Adjusting Water Heater Temperature

by April Reinhardt
(last updated September 19, 2016)

With three teenagers in our house involved in sports, the two showers in our home are used frequently each day. When we rented a new house, I complained to my husband that I ran out of hot water before I could rinse my hair while showering. He indicated that the previous tenants had small children and had set the water heater thermostat to a lower setting to prevent against hot water burns, and then he adjusted the thermostat of the tank while I watched. It is very simple to adjust the temperature on an electric water heater. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Locate the thermostat on the water heater. Most electric hot water heaters have two thermostats; one for the top half of the tank and one for the bottom half, each controlling two separate heating elements inside of the tank. The thermostats may be concealed behind a metal plate or within the insulation. Always turn the power off before removing the metal plate.
  2. Adjust the thermostats to the same number. Each thermostat has a visible scale. Make sure that each thermostat is set to the same number or else one heating element will do all of the work, while the other does nothing, causing one element to burn out before the other. Some water heater models require that you turn the thermostat control with a screwdriver. The recommended minimum setting for water heater thermostats is 130 degrees.

We've moved again since that time, and now two of our boys are in college, leaving only three people in our home. Again, we needed to adjust the temperature on the hot water heater, but this time it was a gas heater. And, again, I watched as my husband adjusted the temperature.

Gas water heaters have one thermostat and one heat source. The thermostat is found near the bottom of the tank, usually having a dial control setting. Simply rotate the dial to the number you want. Some gas water heaters have thermostats housed underneath a metal plate. Simply swing the plate aside to expose the dial and rotate it to the number you want.

Always raise the thermostat of your hot water heater incrementally and allow at least four hours for the desired temperature to be reached. When a water heater leaves the factory, it is set between 140 and 150 degrees. It takes two seconds to receive a third-degree burn from water heated to 150 degrees. Dishwasher water needs to reach at least 180 degrees in order to kill bacteria, but your home hot water heater cannot reach that temperature without ruining the relief valve. Therefore, home dishwasher manufacturers equip their products with booster heaters to heat the water inside of the dishwasher to reach 180 degrees.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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