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What is a Heating Element?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A heating element is an element in an electrical device which converts electricity into heat. Heating elements are used in things like heaters, hair dryers, stoves, dish washers, ovens, coffee makers, toasters, and all sorts of other devices which generate heat to function.

Heating elements consist of coils of wire, which may be wrapped in insulating materials or protective materials, depending on where they are used. When electricity passes through the wire, it encounters resistance, thus generating heat. The amount of heat generated can be adjusted by varying the amount of current passed through the wire, which may be done with an automatic thermostat or with manual settings operated by the user, as when someone turns the stove on high to boil water, or keeps it on a low heat setting to make a delicate sauce.

Heating elements commonly burn out over time. For this reason, they are often designed in an accessible way so that it is easy to pull out a faulty heat element and replace it with a new one. Since replacements can sometimes be expensive, it is advisable to conduct some tests to confirm that the heating element is the problem; for example, heat may not be generated because no electricity is reaching the element, which may be because a fuse has blown, because there is a problem with the wiring, or for other reasons.

Heating elements are capable of getting quite hot. They are made from metal alloys which are well suited to use as heating elements in part because they can withstand multiple heating and cooling cycles. In environments which get wet, the heating element may be hidden behind a barrier for safety. The barrier will disperse the heat without allowing water to come into direct contact with the element.

While replacing heating elements is usually relatively easy, it can be a good idea to consult an electrician for assistance. If the failure of a heating element is accompanied with burning smells, popping sounds, electrical arcs, or other fireworks, so to speak, it may indicate that there is a problem with the electrical system in the device and it may be unsafe. Likewise, if heating elements keep burning out, it indicates an underlying electrical problem. An electrician can evaluate the device and the heating element to confirm that the element is the problem and to identify any safety problems which need to be addressed before replacing the element.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Jun 23, 2011

If you have one of those water heating jugs with a heating element inside you should replace it every now and then, rather than replace parts as they break.

Unfortunately, most of these jugs are impossible to clean properly as the residue from steam gets stuck on the inside of the jug over the years.

I hate to tell people to throw something out, but most of the time it's just not worth trying to get off the residue.

By irontoenail — On Jun 21, 2011

I guess the trend of modern electric stoves to have completely flat surfaces might work against convenience if the heating elements burn out.

My friend has a stove that is quite modern, and runs when you press commands on a screen with digital readings.

It is completely flat without exposed elements, although I assume they are just underneath the glass.

It is really easy to clean (which is good, because he is a messy cook!) but if something went wrong with it he would absolutely have to call an electrician, and probably a specialist for that kind of oven.

While mine is an old gas oven that produces what is essentially an open flame under a grill. More difficult to clean, much easier to fix when something goes wrong.

It makes for delicious desserts too.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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