Electric Heater Not Working? Try These Fixes

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An electric heater is an important piece of equipment in your home, especially during the cold season. It provides enough heat for the family to keep warm. Unfortunately, your electric heater may malfunction because of several reasons. Most electric heaters are fitted with an automatic shut off mechanism that activates when your heater becomes very hot or tips over. Your electric heater may also fail to work if there is a problem with your wall’s electrical outlet.

To fix a faulty electric heater, you have to understand how it works. This will allow you to determine what usually happens when the heater breaks down, spot the fault, and the right tools you need for the job.

Understanding How an Electric Heater Work

Electric wall heaters are designed for heating rooms. There are two common types of electric heaters, that is the wall heater and the baseboard heater. The latter uses a thermostat to control it and has one or more heating elements lying horizontally within the heater.

They are installed on the base of a room wall. The baseboard heater pulls air in from its bottom and passes it through the horizontal heating elements where it is heated. The warm, light air rises in the room. The electric heating elements have a similar shape to metal fins. The fluid is added to some of these electric heating elements to optimize their heat retention capacity. In most cases, the more than one baseboard units are installed all around the house along the perimeter wall of the room.

On the other hand, an electric wall heater is a forced-air heating appliance installed into the wall. It uses a fan to distribute heated air all over the room. The electric wall heater has an electric heating element for warming air. The fan and rows of the much-needed heating elements within the electric wall heater unit are controlled using a thermostat. This device is mostly installed in laundry rooms, and bathrooms to supply additional heat to the room.

Other than the wall heater and the baseboard heater, there are other heater types, including a portable electric heater and ceramic heater. Space or portable electric heater is often used to warm small spaces. There are two types of portable electric heaters: convective heaters that use a fan to distribute air heated by one or more heating elements, and radiant heaters that distribute heat, obtained when electric elements heat fluid within the elements, across the room.

Ceramic heater (view on Amazon) is a form of convective heaters with a larger ceramic element that allows the electric heater to operate with relatively lower temperatures. This makes ceramic heaters safer than traditional convective heaters.

The electric heaters also contain control switches, motorized fans, thermostats, and elements. Portable heaters have safety features such as the tip-over switch, which turns it off when knocked over, and the thermal cutoff switches off an overheating heater. Some of these cutoffs automatically restore themselves while others have to be replaced when they trip.

How to Troubleshoot an Electric Heater

Now that you understand how an electric heater operates, it is time for you to learn how to troubleshoot a faulty electric heater. Follow these steps to learn how to restore your electric heater to its optimum performance.

1. Please switch off the electric heater and pull it from its power source, such as a socket. Inspect the fuse box of your house for any tripped circuit breakers and blown fuses. Where necessary, reset your circuit breakers or replace the fuse. Once everything is back to normal, plug your electric heater back in the power source and turn it on.

2. If your electric heater does not turn on after step one, reset its automatic switch-off feature by turning the power switch to the off position. Disconnect the heater by unplugging it from its power source and letting it sit for ten minutes. Connect it back to its power source and switch the electric heater back on.

3. If your heater does not turn on after resetting the automatic shutoff feature, turn it off and unplug it from its source of power. Examine the heater for possible internal or external obstructions that may inhibit the heater from powering. Fix the problem and plug the heater in its power source.

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4. Adjust your thermostat settings to a higher level as you closely observe the heater to ensure it stays on throughout the heating process.

5. Find a suitable location for your electric heater, especially in a place where the heater won’t be accidentally tipped or blocked or exposed to water.

Other than these, your heater may turn on without supplying enough heat to your room. Inspect the heating elements of your heater to ensure that they are glowing as expected. In a fan-operated heater, ensure that the fan operates well by testing it. Use a vacuum cleaner to suck all the dirt and debris on and around the fan.

Why Did My Electric Heater Stop Working?

1. The Circuit Breaker is Off

Your wall-mounted electric heater will not power up if the circuit breaker has tripped. Correct this by switching the heater off and turning the circuit breaker back on. Also, turn the heater on at its switch.

2. The Circuit Is Overloaded

If the circuit is overloaded, this can cause the electric heater not to turn on. You’ll know that the circuit is overloaded when it trips at regular intervals. This usually happens when the heater draws more current than it’s able to handle. If the heater circuit is also supplying power to other outlets, it could cause the circuit breaker to trip. If you want to use your electric wall heater, it needs to have its own dedicated circuit that powers nothing else in the house. This means that it won’t be able to draw more current than it’s able to handle. If the circuit itself has insufficient temperature and it’s trying to power a larger heater, this can cause an overload. If you can spot that your circuit is tripping regularly, then you need an electrician to take a look at what’s going on. In some cases, your need will need to be replaced with one that has a lower power demand.

3. The Circuit Breaker Is Defective

If the circuit breaker is defective, it won’t be able to power the heater which means it won’t be able to turn on. AFCI and GFCI circuit breakers can be sensitive so if your circuit breaker is defective, chances are it’s an AFCI or GFCI breaker. If your circuit breaker is defective (view on Amazon), you should replace it or get it replaced by an electrician.

4. Wires Are Short-Circuiting

A short-circuiting wire can cause your heater not to turn on. Short circuits happen when an electrical current flows outside its wire connections and finds a short circuit back to the ground. They’re usually accompanied by sparking or the smell of burning plastic and it could be to dangerous situations such as a shock or fire. If you reset your circuit breaker and you notice that it trips again straight after, you’re likely dealing with a short circuit. You can easily spot a short circuit just by the smell it gives off straight after and if you notice any smoking. They’re also an easy fix if they’re caused by simple lose wire connections but if they’re caused by the internal wirings of the heater, then you have a problem that your technical needs to handle.

5. Check the Circuit Breaker

If the circuit breaker is tripped, then you won’t be able to turn on your portable heater. You need to check your breaker panel for the outlet the heater is plugged into to check for any trips. If you can see that it’s tripped, then flip it off, then on to see if your portable heater turns on.

You need to check the circuit the heater is plugged into for any other large electrical loads. For example, your heater is plugged into the same circuit as your freezer. Has appliances that draw a large current can cause the circuit breaker to trip. If there isn’t anything else on the same circuit and the breaker is still tripping, then you’ll need to keep troubleshooting the issue.

6. Check the Power Outlet

If the breaker for the circuit that your heater is plugged into hasn’t tripped, then there’s a chance that the problem is with the power outlet. Check to see if other appliances work with the power outlet to make sure that it’s not the problem. If your home is too old, you should know that older homes sometimes won’t be able to supply enough amperage from the socket to fully power an electric space heater. You should plug your heater into an outlet that’s connected to another circuit breaker.

7. Check The Power Cord

A damaged power cord could stop power from getting to the heater since the current is unable to travel through the wires. If you can see that the cord is damaged, then this could be the reason why the space heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker. If the portable heater is off when you plug it in and the circuit breaker trips, then chances are the power cord is to blame.

When the cord is damaged or frayed, there’s a higher chance of sparking and smoking which would lead to an electrical fire happening in your home. You should be glad that the circuit breaker is tripping because if it doesn’t, it could cause havoc.

If you’re using an extension and it’s not the correct gauge, it could stop your heater from working. Space heaters require a lot of power so using the correct power cord gauge size for the length of the cord is important.

Extension Cord Wire Gauge Requirements for an Average Space Heater (120V, 1500W)
Extension Cord Length: Minimum Extension Cord Wire Gauge Size:
25′ 16 AWG
50′ 14 AWG
100′ 12 AWG
150′ 10 AWG
200’ 8 AWG
250’ 6 AWG
300’ 4 AWG

 

8. Check The Tip-Over Switch

If the tip-over switch on your heater hasn’t been activated, then it could stop your heater from working even when plugged in. The tip-over switch is a safety feature of your portable heater that automatically shuts off power to the space heater if it’s accidentally knocked over. Because contact with the heater can cause a fire, a feature that cuts off the power right away when tipped over is crucial for your safety. You should hear the tip-over switch click around as your portable heater is moved sideways. This will let you know that it’s on and working.

9. Check the High Limit Safety Switch

If your safety switch is activated, it could stop the space heater from working. This is a safety device that automatically shuts off power to the heater when it overheats. A situation where your space heater overheats could occur when it’s too close to another object or the room itself is too hot. Another situation would be the heater catching on fire – in this case, the high limit safety switch would trip and cut off power to the heater immediately. If the fan inside the heater stops working, it could cause the heater to overheat which would cause the high limit switch to trip. If the switch has been turned on, you need to reset it. Some heaters allow you to reset it while some automatically turn off when the heater is cool. You should look for a button on the back of the heater and press it to reset the switch and see if that fixes it.

10. Check The Thermostat for Proper Operation

If your space heater has a thermostat, check that it is set to the right temperature setting for the heater to turn on. If you want the heater to turn on, then you should turn the thermostat all the way up to the highest temperature.

A thermostat on your heater that doesn’t operate properly can stop it from working. You need to check that the thermostat is set to the right temperature for the heater to turn on. To make sure it turns on, turn the thermostat to the highest temperature.

If the thermostat has a dial or knob that needs to be turned, you should be able to hear the thermostat click whenever it turns past a certain temperature. This is a good indication that the thermostat is working properly.

11. Check The Thermal Fuse

The thermal fuse is a safety device that will shut off power to the space heater if it overheats. Its purpose is similar to the high-limit safety switch.

Similar to the high limit safety switch, the thermal fuse is a safety device that turns of power to your portable heater if it overheats. To find the thermal fuse which is quite tricky to find, the heater needs to be opened up – it can be hidden behind insulation or another component inside the heater.

To test if the thermal fuse is working properly, you can use a multimeter (view on Amazon) and check for continuity across the thermal fuses’ leads. If you read an open line (OL), then the thermal fuse has blown, and it needs to be replaced.

12. Check The Fan In The Space Heater

The fan in your portable heater allows the temperature to be regulated so that it doesn’t overheat and the high limit safety switch doesn’t turn on. The fan should be spinning without any noise but if you notice that it isn’t, your heater won’t be able to turn on until it does.

You can’t attend to the fan without disassembling the entire heater because of the way space heaters are installed. If you find that your heater isn’t working, you’ll need to disassemble the space heater and check what’s wrong. If you find that it’s broken, then you need to replace it.

13. Check the Heating Element

If the heating element isn’t working properly, then the space heater won’t work properly. The heating element converts electricity into heat. If it’s broken, the current won’t be able to turn into heat therefore the heater can’t turn on.

You can test the heating element by checking the resistance using a multimeter. If you’re getting a reading between 10 to 100 ohm, you should be good. Anything considerably outside of this means that the heating element is damaged and your heater won’t work.

How to Disassemble Different Types of Electric Heaters

Each heater has unique components and different approaches when repairing broken parts. Here is a step-by-step guide for disassembling the different types of electric heaters.

Radiant Electric Heater

  1. Disconnect the heater from its power source by unplugging it completely. Let it cool down for sometimes before you begin working on it.
  2. Access the wiring of the heater by unscrewing the control housing and lift it from the heater.
  3. Remove the thermostat by pulling the knob off. Remove all the electrical leads as you mark their position using tape. You might be forced to remove the retaining nut to pull away from the thermostat.
  4. Finally, you need to remove the power switch and label the leads as you disconnect. Some switches are held in place with top and bottom clips, while some are fastened using screws.

Convective Electric Heater

  1. Disconnect the electric heater and allow it to cool before you can begin working on it.
  2. Remove its control knobs and rear grille. Unscrew the front grille’s fasteners located at the back of the housing to remove the front grille.
  3. Lift the control housing as you pull the front grille in your direction to remove it from the unit. You should be able to see, test, and repair the heating elements, fan, and motor.
  4. Pull the thermostat away from the control housing as you disconnect wires. Unscrew the heat control mounting to gain access to wires that you need to disconnect.

Ceramic Electric Heater Element

  1. Examine the heater for hidden fasteners and screws as you remove them.
  2. Ensure every clip, fastener and screw have been removed to get access to the heating element.
  3. Use a multimeter with its settings on the RX1 scale to test each element. The multimeter (view on Amazon) reading should be 10 ohms. If the ceramic element shows a different reading, it isn’t very accurate and should be replaced.
  4. Disconnect the heater’s terminal leads from both sides and remove the ceramic element from its housing. Note the element’s exact position while you are at it for easier fixing of its replacement.

How to Repair a Wall Mounted Electric Heater

You will need the following pieces of equipment and materials for this task:

Tools Needed for the Repair of Electric Heater

· Adjustable pliers

· Multimeter

· Screwdrivers, and

· Long-nose pliers

Follow these steps to repair your wall mounted electric heaters:

1. Turn the Power Off. Go to your home’s electric service panel and switch off the circuit breaker, which controls your heater. If you have a 120V heater, you will be required to switch off the single-pole circuit breaker. However, if it is a 240V, you have to switch off the double-pole circuit breaker.

2. Clean and Remove the Grille. Use the shop vacuum to clean the slots. Remove the screws holding the grille to the heater box using a driver bit and cordless drill, and put them aside.

3. Examine Power Inside the Wall Heater. Test the voltage detector on a different and known live wire before using it to test inside of the wall heater. This test is for ensuring there is no power in the electric heater. Repeat this test on different locations within the heater.

4. Inspect the Condition of Pigtail Connections. The electrical cable supplying power to the heater joins another bunch of wires soldered onto the electrical heater. The two sets of wires are twisted or pigtailed and protected with plastic wire nuts. Check this connection for any abnormalities. If they are loose, you need to tighten them. You may have to rip the sheathing to reveal more wire before striping the wire casing back.

5. Inspect the Wire Casing for Nicks. The wire casing should not have nicks and cracks, which may cause short circuits. However, if you find any, wrap the minor nicks with electric tapes.

6. Clean the Heater’s Electric Coils. Attach a thin nozzle at the tip of the shop vacuum then use it to clean the heater’s electrical coils.

7. Inspect the Condition of Cleaned Coils. Inspect inside the heater to ensure all the debris has been sucked into the vacuum cleaner, and the coils are spotlessly clean. Any debris remaining in the coils may spark or smoke, which is not good for your indoor space.

8. Test the Blower for Free Rotation. Using the shop vacuum, carefully vacuum the fan. You need to be extremely cautious when doing this to avoid damaging or dislodging your blower’s fragile vanes. While doing this, you should observe the blower spinning freely.

Safety Considerations When Dealing With Wall Mounted Heaters

Wall-mounted electric heaters are wired in your home’s electrical system. It can use a maximum of 240 volts. This level of electricity is dangerous. Before you begin working on your electric heater, please turn it off at the circuit breaker. Use a voltage tester to confirm that there is no current flowing into the electric heater.

Troubleshooting an electric heater is not difficult. However, you have to observe safety measures to protect yourself against the dangers of high voltage electricity. Call a qualified electrician to help you troubleshoot and repair the electric heater if none of these solutions work.

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