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How electric water heater works:

Whirlpool site
Whirlpool Energy smart electric
Typical household water heater has 2 heating elements called upper and lower elements.
Elements are controlled by upper and lower thermostats. Each element is connected to a thermostat.
Thermostats read temperature through side of tank wall and turn elements ON and OFF.
Residential water heater thermostats can be manually set to temperatures between 90 to 150. Some 170. How to adjust thermostats
Higher thermostat settings use more electricity.

Both elements are never ON at same time unless specific wiring is changed. How to wire thermostats
Upper thermostat is main controller.
Upper element turns on upper element until top 2/3 of tank reaches temperature setting.
After top of tank is heated, upper thermostat turns-off upper element and sends power to lower thermostat which turns on lower element. Lower element runs until tank reaches temperature setting.
Lower element turns on-and-off during standby hours to keep tank temperature at thermostat set point.

There is no air inside tank.
When hot water tap is turned on, hot water immediately exits top of tank.
Hot water travels through hot-side pipe until it reaches faucet.
At same time hot water leaves tank, new cold water immediately enters bottom of tank through plastic dip tube pipe.
Read about dip tube

During 'standby' hours, between hot water use, lower element maintains tank temperature.
Lower element keeps water hot by turning-on 1-4 minutes each hour throughout day and night which equals 45Kwh - 216Kwh each month for standby operation depending on tank rating and seasonal temperature. See math charts for heating water 
Once hot water is used again, cold water quickly fills tank and elements are activated and heat cycle repeats.
Reset button
ECO reset button

TP temperature pressure release valve

WET water heater is dangerous.
Gas and electric water heaters are both connected to water pipes and can act as ground conduit for electricity.
Turn power OFF.
Do not touch leaking water heater or water heater that is wet or was flooded without turning power off.
Always turn power OFF when working on electric water heater

For safety, each electric water heater has ECO reset button located on upper thermostat. ECO will trip when temperature exceeds 170-180.
Each tank also  has TP valve that releases water when temperature exceeds 170-180
Temperatures above 180 can damage tank. TP valve code

Tanks used for solar collectors must have special temperature control, or be specifically rated for solar.
Questions to ask before buying solar.

Save money by turning down thermostats For each 10 reduction, save 3-5%  operating cost.
See how to turn down thermostat.  
How to increase amount of hot water

Electric heater can be installed inside any unventilated space, for example a closet with door closed
Electric water heaters do not burn hydrocarbon fuel and thus require no incoming oxygen supply or vent to outside.
Do not expose water heater to rain or water.

Read about flooded water heater.  
Read about leaking water heater.

Water heater voltage:
Electric water heaters work on any voltage 120, 208, 230, 240, 277 etc:
How to connect water heater to generator
Convert water heater to 120Volt

To save energy, fix leaks and do not turn on hot side faucet when using only cold water.
Entry of cold water causes tank water to cool. That causes steel tank to cool.
Thermostat reads water temperature through tank wall. When tank wall is cooler than thermostat set point, the element turns on.

Heating is done by electric elements.
Tanks have 1 or 2 elements depending on design.
Elements are similar to electric stove burners except they have elongated shapes and are designed to be immersed in water.
Elements instantly burn out if no water is inside tank.
Elements burn out for different reasons and can be replaced.
How to test elements.
How to replace elements.

In 2-element tank, if lower element burns out, the amount of hot water is reduced.
On 2-element tank, if upper element burns out, the lower element stops receiving electric power so neither element works and no hot water is available.
See how to troubleshoot electric water heater.

Lower element is key factor in 'standby loss.'
Water heater manufactures have targeted both elements for wasting electricity. They set lower thermostat 10 less than upper thermostat, and added better insulation and heat traps to inlet pipes to save $2-6 per year. Factory-installed heat traps can cause clogs and sounds. Adding insulation blanket will save money, and product warranty is NOT voided by adding insulation as long as TP valve and overflow are not obstructed. See warranties
Look at water heater efficiency numbers

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Wire colors vary
How to wire thermostats

Why are yearly cost-estimates so low on water heaters compared with past years? Probably each of the following: Changes in design, lower estimated lower usage, and corporate fact-fudging.
See cost of running electric water heater at various rates.

Manufactures have added foam insulation to most products. Most tanks come with heat-trap nipples or heat-trap inserts so water heater appears more efficient, but these things can clog or cause whistling. Read about pressure issues and replacing manufacturer's heat-traps
Manufacturers have added self-cleaning features that help efficiency. See about cleaning tank to maintain efficiency. Manufacturers have turned down thermostats from 135 to 120, or lower. They have re-estimated the amount of hot water consumed by families. These changes plus reducing consumption always save money. And over entire year, differences add up to dollars per month. But it still takes same number of Kilowatthours (Kwh) to heat a pound of water. The physics hasn't changed. And every pound of hot water that leaves the tank is replaced by cold water that is heated and kept heated until next time hot is used. See Water heating math
9-ways to save with water heater
How to wire off-peak water heater.

If great strides were made in electrical efficiency, it would spark a scientific revolution and somebody would be shouting. Read about electric water heater efficiency. Instead EnergyGuide numbers that estimate yearly cost have become small and hard to see on some products. The numbers seem amazingly low compared with past years. In defense of manufacturers, they make a safe product that is priced right and they are helping consumers by adjusting their product. Add your own improvement by installing a timer and scheduling hot water use. 9 ways to save with a water heater

Find age of water heater
Elements screw or bolt into side of tank and come in many shapes and wattages
How to test element
How to replace element
How to troubleshoot electric water heater
Upper and lower thermostats clip into mountings and read temperature through tank wall. Reduce temperature and save 3-5%  
see how-to
Water heater element How to identify and replace water heater elements
Convert water heater to 120Volt for slower heating

Check side of tank for wattage <> tank wattage is element wattage
Water heater cycle
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How to wire thermostats
Element burns out

Tank must be full of water or elements burn out
How to troubleshoot electric water heater
Flooded water heater

Tanks with two-elements are rated 240Volt
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Reset button
Reset button on electric water heater
Remove upper cover and insulation.
Firmly push in reset button
How to troubleshoot electric water heater
Water heater insulation Water heater is steel tank, covered with insulation, and surrounded by metal shell

1) Steel tank holds pressure of hot water.
2) Tank can be rusted and leaking. Read Leaking water heater. Read about Anode rod
3) Insulation helps prevent heat loss.
4) Metal shell protects wires from damage.
5) Any short to metal tank will trip breaker. Ground wire must be connected to water heater.
Troubleshoot electric water heater
NON-simultaneous: Household electric water heaters are wired for NON-simultaneous operation.

Both elements are not ON at same time.
Upper element is ON, or Lower element is ON, or both elements are OFF.
How to wire thermostats
How to wire thermostats
Water heater cover Thermostat and element must be covered
Cover, insulation and protector are necessary so thermostat can read correct temperature
240 volt water heater circuit Basic 240Volt water heater circuit

How to wire thermostats
Electric meter on water heater ll
How to install electric meter on water heater

Gas water heater

Unlike electric water heaters, Gas water heaters need supply of air to support combustion
Gas water heater How to install gas water heater

9 ways to save with water heater

Read about dip tubes

Read about anode rods

Test and replace TP valve

Replace drain valve
Gas water heater parts
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Gas water heater parts
Read about FVIR flammable vapor system

Troubleshoot gas water heater

How to adjust temperature on water heater
Additional links

See basic water heater circuit

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Do it yourself water heater

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9+ ways to save with water heater

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Anode rods

Pro and con tankless

How to replace gas water heater

Troubleshoot leaking water heater

Programmable water heater timer

Difference between 120Volts and 240Volts
Gas and electric water heaters Support the economy:
Buy water heaters  from my associate links:

50 gallon Gas water heaters at Amazon
40 gallon gas water heaters at Amazon
50 gallon Electric water heaters at Amazon
40 gallon electric water heaters at Amazon
Hybrid / heat pump/ water heaters at Amazon

How to install gas water heater
Troubleshoot gas water heater
Troubleshoot electric water heater

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