How To Turn On Your Electric Water Heater? (5 Step Guide)

Last Updated On October 19, 2021
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This guide will teach you how to turn on your electric water heater by yourself. 

You are the first person back home after the house was empty for an extended period, and you need to turn on your electric water heater to take a hot shower and wash your clothes. However, you know nothing about water heaters. Don’t worry! 

We can help you turn on your electric water heater yourself in just 5 quick steps. It’s a simple DIY task that shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes with this easy how-to guide. This guide covers turning on electric water heaters that utilize a tank. (We cover tankless water heaters here.)

Quick Tip: If the electric water heater is not working properly, there are two main solutions to simple problems: 

  1. Turning on the water heater.
  2. Resetting the water heater. 

We will tell you how to perform both tasks and how to determine which solution will resolve your problem. 

What's In This Guide?

      Why Was the Water Heater Off?

      Since you need to turn the water heater back on, you or someone else must have turned it off in the first place.  Here are some of the reasons someone may turn an electric water heater off:

      • No main water supply

      While not absolutely necessary, turning the water heater off can prevent pressure build up when you do not have access to your main water line. 

      • Extended vacation

      Water heaters can make up as much as 20% of your energy bill, even if hot water isn’t actively being used. If the water heater is plugged in, it is using electricity in order to maintain the internal water temperature. 

      Why pay for hot water when no one is going to be in the home for an extended period of time? Unplugging the water heater can save some money on the utility bill. Just be careful not to turn it off during cold months to avoid frozen pipes. (Alternatively, you can also turn down the thermostat so it doesn’t have to work as hard.)

      • Leak

      Water and electricity don’t mix. If there is a substantial leak, a homeowner may turn the water heater off as a precaution until the leak is fixed and the area is dry. 

      In some cases, the water heater is off because of a problem with the electricity. Here are two reasons electricity can cause your electric water heater to turn off:

      • Electrical Break

      Sometimes, the water reaches the unit before someone turns it off. Modern units have a safety measure to turn the unit off if it comes into contact with electricity. 

      • Electrical Outage

      Naturally, your electric water heater is not going to work if the electricity goes out. A generator can provide a sufficient backup in the case of a power outage. 

      Ok, now let’s get into the actual steps you can follow to turn your water heater back on.

      how to turn on your electric water heater

      How To Turn On Your Electric Water Heater (5 Steps)

      Step 1: Close All Faucets/Valves

      Your electric hot water heater has multiple different faucets and valves that allow you to control the airflow. At least one valve will be open to prevent pressurization in the tank. Close any open faucets and valves. 

      Step 2: Refill the Tank

      The water heater tank should be empty at this point. Damage can occur if you turn on the heat before completely filling the tank, so you need to fill it to the top. Since electricity and water don’t mix, the water heater should not have power at this point. See this post for detailed instructions on how to fill up your water heater.

      To refill the water heater tank, you will close the drain valve. You will then open the shut-off valve and then turn on the hot water faucets. Let the faucets run until you see a full stream of water flowing, which indicates the tank is now full. 

      Step 3: Remove Safety Tag

      On an existing unit, you will likely see a safety tag on the circuit breaker. This sticker on the breaker warns people of the risk of electric shock if someone turns the breaker on. Remove this tag as it is no longer necessary. 

      Step 4: Turn on Appropriate Circuit Breaker

      You can now turn on the breaker which will bring electricity to the unit and allow it to heat the water. You will find the two-pole breaker in the breaker box. Hopefully, it is clearly labeled. This will ignite the heating element, producing hot water. 

      Step 5: Test Water Temperature

      A thermostat sets the temperature of the water. Find the thermostat and verify it is set at the desired temperature. Some electric water heaters have a thermostat for each component. 

      Now, it’s time for you to go test the water temperature. Of course, the water won’t be hot immediately, especially if the water heater was shut off for a while. Generally speaking for an electric water heater, a 40-gallon tank will heat up in an hour and an 80-gallon tank will heat up in two hours.  Read this post for very a detailed guide for how long your specific water heater will take to heat up and recover.

      FAQs For Turning on Electric Water Heaters

      How to Know if My Electric Water Heater is Working (Did I Do it right?)

      Most water heaters today don’t make much noise and don’t have an indicator button, so you may not get a clear indication that the unit has power at first. 

      If you aren’t 100% sure if you actually turned the water heater on, the first step is to give it some time. 

      After you’ve waited about an hour, there are a number of things to look for. You know there’s still a problem if:

      • Water isn’t getting hot
      • No water at all
      • Weird noises/smells

      If you happen to have one available, you may consider using a voltage tester if you want a definite answer right away. 

      Do Electric Water Heaters Have a Reset Button?

      Many modern electric water heaters do offer a convenient reset button on the unit that can help resolve some water heating problems. The reset button is a safety feature that protects from electrical fires or electrocution similar to the ground on an outlet. 

      The reset button will shut the unit down to safe levels if it comes into contact with too much moisture or an electrical problem, and this can cause noticeable problems with your water heater. Some indications you might need to press the reset button include:

      • Water turning cold quickly
      • No cold water

      If the water is hot at first but gets cold quickly, the bottom of the tank might not be on. If there’s no cold water at all, the entire tank might not be getting electricity. 

      However, how can you identify the reset button and what is involved in resetting the water heater? Generally speaking, you will recognize the reset button as the red button on the water heater thermostat. 

      It may be behind the small panel. The button should be lit up if it needs to be pressed. 

      See below for a video tutorial on how to reset your water heater. 

      Do Electric Water Heaters Have a Pilot Light?

      No. Pilot lights are exclusive to gas water heaters. Electric water heaters do not require a pilot light to ignite gas since they use electricity instead. Similarly, a gas water heater won’t have a breaker, since it uses the pilot light. 

      Do Electric Water Heaters Make a Noise During Operation?

      Your water heater may make some noise, especially when it is actively heating up the water in the tank, but many products don’t make any noise at all. While there are obvious benefits to a quiet water heater, it can make it difficult to tell if it’s on. Check the water for yourself after about an hour to tell if it’s on. 

      If your water heater does make a lot of noise when you turn it on, it can be a sign that you need maintenance or repair. 

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      I'm passionate about all things plumbing, and love sharing tips, "how-to", and reviewing the latest products to help make your project a success!

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