An electric hot water heater uses a conductive strip of metal, called the element, with electricity coursing through it to heat a tank of water. Some models use two elements to evenly heat the tank. Age and use cause the elements to break down. Leaving the hot water heater on when the tank is empty will cause the element to burn out. Replacing a hot water heater element is a simple process that takes about 30 minutes to complete.
Disconnect electricity to the device by turning off the circuit breaker at the breaker panel.
Turn off the water supply to the tank. The water inlet pipe will have a valve to disable the water supply. Turn the supply off at the water main if there is no valve on the inlet pipe.
Attach a garden hose to the drain valve located on the lower aspect of the water heater. Make sure the hose leads to a safe area as the water coming out will be extremely hot. Turn the valve on and allow the water tank to fully empty before continuing. Turn the valve off and disconnect the hose.
Remove the access panel with a screwdriver. You will have four to six screws holding the panel in place.
Disconnect the electrical wires to the element. You should have three wires; a brass ground, a black hot wire, and a white neutral wire. Unscrew the connections and push the wires to the side.
Unscrew the retaining screws for the element. You should have three or four screws holding the element into the tank, which, when removed, allow the element to pull straight out. Pull the element out, and insert the new element. Reattach the retaining screws.
Reattach the wires in the order that they were disconnected. Tighten all the screws down for the wires and retaining screws. Reattach the access panel, and turn on the water supply. Monitor the unit while it is filling up for signs of leaks. Leaks would indicate a screw was not fully tightened. Correct the error. Restore electricity to the device, and allow it to heat up for a bit before testing.
Consult your owner's manual for specifics on your water heater. All water heaters operate in a similar fashion, but the precise wiring order and replacement parts will be listed in your owner's manual.