How to Remove a Water Heater Element without an Element Wrench? Is It Possible?

sanitary technician with tubeIs it possible to remove a water heater element without an element wrench? How to remove a water heater element without an element wrench?

Replacing or removing a water heater element is a little bit challenging, especially without an element wrench. Most professional plumbers said that we could not turn a stuck element with an ordinary vise grip or wrench. Manufacturers have made water heater elements to be very tight and secured. Therefore, we have to make sure that we have the right tool in removing an element.

However, some professional plumbers said that we could also use breaker bars as an alternative. These products are hallow steel pipes that can also fit perfectly over the heater’s socket wrench handle. These products are capable of removing stubborn and stuck elements sometimes but not all the time.

We have two element styles when it comes to heating elements. The first one is the screw-in and the second one is bolt-in. Professional plumbers prefer screw-in, especially for newer water heaters. If we have older water heaters, plumbers advise using the bolt-in type since this is the one installed for older heaters. However, there is a universal adapter kit available in the market if you want to adopt a screw-in element into a bolt-in element.

When it comes to removing water heater elements, there are necessary supplies that we need to consider first.

According to my research, we’ll be needing

  • a garden hose
  • screwdriver
  • water heater element wrench
  • voltage tester
  • a new heating element with “O” ring.

Professional plumbers do not suggest using an alternative tool instead of an element wrench.

Here’s the step-by-step guide on how to remove a water heater element that needs a replacement.

remove a water heater element without an element wrench

Step 1: Turn off the circuit breaker.

Make sure that we have turned off the circuit breaker at the electrical panel. We can use the voltage tester to check if no amount of electricity reaches our water heater. It is essential to be sure that any power isn’t present in removing a water heater element.

Step 2: Attach the garden hose.

We can now begin to attach the garden hose to our water heater. At this point, we are trying to check if sediments do not clog our drain valve. We do not have to drain our water tank during this step.

Step 3: Turn off the water supply.

We have to turn off the water for this step. We can turn off the water supply by closing the water inlet valve, which we can commonly see above our water heaters. We can release the hot water inside the machine by allowing the air to enter the tank. We can complete this step by opening the nearest faucet and open the hot water tap.

Step 4: Remove the access panel cover.

We have to remove the access panel cover. We will be using a screwdriver for us to remove the access panel cover. We can also see that our water heater’s thermostat has a plastic cover. We have to remove this gently. This step is also where we have to inspect the wiring. Are there any damaged or melted parts? We have to understand that any we have to replace any damaged wires immediately to avoid any severe problems. Afterward, we have to loosen the screw to detach the element wires from the heating element.

Step 5: Remove the heating element.

The next thing to do is to remove the heating element. We have to use a heating element wrench in removing this part. This element wrench is the only wrench that can precisely remove this part since it has a wide-enough mouth that can perfectly fit at the exposed portion of the element. Professionals do not suggest using an alternative in removing this part because of the possible damages of standard wrenches. While the tank has enough water, we can now slightly loses the element in a counter-clockwise motion. Afterward, we can now drain the tank by opening our water heater’s drain valve. This process could last for an hour, depending on the size of our water tank.

Step 6: Clean the new element.

We can now clean and wipe the new element. We have to make sure that there will be no contamination and debris that will be transferred to our water heaters. Afterward, let’s attach the brand new “O” ring on our new heating element. According to the professional plumbers, using the old “O” ring is not a great option. After attaching the “O” ring, we can now push this element gently into our heater’s tank and tighten it with an element wrench. A standard wrench is not advisable for this procedure, as well.

Step 7: Refill the water tank.

It is now time to refill our water heater tanks! Let us close the drain valve and turn on the heater’s water supply. For this moment, I do not suggest to turn on the power supply right away. We have to make sure that our tank is full before turning on the power. Half-full amount of water might damage the heating elements at this time. Next, check the newly installed element if it has any leakage. If you have found a leakage, turn off the water supply and continue to tighten the element with the element wrench. Sometimes, it is also necessary to reposition the “O” ring.

Step 8: Replace the covers.

After the refilling is complete, we can now replace the thermostat cover, insulation, and access panel cover. If you have finished replacing the covers, we can finally turn our water heater’s supply on by flipping our circuit breaker. We can notice that there is an unsteady water flow when we open our faucets because of the air inside the water heater. This issue will go away eventually after a short period.

When it comes to removing elements, we have to make sure that we only use the right and proper tools. Manufacturers will not grant any warranty if we have used the wrong tools and caused damage to our water heaters. Each machine is precisely created with security and uniqueness. Therefore, if the manufacturers told us to use an element wrench, we have to use an element wrench. An alternative tool might work for some people, but I do not suggest using it to your machines.

We can take good care of our water heaters in being careful with the tools that we use on them. I always make sure that I have to the right equipment on hand while removing a water heater element. If you know that you are not experienced enough to do this kind of job, you are freely allowed to hire a professional plumber. These people can perform the task for you at a meager price. It is better to hire a professional than doing it by yourself knowing that you have no idea on how to properly remove it.

So, what are your thoughts about removing the water heater element without an element wrench? Let us know in the comment section below!

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