Every year, some 5,000 people are scalded by hot tap water. Most of these accidents involve the elderly and children under the age of five. Just two seconds of exposure to water that’s heated to 150 F will cause a third-degree burn — the most serious type — in most adults. If water is heated to 140 F, that serious burn can occur in just six seconds. But if water is kept at 120 F, it takes five minutes of exposure to develop a serious burn.
Very few of us need to set our water heater temperature to more than 120 F. Setting your water heater temperature higher than 120 F is just an invitation for a serious accident.
So, check the temperature setting on your electric water heater. If it’s higher than 120 F, you’ll want to reduce the setting. Don’t use hot water for two hours before resetting your thermostat.
Start by shutting off current to the water heater, then turn off the circuit breaker to the heater or remove the fuse that serves the heater. Most electric water heaters have two thermostats; you must set both to the same temperature for proper operation. To reach these thermostats, remove the upper and lower access panels. Adjust the thermostat following the instructions provided with the water heater. Hold a candy or meat thermometer under the faucet to check the water temperature.
If you’re not sure how to adjust your electric water heater, call your electric co-op for help. If you have a gas water heater, call your gas company for information.