There's nothing worse than waking up to a cold house in the middle of the winter. If you also realize the cause is a failed baseboard heater, it can spur on feelings of stress and even a bit of panic. Thankfully, this situation is easy to rectify with a few simple tools and a bit of guidance. Read on for a short tutorial on how to replace a broken or dead baseboard heater.
Turn Off the Main Power Breaker
Before you even begin to disassemble or reassemble your power breaker, you need to shut down all power to the house. While you can shut down only the circuit that provides power to the room containing the broken heater, it's much safer to turn off the main breaker whenever you plan to work on electrical repairs or installations. Unfortunately, this does mean you'll need to work either in the day or with the help of floodlamps.
In your fuse box, locate the main breaker--usually larger than the other breakers--and slide it into the off position. Use an electrical detector pen to test all outlets in the same room as the baseboard heater before proceeding. If you don't hear any beeps, you can safely proceed.
Remove the Baseboard Heater From the Wall
Unscrew each of the screws from the brackets that attach your baseboard heater to the wall. Typically, these are found along either side of the fixture, but they may also be placed on the underside or even along the top. Depending on your specific model and its height, you may need someone to hold the heater in place to prevent it from falling.
Once you have removed all of the screws, gently pull the heater up and away from the wall. Note that the wiring will still be connected; you just want to get enough distance so that you can lay it on the floor safely. If it won't come free, check to be sure you aren't missing any hidden screws.
Disconnect The Wiring
Quick Note: Use your smartphone or a digital camera to snap a picture of the wiring setup before you disconnect it. You'll use this as a guide when installing the new heater.
As you pull the heater away from the wall, look for red and black wires that reach from within the wall to the baseboard heater itself. Don't cut or break the wires to remove them; instead, look for a pair of silver or black wire nuts at the halfway point. You can unscrew these with just your hands, quickly and instantly disconnecting the heater from the wall.
Next, look for a long thread of copper wire coming from the wall and extending into the fixture. This is the unit's grounding wire and must be disconnected too. Follow the wire to the screw it's attached to within the baseboard heater, and then remove the screw itself. Unwind the ground wire, taking care not to break it or damage it.
Once you've disconnected the wiring, dispose of the baseboard heater and move on to the next step.
Open the Wiring Plate Cover on Your New Baseboard Heater
Your new fixture will have a small metal plate with two to four screws in it, usually on the edge that's meant to be flush with the wall. Undo these screws, and locate both electrical wires and the grounding wire itself. You may need to untangle them, as they tend to be stuffed into the wiring area before shipment from the manufacturer. Stretch them out gently to ready them for connection to the wall.
Most fixtures contain quite a bit of extra wire length; never cut or trim this length unless you know how to replace the connectors. Installing new wire nuts isn't difficult, but requires a bit of extra research and caution before you proceed.
Reconnect the Wiring
Using the picture you snapped prior to disconnecting the old device as a guide, connect each of the red and black wires on your new fixture to the red and black wires coming from the wall. Be sure to tighten the wire nuts securely--left loose, they can cause electrical currents to arc or spark.
Finally, wind the copper ground wire back around the ground wire screw within your new fixture. Try to leave as little slack as you can, but don't be afraid to place the excess within the same area if there's an inch or two left over. The ground wire carries far less of a fire risk and is mostly responsible for stabilizing the current.
Attach the Baseboard Heater to the Wall
Once you have connected each of the wires tightly and securely, tuck excess wire into the space in the back of the baseboard heater and push it flush against the wall. Then, place the screws in the bracket and drive them in firmly.
There's no need for an electric drill with this step unless you need to drive new holes in the wall itself. Simply hand-tightening the screws provides enough security to keep them in place.
Test the Fixture At Least Once
Once you have installed the new heater fully, you should test it out by turning the heat up for at least an hour or two. Monitor it for symptoms like uneven heating, cool spots, or sparks. Each of these is a clear indication that your heater isn't installed correctly.
If the room heats up evenly and you experience no other issues, you're done!
Replacing a baseboard heater is a simple and easy way to regain access to warmth and comfort. However, much as with any other electrical task, you should only do it if you believe you have the skills needed to complete the job safely. Not sure if self-repair is right for you? Schedule a maintenance call with a a company like A Bailey Plumbing for professional advice and assistance.