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How Electric Range Surface Elements Work

Cook’n with Current

Electrical Supply | Temperature Wave | Temperature Problems | Oven Element
Coil Burners | Glass Tops

In this article I will outline the mechanical and electrical components used by your electric stove top to create and maintain the correct amount of heat, required to impress your better half with a candle light dinner.  I will also describe some of the problems that can turn your culinary masterpiece into a hungry man microwave dinner for two.

Cooking appliances come in two main flavors, Electric and Gas.  In this section I will primarily be discussing 240VAC Electric cooking appliances, for a closer look at the gas variety check out “Cook’n With Gas”.

Coil Burners

A stoves surface burners are often made of the same kind of heating element found inside the oven but formed into a circular coil to create more contact area for effective heat transfer to your pots and pans. The burners receive electrical supply from a variable switch that your burner knob is attached to.  As you adjust the knob’s temperature setting the coil burner creates more or less heat.
Test: Surface elements can be unplugged from the burner block and tested for resistance with a voltmeter; the burner should show some resistance but never be open.  If the burner tests okay you can also check for 240 Volts AC from the burner block where the burner plugs in. Sometimes corrosion in the burner’s contacts can cause a poor electrical connection between the bock and the burner.
Note: Use extreme caution when testing energized circuits getting electrocuted is obviously not fun! You should not perform voltage tests unless you are comfortable with such procedures.
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Electric Range Surface Element Repair

Glass Tops

Glass cooktops use a burner very similar to the coil burner, except in this case the burner is a very thin ribbon element that is embedded into an insulation material and installed under a ceramic glass surface. This style of burner has a thermostat suspended over the burner, under the glass that will cycle the burner on and off to maintain a temperature set at the burner control knob.
Main Benefits: Glass cooktops are obviously much easier to keep clean that the open coil burner style and are also faster heat up and cool down.
Main Disadvantages: The ceramic glass cooktop is very expensive to replace if it is broken, and also replacement of a malfunctioning ribbon element is slightly more difficult than the replacement of an open coil element.
Test: a ribbon element can be tested for resistance in the same way as the coil element.  However the burner’s contacts are located under the stove’s glass-cooking surface.  Use extreme caution if you are attempting to test this style of burner.  As I mentioned before if the cooktop glass is broken it is very expensive to replace.  Sometimes this repair is worth having a technician’s expertise, also if the top breaks you didn’t do it.
Tip: Don’t store objects that could fall and break your glass top in the cabinet above the stove.

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