Electric space heaters are a great way to keep your home warm and cozy. But what do you do if yours stops working? Is it making a weird noise, or is the fan just spinning and not heating up? What if it doesn’t power on at all?
In this article, I’ll go over the steps that you should follow to troubleshoot your electric space heater. I’ll also cover some helpful space heater maintenance tips so you can keep your heater running in top shape.
How to troubleshoot your electric space heater
If your space heater goes bad, there are a few steps that you can take to check its operation.
Many times there will be a power issue with the space heater. So it’s important to check the power source to the space heater—from the circuit breaker, to the outlet, to the power cable.
If the power to the space heater is good, then you’ll need to check a few things inside the space heater to see what’s wrong.
To troubleshoot your space heater, check the things below:
Check the circuit breaker
Check your breaker panel to see if the breaker for the outlet that your heater is plugged into is tripped.
If the circuit breaker is tripped, flip it back off, and then back on and see if your space heater kicks on.
If the circuit breaker trips when your space heater turns on, then you need to check if there are any other large electrical loads on the same circuit. For example, if you have a refrigerator on the same circuit as your space heater that could cause the circuit breaker to trip.
If there are no other loads on the same circuit and the circuit breaker is still tripping, then there’s another issue. Read further to keep troubleshooting.
Check the power outlet
If your electric space heater is plugged in and the breaker is not tripped, then it’s possible that there is a problem with the power outlet that the heater is plugged into.
Try plugging in a lamp or other appliance to check if there is power to the outlet.
It’s also worth noting that older homes might not be able to supply enough amperage coming out of an electrical socket to fully power an electric space heater. Your best bet would be to plug your space heater into an outlet that’s connected to another circuit breaker.
Check the power cord
Take a look at the power cord on the space heater. Does it look damaged?
If so, that could be the reason that your space heater is tripping the circuit breaker in your home. If the space heater is turned off when you plug it in and the circuit breaker trips, then there’s a good chance that a damaged power cord is to blame.
When a space heater’s power cord is damaged or frayed, there is an increased risk of electrical fires occurring in your home when using the space heater. So it’s actually a good thing that the circuit breaker is tripping—it’s keeping you safe.
If you’re using an extension cord with your space heater, be sure it’s the correct gauge. Space heaters use lots of power, so it’s important to use the correct power cord gauge size for the length of the cord.
Extension Cord Wire Gauge Requirements for a Typical 120V, 1500W Space Heater
Extension Cord Length:
Minimum Extension Cord Wire Gauge Size:
Check the tip-over switch
If you find your space heater is plugged in but still not working, make sure the tip-over switch on it has not been activated.
The tip-over switch is an important safety feature of the unit that will automatically shut off power to the space heater if it’s accidentally knocked over.
This will help prevent electrical fires by cutting off power to the unit right away when tipped over.
You should be able to hear the tip-over switch click around as you move the space heater sideways. That’s an indication that it’s working.
Check the high limit safety switch
If your space heater stops working, there is a possibility that the high limit safety switch has been activated. The high limit safety switch is a safety device on many space heaters that automatically shuts off power to the heater when it overheats.
Why would a space heater overheat? One example is if the heater catches on fire—the high limit safety switch would trip and shut off power to the heater. Another example is if the heater’s fan stops working—the heater would overheat and the high limit switch would trip.
Some space heaters have a high limit safety switch that is resettable. Look for a button on the back of the heater and press it to reset the switch and see if that fixes it.
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.
If the thermostat is a mechanical thermostat (usually a knob or dial), then you should be able to hear the thermostat click whenever you turn it past a certain temperature. That is a good indication that the thermostat is working properly.
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.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to open up your space heater to find the thermal fuse. And the thermal fuse is usually tough to find—it can be hidden behind insulation or another component inside the heater.
To test the thermal fuse, you’ll need a multimeter. Check for continuity across the leads on the thermal fuse. If you read an open line (OL), then the thermal fuse has blown, and it needs to be replaced before the space heater will work again.
Check the fan in the space heater
If your space heater has a fan, make sure the fan is working properly. The fan should be spinning without any audible noise. And if the fan is not spinning, then that’s probably why the space heater is not working.
The fan on a space heater is usually installed in such a way that it can’t be removed without disassembling the entire unit. So if you find your fan isn’t working, then there’s no easy fix for this problem—you’ll need to open up the space heater and see what’s wrong with the fan (or replace it).
Check the heating element
If your space heater is still not working, you should check the heating element for proper operation. The heating element is a part that converts electricity to heat. If the heating element isn’t working, then the space heater will not work properly.
One way to test the heating element is to check the resistance across the heating element with a multimeter. You should read somewhere around 10-100 ohms across the heating element.
If there is an open line (OL) across the leads on the heating element, then it needs to be replaced before your space heater will work again.
How to clean your electric space heater
If your space heater is dirty, then it will not only affect its performance—it’s also a safety hazard.
Dust buildup inside your space heater is dangerous because dust can catch on fire. So it’s important to remove excess dust from the inside of your space heater.
To clean your electric space heater, follow these steps:
- Turn off the heater and unplug it from the outlet. If the space heater was just running, give it some time to cool down completely.
- Clean excess dust from the outside of the heater. Use a cloth to wipe down the case of the heater.
- Take apart the space heater. On most space heaters, you just need to remove a few screws to take the heater apart.
- Clean the fan blades. Wipe down the fan blades with a cloth to remove any dust build-up.
- Clean the fan motor. Dust can get embedded inside the fan motor so it’s best to use a vacuum to suck the dust out.
- Clean the heating element. The heating element is somewhat delicate so you should use a vacuum to suck the dust out of the heating element. Alternatively, you can use a can of air duster to blow the dust out of the heating element.
- Clean the case. Use a vacuum hose with the brush attachment to clean the vents on the space heater’s case.
- Put the heater back together. After everything is cleaned and all dust removed, put the heater back together, plug it in, and turn it on. Enjoy your clean heater!