House & Home

When Your Electric Baseboard/Wall Heater Needs Repair

Posted January 14, 2015

When it's winter and co-o-o-o-ld, the last thing you want is for your heating system to fail. Electrically powered baseboard/wall heaters are normally extremely efficient, converting nearly 100 percent of their energy to produce heat and warming only the parts of your house that you choose. Still, as with any household appliance, you will occasionally encounter problems. If your baseboard heater needs repair, there's a natural tendency to assume that an electrical issue is at fault. However, although this is the commonest reason, it is not always the case. Be an informed homeowner and learn the difference between a minor bug that can be taken care of with a simple DIY fix and one that will require a professional HVAC technician to repair your electric baseboard or wall heater for you.

Heater Doesn't Start

Electrical Repair Tip #1: make sure that the power to the appliance is on. Next, check to see if the thermostat is set higher than the current temperature in the room. After that, verify whether a ground-fault interrupter (GFI) or circuit breaker has been tripped or a fuse has blown. Otherwise, the trouble may be a short in the thermostat wiring. If none of these is at fault, there's most likely a problem with the heater itself, such as a burnt-out heating element, that will need repair by an expert.

Heater Is Not Warming Adequately

Since electricity is the most expensive way to heat your home, you are well advised to make sure that your electric heater is working at peak efficiency. If it's not warming your room adequately, there are a number of possibilities to investigate.

The heat flow may simply be physically blocked, which is easy to take care of. Just make sure that there is room for the warmed air to circulate and the unit is not obstructed by furniture or heavy curtains. Allow 12 inches of clearance at a minimum, both in front of and above the heater, as well as at least three-quarters of an inch underneath. Do not place any object on top of the unit. This is imperative, not only for air flow to permit the proper functioning of your heater, but also as a fire safety measure.

Other possibilities are that the heater does not have a high enough wattage for the size of your room (per square foot of space, 5-8 watts for a baseboard heater or 10 watts for a wall heater is recommended in a modern, energy-efficient home, and more in an older house) or that the room is inadequately insulated to prevent heat loss.

Finally, make sure that all rooms of your home are heated to some degree, even if they are unused. Cold air can seep into the room where you are operating your heater, lowering the ambient temperature.

There is a Smell of Burning

In general, electric baseboard heaters are a safe method of heating. There is no open flame or carbon monoxide emission to worry about. Nevertheless, they do require regular maintenance to prevent one type of fire hazard -- dust in the system. Dirt and hair can clog the heater's interior, especially if you live in an exceptionally dusty area or you have a pet that sheds. This debris might even ignite. Disconnect the electric power and allow the unit to cool down. Then use a vacuum cleaner equipped with a crevice tool to get all the dust out of the baseboard heater, working gently and carefully to avoid damage. For more information on maintenance of your electric baseboard or wall heater, read the manufacturer's instructions.

The Heater is Smoking!

Turn off the power supply to the heater immediately and call a technician. Your unit is overheating, probably due to an issue with its wiring or damage to one of the components.

Laura Firszt writes for

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