Common Problems with Baseboard Heaters

Common Problems with Baseboard Heaters

A baseboard heater fits against the wall near the floor, providing heat from the ground up. They are easy to install and can accommodate any living space. Like any heating system, baseboard heaters run into problems from time to time. Use this guide to figure out why your baseboard heater might be having issues.

How Does an Electric Baseboard Heater Work?

An electric baseboard heater uses electricity to heat a space immediately as opposed to a forced-air system with a furnace. Baseboard heating can provide better air quality and is easier to install and maintain than forced-air systems.

An electric baseboard heater works kind of like a toaster. When an electric baseboard heater turns on, an electric current runs through metal fins inside the unit, heating the fins and the surrounding air. Cool air is pulled into the heater as the warm air rises, creating a convection current. Because a baseboard heater doesn’t blow air, it’s quieter and heats more evenly.

Most baseboard heaters are hardwired in, but some units plug into a standard outlet. Likewise, some heaters are wired into a wall-mounted thermostat, while others have their own thermostats on the face of the unit.

The 5 Most Common Electric Baseboard Heating Issues

If your baseboard heater isn’t working, you should check the circuit breaker, the thermostat and the heater itself. Call your local technician if there are any issues with the electrical components of your unit. In some cases, you may want to consider replacing your baseboard heater.

1. The Baseboard Heater’s Circuit Breaker Trips Instantly

You have a short somewhere in the system if your baseboard heater immediately trips the circuit breaker. You may be able to fix this issue by replacing the fuse in the breaker box. However, you might need to replace wiring or update the circuit breaker. Dealing with electrical components can be risky, so call a technician to inspect these parts of your unit.

If you choose to inspect your heater’s electrical components yourself, you first want to make sure the electricity is off. Turn the electricity off using the circuit breaker in the breaker box. Never assume that a blown fuse or a tripped circuit means there is no electric current.

  • How to inspect your electrical system: Inspect the baseboard heater’s electrical components, along with their wire connections. If you can, follow the wire from the electrical panel to the thermostat and the circuit breaker. If any staples crushed your wires, they could have compromised the wire’s insulation and caused it to overheat. A burnt wire terminal is evidence of a short.
  • How to prolong the life of your electrical system: Make sure the wires are intact and connected to the thermostat. Inspect your baseboard heaters at least once a year to prevent wear and tear damage.

2. The Baseboard Heater Works for a Couple of Minutes Before the Circuit Breaker Trips

If you replace your heater or circuit breaker, you need to adjust your electrical system. Call a technician to inspect your circuit breaker and thermostat.

  • How to inspect your circuit breaker: If your circuit breaker feels hot, check the label to find out the circuit breaker’s total amperage load. Most circuit breakers are either 20-amp or 30-amp for a baseboard heater, depending on the heater’s wattage. Your circuit breaker should have high enough amperage rating to handle the electrical load of the heater as well as anything else on the circuit, such as the room’s wall outlets. If the load rating is sufficient, inspect the system for loose connections. 
  • How to fix your circuit breaker: Turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker and wait for it to cool. Once the circuit breaker is cool, replace it with the size listed by the manufacturer.

If your baseboard heater runs for a while then shuts off without tripping the circuit, you may have a defective thermostat. Test it by setting a higher temperature. You will need to replace your thermostat if there are any problems with its wiring or function.

3. The Baseboard Heater Won’t Turn On

If your baseboard heater doesn’t produce heat, inspect the area around them. Make sure you don’t have any furniture or drapes blocking the vents. Check the thermostat to ensure the heat is on and set to the correct temperature.

If your baseboard heater doesn't produce heat
  • How to inspect your ineffective heater: Clear the vents from pieces of furniture or children’s toys. If your heater doesn’t produce heat after a couple of minutes, check the electrical system. Tripped breakers are a common problem with baseboard heaters. Inspect the valves inside the heater. Valves may corrode and stick together without proper lubrication, preventing heat from getting into the room.
  • How to fix the vents and prevent further damage: If an object blocked the vents, be more conscious about keeping objects away from the heater. If it’s an electrical issue, replace the fuse in the breaker box. You should also lubricate the valves into the baseboard heater to prevent corrosion.

4. The Baseboard Heater Won’t Turn Off

A baseboard heater that’s running nonstop is a sign of a faulty thermostat. A malfunctioning thermostat could increase your energy bills. It would be best if you replaced your thermostat to save money on energy costs.

  • How to inspect your thermostat: Make sure the thermostat is at the correct temperature. Lower the temperature and wait for the baseboard heater to turn off. If the heat persists, you might have a blocked contact in your thermostat.
  • How to fix a faulty thermostat: Tapping the thermostat may clear the blocked contact for a temporary fix. You will need to replace the thermostat to make sure the baseboard heater functions properly. Inspect your thermostat often to detect any damage before you have problems with your baseboard heater.

5. The Baseboard Heater Produces a Burning Odor While Running

As the baseboard heater produces heat, you might smell something burning. Often, the smell is from burning lubricant or dust that has collected on the vents. Improper cleaning of your baseboard heater can damage the heater. If it’s an issue with something burning, the baseboard heater could be sending harmful chemicals into the air.

  • How to check your baseboard heater: If you smell an unpleasant odor while your baseboard heater is running, turn off the heater. Wait for the heater to cool, then wipe the vents clean with a damp cloth. Turn the heater back on and call a technician if the smell persists.
  • How to prevent smells from a baseboard heater: Clean your heater after each use to prevent dust buildup. If the smell persists, you might need to replace it. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is functioning in your home. Carbon monoxide poisoning is unlikely if an electric heater is working properly. However, if a heater is burning chemicals or debris, it could produce carbon monoxide.