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Element tests for 120 Volts

main breaker box
Larger image

Basic 120 volt and 240 volt circuits

Element will test for Hot 120 volt at all times because water heater thermostat only turns off 1 hot leg.
All household wiring is single phase. That means two wires are needed to complete any circuit.
With 120 volt there is Hot and Neutral.
With 240 volt there are two Hot wires.
All single phase circuits can be turned on-off by controlling one of the two wires..
So 120 volt can be turned off by one wire, and 240 volt can be turned off by one wire.

In 240 volt circuit, there are 2 hot legs and each leg is 120 volts.... each 120 volt leg is 'out of phase' with the other, so they can be combined to make 240 volt.

When water heater thermostat turns off one leg, it turns off one of the two Hot 120 volt lines... the circuit is off... because the circuit needs two wires...
So one 120 volt Hot leg is off
The other 120 volt Hot leg is on... and it will test 120 volt to ground

Resources:
See inside main breaker box
How to wire thermostats
How to wire 240 volt outlets
Test if electricity is off

Test if power is OFF

This test only shows if power is ON or OFF
It does not show if you have 240 volt
Use non-contacr tester

Buy:
Non-contact voltage tester Amazon
Electric testers at Amazon

Resource:
How to test electric power is off

Precautions before testing live elsctricity:

Tape multimeter leads to wood sticks to keep hands away from power.... paint stick does fine.
Do not touch anything made of metal.
Be sure to stand on dry non-conductive surface such as boards.
Remove metal objects from pockets.
Test for 240 volt      

Correct testing procedue for 240 volt at water heater

Test across both screws on upper element
Use multimeter for best result, but ordinary tester will work
Correct testing procedure is as follows:
Test for 240 volt across top two screws of upper thermostat... not the element ... at the upper thermostat.
If no voltage, fully reset circuit breaker and test again.
If still no voltage, then breaker is suspect, move wires to a different same-size breaker, and try again. email with details.

If there is 240 at top two screws of upper thermostat, then push reset button.
If elements are still not working, then replace thermostats.
There is no valid test for thermostats.
After new thermostats are in, then push reset button.
Test for 240 volt across top two screws on upper thermostat, push the reset button again for redundancy.
If still no hot water after replacing thermostats, then replace elements.

Be sure to wait until tank is full of water before turning on power or else upper element with burn out instantly if not covered with water.
If upper element is burned out, the tank will not heat any water.
Replace upper element again, lower element is ok.

If still no hot water after replacing thermostats and elements,
The problem is probably something minor. Run through the list again, and email with photos of wiring.

Resources:
Troubleshoot electric water heater

Correct test for power on element

Set multimeter to read volts AC
Test across both screws
If test is 0 volts, then element is off
If test is 240 volts, then element is on

If individual screw is tested to ground or metal tank, it will show 120 volt at all times, no matter if element is on or off

Buy:
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Resource:
How to test and replace element
How to test thermocouple
How to test wire
Reset circuit breaker

Reset circuit breaker

Push circuit breaker fully off and then fully back on
circuit breaker resources

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See inside breaker box
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Figure volts amps and watts
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Element tests for 120 volt
larger image

Elements on 240 volt water heaters usually test for live 120 Volts all all times.

Thermostats turn off one hot wire in 240 volt circuit
One wire stays hot all the time/ Other wire is turned on-off

But wait... both screws on element test for 120 volt... not just one screw like the illustration shows
Yes... true... because the element is a coiled wire, so the element will let voltage pass through to both screws... and all the way back to thermostat
Remember voltage is a potential to ground.
Voltage potential can sit on a wire and do nothing... until the circuit is completed by turning on a switch
When switch is turned ON (thermostat switch turns on), then the circuit is complete.
With 120 and 277 volt circuit, there is 1 Hot and 1 neutral needed to complete circuit
With 208 and 240 volt circuit, there are 2 hot wires needed to complete circuit
You can turn a circuit on-off by turning off only 1 wire... you do not need to turn off both wires... just one wire
OK so thermostat turns on... now the circuit is complete. Both hot wires in the 240 volt circuit are on,
If you just turn on the circuit without a load (element is example load), then there is a short circuit and breaker trips.
Element is a resistive load  (like a light bulb)
The two hot wires collide head-on at the element.... and the amperage and voltage cause the element to heat

Buy:
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Electric testers at Amazon

Resources:
How to test elements
How to replace elements
See inside main breaker box
What is amperage
How to wire thermostats
How to replace thermostats
Add another thermostat
Element tests 120 volts

Correct way to Test/ test across both screws

When element is OFF
On 120 volt water heater, this test will show 0 volts
On 240 volt water heater, this test will show 0 volts
When element is ON
On 120 volt water heater, this test will show 120 volts
On 240 volt water heater, this test will show240 volts

Buy:
Multimeters at Amazon
Electric testers at Amazon
Resources:
How to test elements
How to replace elements

Tape multimeter leads to wood sticks

Electric safety:
Voltage can kill you
never stand on bare soil
Never stand on wet surface
Stand on dry boards
Do not lean or touch anything made of metal.
remove metal objects from pockets

Explanation.

Thermostats only turn off one leg of 240 volt circuit
240 Volt circuit requires two legs to complete circuit.
Each leg is 120 volts
Thermostat turns one leg off, and other leg remains hot... so element will test hot 120 volts at all times

What is a leg for electric wiring?

Each household circuit requires two wires to complete circuit.
Each wire in circuit is called a leg.
So each household circuit requires two legs.

2 legs for 120 volt circuit


With 120 volt circuit, one leg is Hot wire, and one leg is Neutral wire.
When Hot and Neutral come together at a light bulb, then bulb turns ON
If you turn off the Hot leg, then bulb goes OFF.
Light switch is used to turn off hot leg. The neutral wire is never connected to light switch... just the Hot wire is switched ON-OFF.

2 legs for 240 volt circuit

240 Volt is same, except circuit has 2 Hot legs
With 240 volt circuit, both legs are Hot, and each leg carries 120 volts.
When both Hot wires come together at water heater element, the element turns ON and begiins to heat.
With 240 Volt, you can switch the circuit ON-OFF by switching one leg.
Turn off one Hot leg, and the element turns OFF.
water heater element tests 120 volts
Larger image

Water heater thermostats turn OFF one Hot leg in 240 Volt water heater.
The other leg remains Hot

Illustration shows BLACK Leg2 and RED Leg1 wires... 2 Hot legs in 240 volt water heater circuit.
Thermostat is OFF, so Black Leg2 is OFF

Illustration shows Red leg1 is ON at all times. Even when Black Leg2 is OFF.
Result is that test on element shows 120 volts.
But element is not heating because thermostat is OFF

Remember, each Hot leg in 240 Volt circuit carries 120 Volt.
Thermostats act like a light switch and turn off one leg in the circuit.
Hot Leg1 RED wire is standing ready at the element.... waiting for the thermostat to switch the other Hot leg ON

So when element is not heating, 120 Volt is still available at the element at all times, and the element test shows 120 Volt

Larger image

When water heater thermostat turns on the Black Hot leg2 ... both 120 volt Hot legs come together.
If there was no element present, the circuit would short out with a flash and pop, and breaker would trip.

Same thing with 120 Volt or 240 Volt circuit... when both legs come together, resistance must consume energy or the breaker will trip.

With element present, the two Hot legs meet and the resistance element consumes energy by heating water

When element is heating, and you test across both screws, then test shows 240 Volt
When you test each element screw to metal tank, it still tests for 120 Volt... because you are testing one Hot leg to ground

Larger image

Basic parts: Part replacement and wiring diagrams

1: Elements and wiring
Test water heater elements

   How to replace element and clean tank
   How to remove stuck, rusted element
   Wiring diagrams for elements/ residential single-phase, commercial 3-phase
   Wiring diagrams
   Figure volts anps watts for water heater

2: Thermostats and wiring
How to replace thermostats

   Test thermostats
   Wire water heater thermostats
   Change temperature
   Test wires

3: Anode rod and dip tube and TP valve
Anode rod/ replacement, odor etc
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How to test and replace TP valve
Review all types water heater valves

Resources:
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Water heater manufacturers
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Multimeter

Test for breaks in wire/ Test for voltage
Most appliance require 80% rated voltage to function correctly
Buy:
Multimeters at Amazon
Electric testers at Amazon 
Resource:
How to test and replace element
How to test thermocouple
Element tests for 120 volts
How to test wire
Safety when testing wires:
Never touch wet or previously flooded appliance.
Never stand on wet surface when working on electric.
Never stand on bare soil, put down dry boards.
Tape tester leads to wood sticks to keep hands away from power.
Use non-contact voltage tester before touching wires.
Never touch or lean into any made of metal.
Remove metal objects from pockets.
Do not use oxygen or fuel accelerants in same room as electrcial repairs

Resource:
Basic house wiring

Non-contact voltage tester

Test for power without touching connectorss
NEVER assume power is OFF
Buy:

Non-contact voltage tester Amazon
Electric testers at Amazon
 
Resource:
How to test electric power is off

Resource:
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Turn stranded wire into solid wire

Add solder to 1" length of tightly twisted stranded wire to make into solid wire
Heat wire. Touch solder to wire. Let cool. File away over-solder.
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Do not use stranded wire under screw plate

Applies to timers, switches, outlets, pumps etc.
Small devices, with small loads, such as lamp socket, stranded wire is fine
Add solder to 1" length of tightly twisted stranded wire to make into solid wire
Heat wire. Touch solder to wire. Let cool. File away over-solder.
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Orange 10 gauge 30 amp


Orange/ #10 gauge for for 30 amp circuits including water heater
with ground
Buy:
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10-3/ 30 amp

NMB is house wiring
UF is underground

Yellow 12 gauge 20 amp


Yellow/ #12 gauge wire for 20 amp
with ground
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12-3/ 20 amp

Roll stranded wire

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White 14 gauge 15 amp


White/ #14 gauge wire for 15 amp
with ground
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Copper ground wire
Use same size as other wire in circuit

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Basic household wiring
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Figure volts amps watts for electric water heater
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How to wire tankless electric
How to change water heater temperature using timer
Change water heater from 240Volt to 120Volt
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How to wire thermostats
How to wire water heater for off peak operation

How to twist wire
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