Learn how your appliance is supposed to operate so you can determine if it is malfunctioning.
The most common type of electric range element is basically just a resistance wire suspended in insulating material inside of a hard metal alloy bent into various shapes. When power is applied to it, the resistance wire generates heat which is conducted to the element's outer sheath where it can be absorbed by the cooking utensil through conduction (ie. direct contact) or heat the air inside an oven cavity.
A radiant element like used on modern smooth top ranges works slightly differently. They consist of an alloy coil or ribbon filament suspended on an insulating material. When power is applied to the filament, it glows red and radiates heat (via infrared light) through the glass top to the cooking utensil above. A built-in limit switch will interrupt power to the element should an overheat condition occur. That limit switch will often also turn on an indicator light warning the user the glass top may be hot.
Power to the surface elements is cycled on and off by the element control switch that is mounted behind the control knob on the control console. On the different settings the power is cycled more or less frequently depending on the setting. Although power is engaged and disengaged from the element, a conventional element will maintain heat between the cycles so the off period is not noticed. On newer glass-top range models with radiant elements, this cycling of power is noticeable as an on/off glow of the element filament from beneath the glass range top.
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