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How Does a Heating Element Work?

How Does a Heating Element Work?

One of the most influential inventions in modern heating and electricity is a heating element. For example, electric heaters, toasters, showers, dryers and more rely on heating elements. But, what is a heating element and how does a heating element work?

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What is a heating element?

A heating element converts electrical energy into heat through the process of resistive (otherwise known as Joule heating). The electric current passing through the element encounters resistance, which produces heat.

Typically, heating elements are made from a coil, ribbon or strip of wire that provides heat (like a lamp filament). Heating elements contain an electric current, which flows through the coil or ribbon or wire and becomes very hot. The element converts the electrical energy passing through it into heat, which spawns outward in every direction.

How does a heating element work?

Heating elements help convert electricity into heat. However, to understand how a heating element works, we must remember some basic electricity lessons.

First, conductors are good carriers of electricity. Conversely, insulators are bad carriers of electricity. Both conductors and insulators provide resistance to electric currents that flow through them, although in different amounts. Conductors offer a low resistance, while insulators offer a high level of resistance. So, electronic circuits include resistors, which control how much current flow. Finally, how does a heating element work?

“Resistors work by converting electrical energy to heat energy; in other words, they get hot when electricity flows through them. But it’s not just resistors that do this. Even a thin piece of wire will get hot if you force enough electricity through it. That’s the basic idea behind incandescent lamps (old-fashioned, bulb-shaped lights). Inside the glass bulb, there’s a very thin coil of wire called a filament. When enough electricity flows through it, it glows white hot, very brightly—so it’s really making light by making heat.”

As a result, heating elements provide a sturdy electrical component that produces heat when a large electric current flows through it.

Types of Heating Elements

Many appliances contain heating elements, which means there are multiple types of heating elements.

  • Metal Heating Elements

Metal heating elements generally are made from nichrome, which is composed of 80% nickel and 20% chromium. Nichrome 80/20 make great heating elements because the material yields a pretty high resistance.

Other types of metal heating elements include resistance wire, which are commonly used in things likes toasters, hair dryers, furnaces and floor heating. Additionally, etched foil, which is also made from similar substances as resistance wire and commonly used in precision heating applications.

  • PTC Heating Elements

PTC heating elements, which are made by conducting PTC rubber increase resistivity exponentially with increasing temperatures. These elements work with heaters that produce large amounts of power in the cold. As a result, these heat up quickly and maintain a constant temperature.

  • Composite Heating Elements

In composite heating elements, tubular or sheathed elements create a fine coil of nichrome resistant heating alloy wire. The composite heating elements can be incorporated into appliances, such as a toaster oven, as a straight rod. Conversely, composite elements can be bent and incorporated into appliances, such as electric stoves, ovens or coffee makers.

How to fix or repair heating elements?

Many heating elements contain their part number on the actual element. This helps identify the part, which aids in replacement. For example, knowing the exact part helps technicians address any issues with heating elements (in particular, in a furnace).

“The heating element’s part number is on the heating element. All furnaces list the model and serial number in a visible area to assist in finding replacement parts. If the furnace is installed by a service provider, the service provider also places a sticker with contact information on the outside of the furnace for assistance and repair services. If the number isn’t available, the furnace’s manufacturer, also labeled clearly on the outside of the furnace, will provide the correct heating element replacement part.”

However, DIYers should note that replacing heating elements requires an experienced HVAC contractor. Generally, the company that installed your furnace is best suited to repair, but any quality heating contractor has the knowledge to fix your heating element issues.

For any questions or help with your heating system or heating elements, SolvIt has the experience and staff to address any issues!