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.