If you have an electric hot water heater, chances are you will need to replace the heating element at some point.
If the tank is producing a small amount of hot water, the bottom element probably needs to be replaced. If the tank is producing no hot water, the top element is the likely culprit.
Replacing either element is a relatively simple project.
Step 1: Shut off the power supply to the water heater using the circuit breaker or fuse panel.
Step 2: Turn off the water supply to the heater and open the hot water side of the nearest faucet.
Step 3: Attach a garden hose to the drain valve located near the bottom of the tank and allow the water to drain out completely.
Step 4: Unscrew the access panel near the top or bottom of the heater, depending on which element needs to be replaced. Pull back the insulation to expose the back end of the heating element.
Step 5: Use a voltage sensor to confirm that the power to the water heater is off.
Step 6: Use a Phillips-head screwdriver to detach the wires from the back of the heating element. If the wires are deteriorated, cut off the ends of the wires and strip the wire to expose a fresh bare inch of copper on each wire.
Step 7: Unscrew the old element from the tank and take it to the local hardware store or plumbing supply shop. Purchase an identical replacement element with the same voltage and wattage ratings.
Step 8: Clean the element opening on the tank to ensure a good seal.
Step 9: Install the new element and reattach the wires to the back of the element.
Step 10: Close the drain valve, remove the garden hose and turn on the water supply to the tank.
Step 11: As the tank fills, water should begin flowing from the previously opened faucet. Allow the water to flow freely from the faucet for about three minutes before turning off the faucet.
Step 12: Fill the tank completely and check for leaks around the new element.
Step 13: Replace the insulation and reattach the access panel.
Step 14: Turn the power back on using the circuit breaker or fuse panel.
If all goes well, you should have a full tank of hot water in an hour or so.