red glowing heating element curled inside a toaster oven

Heating Element

Originally contributed by Jeff Butler • last updated 12/16/2020

Heating elements may not seem like a hot topic but things can get pretty toasty when these little strips of wire get fired up. Having to replace a heating element, on the other hand, can take the steam right out of any hot shower.


The term heating element typically refers to a metal wire(s) or ribbon(s) of various thicknesses, often coiled or bent, that convert electrical energy into heat. They can be found in common appliances such as toasters, stove tops, dryers and inside water heaters. In some cases, such as with toasters, heating elements are visible and will often glow red and emit heat when turned on. In other cases, such as with water heaters, heating elements are hidden and/or can be covered by protective sheaths.

How To Know If A Heating Element Is Bad

Heating elements can be found in various appliances throughout the home. But, like most things, they don’t last forever and they may need to be replaced from time to time. Here are a couple of signs of a bad heating element:

  • Whether you’re dealing with a water heater, a stove top, an oven, or a dryer, if they are not producing enough heat, there may be a chance that there’s a problem with the heating element.
  • In most cases, there are some tests you can run with a voltage meter to see if your heating element is working properly. But, unless you’re an experienced DIYer, you may want to call a professional to diagnose any major heating element problems.