Safer to drain a tank to replace an element but I never have. A couple towels on the floor and unscrew the element. Just make sure you relieve the pressure by opening a faucet , then close the faucet. Just to make sure you don't have something leaking by that re-pressurizes the tank, open the faucet again. Close it again. As long as it is air locked, a minimum amount of water will come out of the element hole. You will have to be quick and ready with the new one. Make sure you have a new o-ring/gasket on the new one ready to go. .. OR just Drain it.
Your tank is air locking with all the taps closed. Turn cold water off to the tank, and open up a hot tap somewhere above it. It will still drain slow, but it will eventually.
or just disconnect the hot supply line to heater and let air in that way it is faster. you may have to change supply line though
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