Mystery of Oven Burnout: A Hillbilly Fix for Bake Element in a Basic GE Oven

I’ve replaced the bake heating element in my GE oven three times in the last 4 years. After the third replacement, I wondered if I ought to be looking for a new oven. The elements weren’t too expensive (maybe $20-40), and it was fairly easy to find a replacement, but the last burnout was spectacular and started a small fire in the oven. Plus, even an inexpensive element can become costly if you have to replace it over and over. I was beginning to lose confidence in one of my major kitchen appliances, and that just wouldn’t do!

Replacing the oven element was one of the few tasks I was able to cajole my husband into doing, and so he had handled the first two replacements, figuring out the extraction method by which the old burned out element is removed from the oven and setting me to the task of finding the new element.

Easy Visual Cues Make Replacement Simple

First, a note: I have a simple oven, no self-cleaning function, no sensors, nothing. It is probably about 16 or 17 years old. If you’ve got a fancy sensor and automation-heavy oven, you might have to call the experts on this one, depending on the complexity of the bake or broil element.

One trick I’ve learned from the frequent element burnout is this: you can shop for a new bake element by simply tracing the shape of the old element and measuring the space between the plugs at the back of the oven. This oven was fairly clean, but frequent use tends to obscure the model number, serial number and other information (even with a magnifying glass and Photoshop enhancements). Shopping by brand and shape is all I had left. I took a drawing of the old element to the local appliance repair shop, along with the brand name (GE), and I had a new element in no time. Even better is to extract the old element and take it in to the shop. If you’re shopping online, make sure the drawing includes dimensions, so you can compare.

There is a small metal panel at the back of the oven held by two solid screws. After unplugging the oven, one can simply remove the screws, take off the panel, and detach the leads of the element from the lead wires behind the panel. The element will then slide out. Replacement proceeds in reverse order. It’s that easy.

The Hot Spot Shows Flaw in Bake Element Seating

After the latest element went in, I began to notice something I hadn’t paid attention to before. Although the element was brand new, it already had a hot spot on it, an area at the back right that glowed more brightly than the rest of the element. What’s more, it was at the exact spot where the previous element had burned out (and the one before that to my memory). After examining the installed element, I finally figured out why all those elements had burned out so quickly. The hot spot coincided with where the element made contact with the oven floor. It wasn’t supposed to lie against the floor like that, but somehow it twisted to produce contact on the back right side. There were small metal spacer clips at the front part of the element to keep that part raised, but the back slumped, completely unsupported. I realized that this must have been what burned out the other elements.

There is a small chance that perhaps the thermostat was allowing the element to get too hot, which would, in theory, cause them to burn out prematurely. But after I saw the hot spot and remembered where the last elements had failed, the coincidence was too great and I decided it probably wasn’t a thermostat problem.

Makeshift Insulated Standoff Saves the Day, Sort Of

My solution was this: an extra spacer at that spot. My extra spacer was a small ceramic shelf, about 3 inches wide and of varying heights, on which the heating element would rest and be insulated from the metal oven floor. The metal standoffs that come with the element look to take advantage of a minimization of contact, while not really insulating all that much. The use of my ceramic standoff made the hot spot disappear, thankfully, so I have hopes this element will last longer than the last one did. I placed the ceramic piece in the oven perhaps 4 months ago.

This morning, as I opened the oven to take a picture of this element for this article, I noticed something amiss. The spacer had shifted, allowing the element to contact the oven floor once again, and the left side of the element now rested on the oven floor as well. No amount of adjustment of the single ceramic spacer would correct this, and so I did what any good hillbilly housewife would do. I wrapped the spacer in a dish towel and took a hammer to it, splitting it into 2 (actually more like 5 or 6) pieces. The most appropriately-shaped shards were then positioned on the back left and back right areas to lift the element completely off the oven floor. I turned on the oven bake function to verify no hotspots were present, and it looked good.

My conclusion? Makeshift corrections like the ceramic standoff will shift during regular oven use, i.e., when the door is opened, pans are slid in and out, jarring during the use of the stove on any given day, etc. Make sure the ceramic pieces are still doing the job you put them there to do. Or, if you’re smart, you’ll find a more permanent solution. But this will do in a pinch.

More DIY articles from this contributor:

Sadie fixes her leaky kitchen sink
Sadie diagnoses and fixes her Kenmore dryer

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