electric garage heater troubleshooting
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Electric Garage Heater Troubleshooting & How to Guide

Electric heaters are an excellent way to keep your home warm during winter. If you spend a lot of time working in the garage, you should consider buying one to keep the room at a comfortable temperature. There are several electric heater models in the market today, and it is crucial to ensure that you pick one that works for your garage.

It is essential to consider the heater type, capacity, and energy efficiency. Make sure that you ask about its safety features and think about your budget. It is also essential to consider the cost of running the heater.

It is advisable to learn about the installation and maintenance of electric heaters before you buy one. That will ensure that you can provide good maintenance, which will enhance longevity and performance. If you are purchasing an electric heater for your garage, here is a comprehensive guide to use, care and troubleshoot your electric garage heater.

How an electric heater works

An electric heater comes with a heating element that produces heat energy when an electric current passes through it. It also has a fan that blows air over the heating element and then distributes it around the room. If your garage is well insulated, an electric heater can keep it comfortably warm. The space will remain warm, even after you turn off the heater.

Many electric heater models are portable, and you can plug them into one of the outlets in your rooms. A portable electric heater is an excellent choice for your garage as you only have to turn it on when you are planning to use the garage for a long time. Secondly, with good insulation, you can put it on for a short time then turn it off when the room is comfortably warm.  

How to install and use a garage heater.

There are several models of garage heaters in the market today. As mentioned above, you need to take your time to find the right one.  To install it, you will need to check its voltage to ensure that you have compatible outlets. A 110/120-volt heater uses your standard outlets. On the other hand, if you purchase a 240-volt heater, you will need a 240-volt outlet to use it. If you have the right outlets, plug your heater in and then switch it on. It should work well.

Wiring a Garage Heater

You can also choose to wire a garage heater to your electrical system. Make sure that you have a suitable electrical system for the heater you choose. To wire your electric garage heater, follow these steps.

  • Take time to inspect your garage and choose the best spot for the heater and thermostat on the wall. Push hanger wire through the ceiling drywall above the selected thermostat and heater location.
  • Go into your attic and look for the wire; you will need to push aside your insulation to do that. Now, drill a ¾ inch hole at the thermostat and heater locations.
  • Using a stud finder, find the wall studs, then make a hole the same size as the heater can. Use screws and glue to attach a 12 inch, 2×4 block to the drywall on the other side of the opening. Ensure that you cut a small hole first to check for electric wires before cutting a bigger hole.
  • Tape a piece of weighted string to the electric cable and drop it into the hole you made in the attic, and push in 7 ft of cable. Downstairs, pull the string and power cable through and ensure 2ft of line hangs out of the hole you cut for the heater in your wall. Bear in mind that every house is unique, so make sure that you measure the route of the new circuit to decide the length of wire you need.
  • Place the thermostat for your garage heater away from the heater’s hot air. For instance, consider placing it about a foot above a light switch.
  • Install a half an inch cable clamp after removing one knockout from the heater can. Remove 12 inches of the cable sheath and push it through the cable clamp into the heater can until you have an inch of cable sheath in it. Install the heater can in the hole you made for it and screw it in place.
  • Strip ⅝ inch of the wire insulation from the wires end and connect the black wires to the heater’s black cables and the white ones to the heaters’ white wires. After that, join the brown ground lines to your heater’s green ground wire.
  • Look over the wires, and if they are correctly installed, push the heater into the can and fasten it in place. Put in the cover grille.
  • Run your power cables to the electric heater thermostat and the main panels.
  • Using a drywall saw, make a hole for a remodeling switch boxing your wall. Tape the heater cable and the one that goes to the main panel together. Having drilled a ¾ inch hole in your attic over the thermostat position, use it to feed 5 feet of cable to the switch box hole. Go down and pull it through. You can use a helper to assist you by pulling the line while you push it.
  • It is advisable to use a remodeling switch box for the heater thermostat. Remove the tape and strip the cables, then push them through the bottom cable clamping slots. Fit the box to the wall and screw the supports to the wall tightly.
  • Connect the wires that go to the main panel to the thermostat’s line wires and the two wires from the heater to the load wires on the thermostat. Join the ground wires and then fold them into the box and slide the thermostat in place. Make sure you use tape to cover any naked wires.
  • At the main breaker panel, make a horizontal slot in the drywall and use a hammer to locate the studs. Mark out a straight line and use a utility knife to cut through the drywall. You will need to cut repeatedly to get through. Remove the drywall at the ceiling joint too.
  • Make a hole in the ceiling and expose the electric cables and top plate. Pull the new wires through the hole until they hang to the floor. Hook up the wire to the service panel. Consider creating a dedicated circuit for your electric heater to ensure it does not trip the circuit. You can also choose to hire an electrician to inspect the work and help you with the last part.

Electric garage heater maintenance tips

Here are essential electric garage heater maintenance tips.

  • Switch off power at the main breaker panel before you start cleaning your electric heater. If your heater is portable, make sure that you unplug it first.
  • Use a dry duster to clean all visible areas on your electric heater. In the summer or when the heater has not been used for a long time, you can wipe it using a damp cloth.
  • Do not use abrasives or polishes to clean your heater, as they can damage the surface of your appliance.
  • When not in use, for instance, during summer, disconnect your heater from the power supply, and cover it with a dust cloth then store it in a cool, dry place.
  • It is advisable to contact an electrician to inspect your heater every 12 months.

Troubleshooting your electric garage heater

Why is my electric garage heater not working?

Sometimes you may notice that your garage heater has stopped working suddenly. There are several reasons why that happens, and they include the following.

Power supply problems

If you have a problem with the power supply, your heater will not work. Check that your outlet is getting power from the power mains in your home. Then check whether the outlet is working correctly. You can do that by plugging in another device to see whether it works. If it does not, then you need to repair your socket.

Blown fuse

Another reason your electric garage heater may stop working is a blown fuse. To check for a blown fuse, follow these steps.

  • Unplug your electric heater and check for tripped breakers or blown fuses.  
  • If you have blown fuses or tripped breakers, reset the circuit breakers or replace the fuse.
  • Plugin your heater and turn it on.

Safety shut off

Several electric heaters have an auto safety shut-off that comes on when the heater gets too hot. If your heater suddenly stopped working, this feature could have turned it off for your safety.

  • To get your heater working again, all you have to do is reset this feature using the on/off button to switch off the heater.
  • Unplug it and allow it to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Plug it in again, and it should work normally.

Thermostat settings

If your thermostat is faulty, loose, or stuck, your heater may stop working. You can follow these steps to troubleshoot the thermostat.

  • Check the thermostat settings or whether it is off. If it is off or at a low temperature, turning it on or setting a high temperature will resolve the issue.
  • If your thermostat is faulty or damaged, you will need to buy a new one and replace it.

Electric cord problems

If your cord is damaged or faulty, your electric heater will not work. Make sure that you check the power cord for breaks or tears and replace it.

Heating Element problems

If your heating element is damaged or faulty, your electric heater will not work correctly. To check your heating element, follow these easy steps.

  • Turn off and unplug your heater or switch off the power at the main power supply.
  • Disassemble the electric heater to ensure you can see and reach the heating element.
  • Set the multimeter to Rx1 (resistance times1)
  • Touch the multimeter probes to the ends of the heating element.
  • If it has high resistance, that means the heating element is working. An infinity reading is a sign that you have a problem with your heating element.
  • You can replace it but make sure the replacement you purchase has the same power rating, shape, make, size, and resistance as the old one.

Why isn’t the fan on my garage electric heater running?

If you notice that your fan does not work when you switch on your heater, ensure that there is nothing inside obstructing it. If something is, remove it, wipe the fans with a dry cloth, reassemble it and then turn it on again. The problem could also be due to a burned-out fan motor. You can check the fan motor using an ohmmeter. If there is a current reaching it, but it still does not work,  you should replace it.

The fan on my electric heater works, but there is no heat (blows cold air)

If your fan works but only blows out cold air, it could be due to any of the following reasons.

  • The fan is on, and the thermostat is set to a very low temperature. You can fix that by adjusting the temperature on your electric heater.
  • If the electric heater is off, but the fan is still dispersing air, it will blow cold air.
  • The heating element may not be working, or its wires may be loose. If the heating element is damaged, you will need to replace it.

How to replace the heating element in your heater

If you suspect that your heating element is defective, you can check it using a multimeter as mentioned above. Remember, readings of infinite resistance mean that your heating element is faulty. Follow these steps to replace a defective heating element.

  • Disassemble the electric heater to access the heating element.
  • Carefully disengage the heating element and attach a new one. Ensure that the one you buy is an exact match for the old one.
  • Reassemble the electric heater, switch on the power, plug it in, and test it. It should work normally.

My heater turns on and off rapidly.

If your heater keeps turning off, it could be that your thermostat setting is not high enough. Your heater could also be overheating and require resetting or has a tip-over safety feature. If you do not have a level floor, your heater may keep falling over and turning off.

The most common cause of this problem, however, is a dirty filter. Dirty filters are usually clogged with dust particles and lint and obstruct airflow. A dirty and clogged filter will make your heater turn on and off. Follow these steps to clean your filter.

  • Please turn off your heater, switch off the power and unplug it. It may be necessary to let it cool for a few minutes if it has been running for some time.
  • Remove the air filter. Some heaters have a button you can press to release the air filter, and with others, you may need to disassemble them to reach the air filter.
  • Hold the filter under warm tap water with the back facing up. Ensure that it is clean before you turn off the water. You can also choose to soak it in warm soapy water but ensure you rinse it properly afterward.
  • Shake the filter and place it on a piece of cloth to dry naturally.
  • Replace the filter and plugin your heater to ensure that it works.

Why is my electric garage heater producing a burning smell

There are two leading causes of a burning smell from your heater; clogged air filter or proximity to objects in the garage. That said, there are several types of burning smells that can come from your electric garage heater.

  • A burning dust smell is a sign that dust has settled on your heating element, but this smell goes away after a short time.
  • An electric burning smell could be a sign of a problem with your motor. Turn the heater off immediately as using a heater with a damaged motor presents a safety hazard.
  • If you smell rubber or burning plastic from your heater, it could be a sign that something is lodged inside it. Make sure that you turn off your heater immediately when you notice the smell of rubber from your electric heater.

It is advisable to have an electrician check your heater and other devices once a year. Ensure that you clean your air filters before using your electric heater if it has been in storage for a long time. You can use a dry cloth to wipe the inside and ensure that the electric garage heater is clean.

My electric garage heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker.

If your electric garage heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker, that is a sign of an electrical overload. Remember, your circuit breaker is supposed to protect your home from the damage that may occur during an overload. When the power demand of the devices on a regular circuit exceeds what it can handle, the breaker shuts it down. Since an electrical heater uses up a lot of power, it is advisable to have a dedicated circuit for your space heater if it keeps tripping the circuit breaker.

Check this too: Xtreme Garage Door Opener Troubleshooting & How-to Guide

How to clean electric garage heater safely

For your garage heater to work correctly, you should ensure that you clean it correctly. Here are the steps to follow in cleaning your electric garage heater safely.

  • Start by turning off the heater and the power supply. That will ensure you are safe when cleaning it. Make sure that you clean it before using it, so it is cold.
  • Wipe the surface with a damp duster to remove dust and particles. Ensure that you do not saturate it with water.
  • Remove the electric garage heater cover and use a compressed air duster to loosen the dust particles. The air can help loosen particles on the heating element and other delicate parts.
  • Use a vacuum with a brush attachment to vacuum all the loose dust and particles.
  • Using a damp cloth, wipe the inside of your space heater and then allow it to air dry.
  • Before replacing the cover, use the vacuum with the brush attachment to clean it.
  • Replace the cover and turn your electric garage heater back on.

Do Electric Heaters Need to Be Cleaned

Accumulation of dust, hair, and debris from the environment will eventually have a toll on your electric heater and compromise its efficiency and thus the need for it to be cleaned will surface. You’ll need to clean your heater thoroughly once or twice a year depending on how dusty your environment is. You may also have to clean it more times if you have pets and animals in your home.

How to Clean an Oil Filled Heater

  • Unplug the heater from the power source before starting to clean
  • Remove most surface dirt and dust using a soft brush or a brush attached to a vacuum hose.
  • Use a clean rug and soapy water to wipe down the heater then use a wet cloth in clean to wipe off the soapy water.
  • Clean the fins and other tight spots using compressed air to blow out all the dust and debris.
  • Wipe dry your heater then plug it back ready to use. 

How Do You Clean an Infrared Heater

  • Switch off and unplug the heater to avoid accidents. Allow it to cool down if it has been in use before embarking on the cleaning process. It will take about 25 minutes to completely cool off.
  • Use a wet rug to wipe down smudges and dirt on the surface. Remember you should not use any cleaning detergents to clean your infrared heater as they may cause damage to the parts. 
  • Locate the filter cover at the back of the unit and carefully pull it out to get access to the air filter.
  • Remove the air filter and clean dust buildup on both sides of the filter using a vacuum with an attached hose.
  • Reinstall the air filter and the filter cover then plug in the power cable to the wall receptacle.

General Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

Schedule routine general cleaning as space heaters will usually end up with grime, food residues, and fingerprint smudges as they are used in home spaces where lots of handling is bound to happen. Cleaning and removing any of the above dirt immediately it happens is imperative as dried dirt particles can be hazardous if they get into the heated parts of the space heater. 

Clean your space heater by wiping using a damp, properly wrung cloth dipped in soapy water. Be keen to only use dishwashing soap and a careful not to dampen the inside parts of your space heater which could result in serious damage and expensive repairs as the heater can easily stop working. Make sure you wipe dry all the moisture left after wiping with the damp cloth. 

Dusting your space heater every other time will help minimize dust buildup if your house or rooms are prone to dust. Schedule to dust the heater at least once a week using a feather duster and you will be surprised how this will help in maintaining a clean space heater. Dusting regularly will also prevent rusting on the reflector plate and keep the heater working efficiently for longer.

Getting rid of rust immediately after you spot it is another great maintenance tip. Rust can develop anywhere even in enclosed areas like inside your house whenever the air around becomes moist. The shiny reflector plate component is prone to rust and can spread pretty fast if not arrested in time. This will make the reflector plate useless and call for a replacement within a very short period if left unattended. Use fine wire wool and vegetable oil or methylated spirit to get rid of rust in the affected parts. Dry the cleaned parts thoroughly after the rust removal.

Vacuum clean your space heater regularly if it has a vent or a grille. The work of the vent or grill is to provide sufficient airflow thus some problems may develop as a result of them clogging. Clean using a vacuum with an upholstery brush attached to the hose and pay close attention to the fan vents.

Clean all dirt on the surface of the space heater before setting to move it to another location. You can simply vacuum it using a brush attachment then wipe it down with a damp cloth. Remember to unplug and let the heater cool down before you can clean.

Clean between the heating tubes often as they get dirty and stained quite fast. You need to be keen while cleaning the tubes due to their delicate nature. Use a spatula wrapped with a paper towel to clean the tubes. In case of stubborn stains, you can use a multi-purpose cleaner sprayed on a paper towel and work again between the tubes in an up and down motion.

Read through and follow instructions on filters on the manufacturer’s guide. This can help you to understand your space heater better and also identify new features on your equipment. Most modern space heaters use detachable filters thus can be removed and cleaned from outside the space heater casing then reinstalled after cleaning. Some space heaters will give a warning light when cleaning the filter is due. Always remember to be gentle as you clean the filter to avoid causing damage. 

Use compressed air once in a while to blow out the dust in hard-to-reach parts and crevices on your space heater where the feather duster cannot clean properly.

Consider giving your radiant space heater some special cleaning of the shiny plate which reflects the heat generated on the tubes. The space heater will lose its efficiency if the plate is covered in dust making it lose its reflective properties. To clean, first, take out the reflector plate from the heater by loosening the screws holding the reflectors in place then perform some light dusting careful not to damage the reflectors. You can use a methylated spirit or a cloth dampened with soapy water to clean stains that won’t come out easily. Make sure to wipe out any moisture that remains after cleaning with water or methylated spirit.

Electric Heater Inspection. What to check to avoid damage or injury

Here are essential things to evaluate to ensure that your heater is safe to use in the home.

  • Ensure that the heater you buy is approved for use in the USA. Approved heaters have a checkmark on the side, and you can ask the people at the store to show you. They may also have an approval number. If the heater you are considering buying does not have these, it is not a good choice.
  • Make sure you also check for energy efficiency ratings. Heaters with high energy efficiency cost you less to run.
  • Ensure that you have a dedicated circuit for your electric heater, even if you use a portable one. That will reduce the risk of overloading your circuits. If you DIY your electric garage heater installation, consider having an electrician inspect your job and connect your wiring to the main electrical panel.
  • Use wire that can handle an electric garage heater power requirement; at least a 14-gauge wire.
  • Make sure that the heater can sufficiently heat the room. Protect your garage from cold draught and snow for better efficiency
  • Check for safety features such as automatic shut-off and tip-over protection.

After installation, make sure you follow these guidelines when using your electric garage heater.  

  • Make sure that you place your electric heater away from any furniture or clothes. Your electric heater should be at least 3 feet away from anything that can catch fire.
  • Ensure that your garage does not have leaks and that there are no spills before switching on your heater. Remember, do not touch your garage heater with wet hands as you may get an electric shock.
  • When using a portable heater in the garage, please keep your pets and children away from it. They could touch it and get hurt.
  • Do not use a power strip or extension cord to plug in your electric heater; use an outlet. Make sure that other items are not plugged into the same outlet. In case you must use an extension cord, use one with a 14-gauge wire.  
  • Always turn off the heater and unplug it when you are leaving the garage. Do not leave your heater unattended for an entire night, for instance.
  • Make sure that you check your heater regularly to ensure that it is working correctly.

Pro tips to increase the efficiency of your electric garage heater

Here are some of the ways you can enhance the efficiency of your garage heater

Seal doors

You can use a threshold seal or weather stripping to seal your door. That way, the room can hold the heat for a long time, and you do not have to keep the heater all the time. Make sure that you also seal holes or cracks in the door frame with caulk.

Insulate the walls

Garage walls are not insulated in older homes, which means they do not trap heat from electric heaters. To ensure that your garage stays warm even when the heater is off, consider insulating it. That will reduce the amount of power you use to keep the garage at a comfortable temperature. Ensure that you also insulate the attic or crawlspace above your garage.

Insulate the garage door

Your garage door can transfer heat into the surrounding environment. You can insulate your door by using a garage door insulation kit instead of buying an insulated door.

Use a Smart thermostat.

Smart thermostats can help reduce your power consumption and lower your power bill.

Insulate light switches and outlets

If you have several light switches and power outlets in your garage, consider sealing them to prevent heat loss.

Insulate your concrete floor

Concrete is a lousy insulator and loses heat very quickly. If you have a concrete garage floor, consider insulating it. That will ensure that the room holds heat for a long time.

Does my garage heater use a lot of electricity?

Most garage heaters require 240-volt power. If you consider the gas and electricity prices in most parts of the country, an electric heater costs a bit more to run than gas or infrared heaters. That said, electric heaters are safer than gas heaters and pose a lower fire hazard.

Where should a heater be placed in a garage?

Place your heater in the coldest corner of the room and direct it to the center of the room. It is not advisable to place your garage heater right next to your work table.