Why Is My Hot Water Baseboard Heater Not Working?

There is nothing worse than a freezing winter day when your hot baseboard heater isn’t working. The good thing is that it’s an issue that you can troubleshoot and fix. Whether your baseboard heater needs a simple fix or it’s something complicated, we are here to guide you through it.

Why Is My Hot Water Baseboard Heater Not Working?

If your hot water baseboard heater isn’t working, it can be caused by various reasons. Common reasons include tripped circuit breaker, malfunctioning thermostat, or an overheating unit. If you reset the breaker, but it continues to trip, the heater may be overheating, usually caused by a lack of airflow around them.

How do Baseboard Heaters Work?

Heat rises, and your baseboard heater takes advantage of this fact. Snugly installed close to the floor below, your baseboard heater works much the same way that a toaster would. Using electricity heats the area around you using electrified metal fins, and the heat creates a convection current which cycles the cold air through the heater itself.

Unlike a ‘forced air’ system, baseboard heaters don’t have any blowers but function quietly due to a direct heating strategy that quickly and efficiently warms the air around you. While baseboard heaters are pretty efficient, they can run into issues from time to time, and we’ll detail these in the sections below. 

Common Problems with Baseboard Heaters

In this section, we’ll explore the most common problems experienced with baseboard heaters so that you can diagnose and, in some cases, even fix the issue yourself. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues encountered with these types of heaters.

1. Baseboard Heater’s is Instantly Tripping the Circuit Breaker

If your baseboard heater is instantly tripping your circuit breaker when you power it on, this is likely an electrical short in the system. This is one area where a professional is an excellent idea. While it could just be a matter of replacing a particular fuse, there is also a chance that you will need to reset the circuit breaker or even trace down some faulty wiring. 

You can perform an essential visual trace of the wiring by looking at the wires and how they connect to your electrical components. If you see evidence of staples crushing your wires in one or more areas, then these are all areas for potential shorts.

 Unless you are comfortable tracing these wires with a voltage meter to determine what needs to be replaced, then professional heating and air technician will be your best bet.

2. Baseboard Heater is Producing a Burning Odor

If your heater is producing an unpleasant burning odor, it might be the result of dust and debris collected on the vents. This generally comes from not cleaning the vents after winter or missing a few spots during the cleaning process. On rare occasions, insects or other pests have gotten into the vents, but cleaning is in order, whatever the case.

Turn off the heater and give it some time to completely cool before giving the vents a thorough cleaning with a damp cloth. While it is unlikely, burning debris in a baseboard heater can cause carbon monoxide to be produced, so make sure that you’ve got a detector nearby if you own a baseboard heater and that the battery is replaced yearly to keep it fresh and new.

3. Baseboard Heater is Working for 2 – Minutes before the Breaker Trips

If you turn on the baseboard heater and it seems to run for a few minutes, then it turns itself off, then it’s a problem with your electrical system, and you will likely need a professional to check it out. However, if you are comfortable checking the breaker system yourself, there are a few things to look for.

See if the circuit breaker feels hot and check the amperage. This should be labeled on the breaker, and it is typically going to be 20 to 30 watts. If the wattage is sufficient for the heater itself and the electrical outlets in the room, you will need to check the unit for loose connections, tighten any that you find, and see if this resolves the issue.

4. Electric Baseboard Heater Thermostat not Working

If you think that the thermostat is faulty, we will need to run a few tests. First, you’ll want to turn off the circuit breaker and remove the thermostat from your wall. Next, remove the wires connecting the thermostat to your control unit. You’ll need a multimeter to test resistance, and you’ll want to set the multimeter to read ohms.

Next, touch one lead wire while you are holding the other wire to the ground to check resistance. Do the same test for the terminals, and if any of the readings come back as ‘0’, you have found a short that needs to be repaired. 

5. Baseboard Heater has Power but No Heat

If your baseboard heater is on but doesn’t seem to be producing any heat, check the surrounding area to rule out any blockage. Look for drapes, furniture, or any other items blocking the vents and move them a little further away if you find any.

Next, check the thermostat to see that it is set to the proper temperature, and if it is, you’ll want to check the electrical system for shorts either yourself or with the assistance of a technician.

6. Baseboard Heater Turns on by Itself

This could indicate an issue with the thermostat or with the electrical system itself. If you are comfortable with it, test your thermostat with the steps we’ve previously listed to determine ohm resistance and look for any shorts in the thermostat itself. If you find one, the thermostat will need to be replaced. However, if not, then you’ll want to have a professional check your wiring.

7. Baseboard Heater only Works on High

If your baseboard heater is working, but only when it is at high settings, this is an issue with the thermostat. Your electrical system is essentially a series of ‘on and off settings. If the heater still functions, this indicates that the power is circulating but that the thermostat is not doing its job.

Replace the thermostat yourself if you are comfortable with this, or have a technician come in and do it for you. This is a quick repair, so you should be up and running in no time!

8. Baseboard Heater is Not Working in One Room

If your heater is not working in one specific room, the first thing to do is to check and ensure that no furniture or other items are blocking off the vents. Once you’ve ruled this out, check to see if the circuit breaker is hot. If so, then it could be a short in the system.

It is also possible that it is not receiving enough power, and you can check this by running an extension cord from an outlet in another room and plugging your heater into this. If it works fine with the other outlet, then you’ll need an electrician to check the outlets in that specific room.

9. Baseboard Heater Sparking

If your baseboard heater is sparking, then you’ve got a serious fire hazard on your hands. You’ll want to disconnect the heater immediately and contact a heating technician to diagnose the electrical system. Unfortunately, there is a loose connection in cases like this, or one of the screws inside may inadvertently touch a wire.

This can cause overheating and sparks and is something that you’ll want to deal with right away, as the potential for fire is too high a risk if you run the heater. If you remove the cover, you might be able to identify the short location, as likely there will be indications of heat damage, but this is not always a guarantee.

Have a technician take a look to get it properly traced down and eliminate the fire hazard as soon as possible, and do NOT run the heater until this has been tended to.

10. Baseboard Heater Never Switches Itself Off

If your baseboard heater is constantly running without switching itself off, this is a problem with the thermostat. You might be able to tap on it a few times to fix the contact issue with the wiring temporarily, but the shorted wire will need to be replaced by yourself or a technician if you are not comfortable with doing the wiring.

Final Words

Today we’ve explored the most common problems that you might encounter with your baseboard heater. If you did not see your problem listed here, then you may want to contact a professional to ensure that the wiring and other components are thoroughly tested in your baseboard heater.

Baseboard heaters tend to be pretty hardy, but they can experience issues from time to time. Due to the nature of their function, you don’t want to ignore any issues, as the potential for becoming a fire hazard is high when they are not running properly. When in doubt, always be sure to go with the pros!