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Help! changing the heating elements on a water heater

 
master pollinator
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Okay. I've watched several YouTubes... Nobody seems to have any trouble getting the elements loose. I am having lots of trouble.

First, google told me to brush the nuts with half vinegar and water solution and wait 20 minutes. Nothing.

I found this:
from here.

All I have succeeded in doing is making a small dent in the heater, and making the wrench sliding off the nut. Maybe even rounding off the corners. Suggestions?

 
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Hi Joylynn;
Well hopefully the corners are not rounded. And your socket is correctly sized.
You need to use a 4' cheater pipe over your pipe wrench handle.
You need to apply maximum torque rite away or it will never move.

IF (lets hope not) you rounded the head of the element you are up the creek (you know the one) without a paddle...
Option become very limited at that point.  

Good Luck
You found a car so your luck is running strong(we hope)  You can do this!
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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I don't have the 1 1/2" socket wrench that can be used with a breaker bar. I have the "specialized" element "wrench" as in the picture. Further comments?
 
thomas rubino
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Is the element rounding already?
If so you need to borrow an 1.5" deep  socket . With breaker bar.
A true fit 6 point (sided) socket might still be able to save the day.


The pipe wrench and cheater bar method should work unless your tool is crap.
 
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my experience with the sockets like that is they are only good on easy to move things, they do exactly what you are running into if you try to do high torque.Call your local auto parts stores, a lot of them loan tools, or rent them very cheap. They'd have a 1.5 inch deep socket.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Be back...

EDIT: first pic ios the top element.
The second is the bottom. I have not had a chance to mess with the bottom other than to find out it needed more strength than I have. The nut looks like it was beveled, right? so maybe the top is not rounded?
IMG_20210525_140629387.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20210525_140629387.jpg]
IMG_20210525_140615924.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20210525_140615924.jpg]
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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So... maybe not rounded? Please see pics above.
 
thomas rubino
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They do look beveled.  So maybe not rounded yet.
Did you try using a ratchet strap over your driver  like in the photo?
You'll want a cheater pipe over what ever tool you end up using.
The extra leverage will make you strong!
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Yes, I tried the ratchet strap. Sigh. That's where the dent came from. Shhh! Then I used a towel for a cushion. No success.

Hunny He-Man is on the way home now. I bet he gets it done. If not, I'll be off to get that deep socket. I've got a pipe I've used as a breaker bar before... Somewhere...
 
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Water heaters are one of the few things I will leave to a pro, I hope the dent in that heater won't cause any pressure problems down the road. Water heaters can explode if not maintained correctly and it is not a pretty picture when they do. I suppose changing the heating element is one of the safer modifications but I'd still take every precaution.
 
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Other ideas...  Spray some WD-40 on it and wait 20 minutes.  Then lightly pound on the nut with a hammer.  If you don't want to damage the two screws, use something like a big screwdriver (pounding on the handle end) to tap on the bit of metal next to the screws.  That sometimes shakes things loose.

That socket you have appears to have a hole through it.  I think you might be able to put a bar through that and then put your cheater pipe on the bar...
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Thanks, Mike. I missed this suggestion until just now... But, I want the answer to the below question before I try it out.

Hunny was not able to get the elements out either. It has been suggested the elements may need to be turned the opposite way to remove them.

Two cold showers later and I am not ammused. I have not been able to find a definitive answer as to whether MY water heater has clockwise or counter clockwise threads on the heating element. Lets name the action as screwing it in, do I turn clockwise or counter clockwise? My google fu is dead. In truth it never lived to begin with.

Whirlpool model
E2F40RD045E
Serial number
1310T476572

PLEASE HELP!!!
 
Mike Haasl
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If you have the replacement heat elements, just check which way they're threaded.  If you're not sure by looking at them, wrap your hand around the threads and "screw" the nut clockwise to see if it "threads" through your encircling hand.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Well... That's the logic I've been using. Here's the rub. The replacement element does not tell me that it will definately fit my machine. I'm guessing. The ones I purchased are Righty Tighty.

The question remains, are they the right ones?

Now what?

Hey Mike, how bout you come on over?
 
Mike Haasl
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If the replacement one is righty tighty, then it's 99.83% likely that the one you're trying to remove is the same.  
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Aha! Google has finally taken pity on me. Two separate sites claim that they have the manual for my model. They are the same manual!!! WHOOO HOOO!!!

The manual says:

Disconnect the electric wires from the heating element
(Figure 12). Remove the screw-in elements by turning
the element counterclockwise with a 1-1/2 inch
socket wrench. Remove the existing gasket.


and

Make sure the replacement element has the correct
voltage and wattage rating. Position the new gasket
on the element and insert it into the water heater
tank (Figure 13). Tighten the element by turning it
clockwise until secure.



So, I'll spray the damn elements with wd40. In the morning, I'll do the beating it to death with the hammer thing. Well Okay, I'll restrain myself. The tapping with the hammer then.

The model number does not appear in the manual. Sigh. Positive thinking!!!
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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The manual link has been posted here because you can be sure I won't remember where I found it.
 
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Those should not be left hand thread.  As there is no vibration and the whole water heater isn't rotating the common reasons to use a left hand thread to not exist.

So righty tighty, lefty loosy and right hand rule both apply.

Since it uses a sealing gasket most likely lubricants won't help.  But I would still try them just in case.  

First thing I would try with your tools is to create a T handle on the socket with 2 pipe wrenchs.  This is so you are creating pure torque by pushing on one side while pulling on the other.  This takes real coordination so it may take a couple of tries.   Put the socket and the pipe wrench that comes up from the bottom in place first and get it biting with a tiny bit of pressure so it doesn't fall off.  Now leaving one hand holding that pressure put the other wrench on from the top and get it biting too.  Can you break it loose that way?

As for the socket the final answer will likely be a modified socket.  The problem with a mechanics type 6 point socket is the flair on the end that makes loading it easy.  with really shallow nuts/heads like you are dealing with it only grips part of the hex and therefore jumps off.  The cure is to get rid of the loading flair with a grinder or a lathe.

If you are up where you feel you are going to break something the next step for inexperience is probably get someone with more experience.  If you are keeping going   My goal if I were doing it would be to get rid of the element core.  Plastic and wire terminals using a drill bit with lots of holes in the plastic around the terminals till I could break that much out with a chisel.  Then once that was done so I could get a hacksaw blade in so it reached into the tank I would cut the hollow bolt left centered on 3 flats in a triangle for cuts in 3 places cutting till I was just staring to cut into the peaks of the threads from the water heater.   If you look close as you cut you can see when you just barely start to tick the tops of the threads.(have to stop and look every few strokes.)   Once the supporting metal was mostly gone I would put the socket on and turn again.  Usually the removal of the supporting metal will let the threads collapse ever so slightly and turn loose.  If that didn't do it I would take a die grinder or dremel with a cut off wheel and extend those cuts across the face of the nut cutting till I was just barely nicking the gasket.  Now try the socket again.  It would be really rare if it didn't collapse just enough to allow it to screw out.  Still not working would try an extractor and a tap handle.  If that fails the final step which is risky is to cut clear thru the threads in one slot(stop half way and try it before going the whole way). Because the element uses a face seal gasket as long as you do NOT damage the surface it seats against the damage to the thread is unlikely to fail(there is future risk on this one).  Once you have it cut the whole way it will certainly collapse either with the socket or with a punch and hammer and screw out easily.
 
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https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=remove+tight+water+heater+element+screws
 
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Not to be too much of a downer, but a modern water heater is something I wouldn't try to fix, especially if you are having the trouble you seem to be having. They seem to be made to last less than a decade these days. As you have found, the tank is very thin steel. There is a special lining in the tank to prevent rust, often glass. If the tank has dented, I am afraid the coating has been compromised. Even applying considerable force to remove the element would concern me. As thin as the steel is, I am quite sure I could shear the flange clean off the tank without a cheater bar. I just wonder how much force it would take to crack the lining or create a micro fracture that will quickly hasten rust on a tank that will already want to rust out within a decade.

If a new one is not in the budget and this one must do, I would keep an eye out for a deal on a new one and keep an eye on this one, especially if it is located in an area where it could cause severe damage if it leaks. It might also be a good idea to replace the zinc anode while you are working on it to help prevent rusting just in case.

It could also be an opportunity to upgrade to a more efficient one.
 
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