How to test a heating element with a multimeter?

If you have an electric oven or water heater and find that suddenly it is no longer producing heat, there are some really simple tests to check what may be causing it. If you are able to determine that it is the heating element, then you can easily replace this yourself without hiring expensive technicians to repair it for you. This is all using one of my favorite devices, a multimeter.

Below I’ll review with you what to check prior to testing the heating element, items you’ll need, safety guidelines, and how to test the heating element. Follow all the steps in the below order and if at any time you are in doubt, research additionally or contact a trained electrician for help.

Pre-checks

Water Heater: There are many signs that your water heater heating element may be broken, this could include water not getting hot at all, or it start warm for a few seconds and then it goes cold again. Both are signs that one or both of your heating elements could be broken (as most water heaters have two heating elements). If your water seems to be too hot to the point of boiling, then it means your thermostat is broken instead which you should then turn your water heater off.

Oven: If your oven does not seem to be heating enough or the broiler function isn’t working, open your oven and turn it on. Look to see which heating coil starts to light up (there should be one on the top and the bottom of the oven). This will tell you which one to check.

Before you start to check the heating element of either unit, start with checking the circuit breaker box located either inside or outside your home. Hopefully your box has been labeled so you’ll know which one to check. If the one for your oven is flipped, then it means the breaker just needs to be reset. Although if it happens multiple times then it’s a sign that there is something wrong with the equipment plugged into that outlet that is causing it to overload on power which you should consult an electrician for.

What you’ll need

Before you get started you’ll need the following items:

  • Digital Multimeter that can measure Resistance
  • Unplug your water heater or stove
  • Heavy electrician’s gloves
  • Heating element

warningWhen dealing with anything heat or electrical based, you want to be sure that it is completely turned off prior to starting to work on it. Turn of the appliance, unplug it from the power source or shut if off at the breaker panel. Best to do both if you’re nervous.

When handling the heating elements of either appliance, make sure they are not warm. If you just recently had it turned on, it’s best to wait 1-2 hour prior to handling it.

How to test the heating element

The heating element works similar to that of a lightbulb in that electricity flows through the element and the resistance in the material generates heat. Often times small cracks in the heating element can cause it to lose a proper path for the electricity to flow.

Once you have your heating element taken out of your appliance, you’re ready to test it (both ovens and water heater are similar in steps below).

Steps to test the heating element:

  1. You will be running a continuity test to see if electricity sent into one end of the element comes out properly at the other end.
  2. You can use an analog multimeter, but we suggest using a digital multimeter.
  3. Set the dial on your multimeter at the lowest ohms of resistance (ohms will have this symbol on it: Ω). Typically, this will be the 200ohms setting on your multimeter.
  4. Test your multimeter to ensure it’s working properly by touching both multimeter metal probes together (the black and the red probe). The multimeter should read at or near zero.
  5. Next, grab your heating element and take your probes from the multimeter and touch each of them to opposite sides of the heating element. There’s no need to worry which side you touch each probe to.
  6. Remember or write down your results from your multimeter.

How to understand the readings:

  • If the heating element has continuity then you will se records showing up on your screen. For ovens, you should get between 30-100 ohms. For a water heater you should get around 10-16 ohms.
  • If the multimeter shows 0 or no results, then it means there is no continuity and electricity cannot get from one end to the other end. This means the heating element will need to be replaced. Your water heater will show on the outside what type of heating element it will need. Check your user guide to determine what heating element your oven will need if it does not show you on the appliance.

What kind of multimeters work for this?

Innova 3320

There are many types of multimeters that will work perfectly well for this kind of test, but you should make sure to invest in one that will work well long-term and has a broad range of testing functionality available on it.

In general, the Fluke brand is the best on the market, but they are also the most expensive. You can try out any of the following multimeters which can test for continuity:

As always, as I discover more DIY home tasks that you can use your multimeter for in testing different objects and appliances with I’ll be sure to share it with you. The multimeter definitely is one of the most comprehensive and flexible devices to keep around the house no matter what your skill level is.

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