How an Electric Range Works

For household appliance troubleshooting and repair, it can help to understand how something works.  A general idea of the basic operation can help, you don’t have to have an in-depth knowledge of appliance repair! Narrow down the possibilities and give yourself a little more confidence, even if your range does need to be repaired, this will hiply better understand what you are looking at!

An electric range is very different from a gas range: it will never leak fuel or create carbon monoxide from burning fuel. An electric range instead uses an electrical supply – your home current, 220 volts – and converts it to heat. The greater the electrical flow generated, the more heat that results. Turning the knobs controlling your burners or oven works similar to a light dimmer switch, increasing or decreasing the flow of electrical current and thus the temperature of the element.

Starting with the stovetop, the control knob you turn to set the burner temperature is connected to a temperature control immediately inside the stove control panel, on the other side of the knob. Often this control is called an infinite switch. It regulates the electrical flow to the heating element.

  • The oldest electric ranges use a conventional coil heating element, known as a “resistive coil.” This is nothing more than an electrical wire encased in an insulating sheath. (This sheath is the reason you cannot electrocute yourself by touching the burner or the pan on top of it). You know this one by the appearance – flat black coils over rounded burner drip bowls that catch your drips and spills.
  • Almost as old is the glass-ceramic cooktop style. Here, the element produces heat that both conducts and radiates through the glass top to the cookware above. Sometimes these feature thermostats that control the elements, turning them off and on to provide a steady temperature rather than ever-increasing heat like conventional burners. Smooth-top stoves like these are easily recognizable – no burner juts up, and often the “burner” looks like it’s painted on.
  • Newer cooktop styles, such as the induction, halogen, or solid-disk cooktops (popularly referred to as “Euro-burners”) combine the same basic styles with new technology to produce more even heating, greater efficiency, increased ease of use and sleek styling. In some cases the burner element itself is easily changeable, but the process is slightly different from other cooktop styles. In addition, some feature thermal limiters or thermostats that regulate the burner system. Refer to your owner’s manual or a qualified technician for targeted information.

Moving to the oven, electric ranges typically feature two heating elements – one for baking, one for broiling. Both are controlled with an oven selector switch as well as a temperature control. A thermostat monitors and regulates oven temperatures, opening the circuit to break the flow of heat (electricity) and closing it when the temperature drops by more than 20 degrees. This thermostat is directly behind the oven temperature-setting knob with a thin copper tube that runs to the oven for temperature sensing.

Some ovens do have a clock, a timer, or controls for features such as self-cleaning or an interior light. Older clocks did used to be manually controlled, but many are now electronic and may replace the conventional thermostat system. Often referred to as electronic range controls or electronic oven controls, these need complete replacement when they fail.

Self-cleaning ovens use a timer to operate the cleaning, during which the oven heats to about 700 degrees. A latch engages during the process, preventing the door from opening until the cycle is done and the temperatures are at a safe level again.

A convection oven includes a fan to help circulate the heat. Sometimes the fan contains a heating element. Either way, the result is more efficient, even cooking.