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Hot Water Heater Reset Button (and How to Spot Faults)

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Avoid cold showers and learn how to activate your water heater reset button.

Jumping into a hot shower on a cold winter morning is one of life’s pleasures. But what happens when the shower suddenly runs cold? You will need to know how to reset a water heater if you want to resolve the issue.

We explain what the electric water heater reset button does, how to reset it, and where you will find it on your water heater.


How the Reset Button Works

As water fills your hot water tank, the lower and upper elements kick in and warm the water. If there is a power overload or one of the elements is not working, the reset button trips and lights up. In most cases, it could be a simple breaker problem, and depressing the switch resets the system.

However, if the button keeps tripping, it could be a symptom of more significant problems.

It’s there as a safety mechanism to cut the power to the water heater. The last thing you would want is an electrical fire if one of the elements or the thermostat burns out.

Where Is the Reset Button on a Water Heater?

The button is typically located near the thermostat on the main control panel. You may need to remove a small cover to access the switch. You might have an additional thermostat reset button nearby.

To reactivate the water heater, press the button, and the system should be operational.

How to Reset a Water Heater

Knowing where the reset switch is located is one thing, but how do you reset a water heater? We show you how in easy-to-follow steps.

What You’ll Need

  • Screwdriver.
  • Gloves.
  • Flashlight.

1. Check the Breaker Board

You will find your breaker board in the garage, basement, or storage closet. Check to see if the switch has tripped. If it’s in the “off” position, switch it back on and see if the heater works.

If the reset switch triggers but the breaker is still on, other factors might be at play.

2. Locate the Reset Switch

Look for the thermostat panel, and you should see the reset switch. Some models like Honeywell and Rheem may have a protective cover concealing the button. Use the screwdriver to remove the screws on the protection panel (and the insulation) to locate the switch inside.

Light can be limited if your water heater is in the basement or crawl space. Use a flashlight to help you locate the switch.

Safety Note

Don safety gloves when handling fiberglass insulation because it irritates your skin.

3. Push the Button

Press the switch and hold it for 30 seconds before releasing. If it stays on, your heater is reset. If it trips straight away, you may have more serious problems and need to call a professional.

While the panel is off, check for a second thermostat and a second reset button. Press it in if it has tripped as well.

Take Note

You will have to wait for a couple of hours while your water heater returns to temperature.

4. Replace the Panel

Place the insulation back into the cavity and replace the protective panel. Screw it back in place, and you’re all set.

How Long for Water to Heat After Reset?

The time your hot water tank takes to reach the correct temperature varies between models and sizes. It will take longer for a 60-liter tank to heat than a 40-liter model. By contrast, tankless RV water heaters deliver almost instant hot water.

On average, it should only take a couple of hours for your water to heat after a restart but check with your manufacturer.

What Trips the Reset Button on a Water Heater?

There are several reasons why the reset button trips, but some are more common than others. Here’s a list of the usual suspects:

Faulty Thermostat

The thermostat controls the heating elements and tells them to shut off when the water reaches the correct temperature. If the thermostat is faulty, it can’t communicate properly, and the elements risk burning out.

As a fail-safe, the reset button triggers and shuts the system down so that the elements are protected, along with other components. Replacing a thermostat is relatively straightforward. You can access the screws via the panel behind the insulation.

Thermostats are also fairly inexpensive. This Reliance thermostat is a perfect choice and super affordable. However, you will spend considerably more if you have a gas water heater. This Rheem gas thermostat is a great product but several times the price of the Reliance model.

Burnt-Out Heating Element

If you have a burnt-out heating element, it could also mean your thermostat is faulty. The two are interconnected and communicate to ensure the water temperature is correct. If that connection is lost, the element will keep heating until it burns up.

Use a multimeter, like this AstroAI 2000, to check for an electrical current going to the element and thermostat. Once you’ve determined the issue, you can swap it for a new model. This Camco screw-in element is cheap and easy to buy online.

Faulty Reset Button

If your reset button is the problem, your water heater has no safety net should it overheat or develop other faults. Look at the breaker board to check if the reset switch is faulty. The switch may be faulty if the breaker is still on, but the system has tripped.

Faults may range from stuck switches that won’t push in to loose connections cutting power to the button. If the button doesn’t click when you press it, you may need to replace it.

The best way to deal with this issue is to call the pros. You can attempt to replace the switch yourself, and they are cheap to buy online. But only do this if you have some experience with water heaters.

This Bradford White switch is less than $20, and you can pick it up online or at hardware stores.

Loose Connection

Sometimes the problem is as simple as a loose wire. Check the connections on the thermostat, element, and reset switch before reaching for the phone. A multimeter is a great way to determine if the components have power.

Another way of checking for loose connections is to check the breaker board. If the breaker is on, it is likely a problem with a loose wire tripping the system. Tighten the connections and then push the reset button.

Take Note

Always turn off the power before tightening any loose wires or connections.

Corrosion of Internal Parts

Typically, the heating elements are the most likely to corrode, but in hard water areas, the thermostats and the inside of the water tank suffer too. Mineral deposits coat the components, baking on a hard shell.

The best way to avoid corrosion is to clean the water heater at least once a year, flushing out the accumulated limescale and debris.

When to Replace a Water Heater

The average water heater will last between eight and 12 years. That doesn’t mean you should swap it the minute it gets old, but it does lose efficiency with age.

Also, components like thermostats and heating elements have a finite life and start to fail. So, when you repair your water heater more frequently than before, it may be time to bite the bullet and get a new one.

FAQs

How Long Do You Hold the Reset Button on a Water Heater?

This will vary from model to model, so you should check your heater’s manual to find the exact length of time. Many buttons will make a click to let you know that you have pushed them properly.

It is unlikely to take particularly long; you shouldn’t need to hold the button for more than a minute without it showing any signs of life. If that occurs, the issue is unlikely to be something that can be fixed by the reset button alone.

How Do I Know if My Water Heater Is Working?

Even if your heater appears to be working, the only real way of testing it is to run some hot water. If you reset your heater after it has been inactive for a while, don’t expect to receive hot water immediately, especially if you have a tank heater.

For a tank gas heater, it can take about half an hour to heat the water fully. An electric tank might take twice as long as that. Be patient but if you still don’t feel any hot water when you run a tap, there might be another issue that needs addressing.

Do All Water Heaters Have a Reset Button?

All modern hot water heaters from major brands will have a reset button. It allows you to reset the boiler when an error or issue has tripped it off. It is possible that a temporary issue has tripped the unit off and it will be a simple case of pushing the button. However, if the heater refuses to restart after pushing it, there is likely another issue that needs to be dealt with before you can successfully restart the heater.

What is the Most Common Problem With Water Heaters?

Water leaks are the most common problem with water heaters. Over time, they corrode, and water starts to leak.

How Many Years Does a Water Heater Last?

You will get up to 12 years of reliable service from a gas heater and 10 to 15 years for an electric model. However, the lifespan of your water heater depends on how well you maintain it.

Can I Keep Pressing the Reset Button?

The only time you should press the reset button more than once is if the system keeps tripping. However, pressing the button multiple times indicates that you have a more serious problem. Maybe it’s time to call in the pros?

What Does the Reset Button Do on a Hot Water Heater?

The reset button on a water heater will forcefully shut down the device if it malfunctions. When the water within your water heater reaches a temperature that is higher than 180 degrees Fahrenheit, a safety device called a reset button will kick in and turn the power off for your safety.

Where Is the Reset Button on a Gas Water Heater?

A water heater reset button, which is typically colored red, can be found in the middle of the limit switch directly above the thermostat on the water heater.

If the water heater suffers from a problem that causes it to heat the water to unsafe levels, the limit switch on the water heater will turn off the electricity to the appliance. The fact that a reset button has become less robust over time is the most prevalent cause of its malfunctioning.

How Long Does It Take for Hot Water to Come Back?

For those who own a 40-gallon capacity water heater, it should take about 30 to 40 minutes to get hot water back. This amount of time may vary based on characteristics such as the type of water heater, its capacity, or the brand of the heater.


Keep it Safe

The reset button is there for safety reasons — to avoid boiling water or damage to the unit. Resetting is easy and can be done in a couple of minutes. However, if the button refuses to reset, call a professional as it could indicate a larger problem.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.