Keeping Your Home Cool during the Sweltering, Summer Months

How To Troubleshoot Baseboard Heaters

by Anthony Graves

A baseboard heater makes an inexpensive alternative to furnaces. Baseboard heating vents heat cooler air by passing it through the heated pipes.

Like any other system, they need maintenance, and they can fail to work for many reasons. You should be able to diagnose and fix simple issues without calling a repair service. This guide will help you troubleshoot some common baseboard heater problems.

Adjust Thermostat

If the unit isn't heating or not starting, check the thermostat settings. Raise the thermostat to a higher temperature in intervals until it starts. 

Switch the thermostat to the lowest setting, and check for a tripped breaker. Reset the breaker, and get someone to raise the thermostat. If raising the thermostat immediately trips the breaker, it means the thermostat has a short, and it needs replacing. 

Inspect the wiring to make certain it is connected correctly, and look for frayed or burned wires. Staples should fit snugly on the sheathing, not mash it.

Test the Thermostat

Proceed to test with a multimeter to further test the thermostat. Shut off the breaker that controls the heater, and disconnect the thermostat screws with a screwdriver.

Disconnect the wires, touch one probe to the green or copper ground wire, and a probe to the other wires. A "0" reading indicates the thermostat needs replacing. Consider installing an automatic external thermostat, instead of using the built in thermostat, which isn't always accurate.

Test the Circuit Breaker

Test the circuit breaker that controls the unit. Change the multimeter to VAC, and touch a probe to each wire of the circuit.

On a single breaker, you only need to touch one wire, then the ground buss wire. A single-pole breaker should  get a 120v reading, and double-pole should get a 240v reading. Replace double-pole breakers that read 120v or single pole breakers that read 0.

Remove Burn Smells

Sometimes, you may notice a burn smell that comes from the lubricant being burned by the valve. Let the unit run for twenty minutes to remove the residue, let the unit cool, then clean the grille with a damp cloth. The dirt on grilles is a common source of burn smells. If the smell persists for more than hour, or still smells after you clean the grille, get the heater serviced.

Check for Blocked Heat

Move furniture and other items that may be blocking vents and nothing is wedged behind the unit. Keep several inches of space in front the unit, and ensure curtains stay out of the way. Check for stuck or rusted valves in the heater that can block heat, and lubricate them.