall off the socket,
Drop-forged,
Heat-treated,
Notches in socket lock onto ratchets or extensions,
Save money - DO-IT-YOURSELF
www.bangslush.com

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 8:00AM
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