There are many aspects of my job that involve skills other than that surrounding electrical knowledge. In many cases, when I go to a service call, I wear the hat of a detective.
“What was going on when you started having problems? How long has this been going on for? Can you show me what you had plugged in and turned on when this happened?”
Part of fixing the problem is finding one. But what do you do when there is no problem to find?
I had two identical service calls back to back. Both to elderly individuals. Both with the same concern: the electric baseboard heater would not turn on until the thermostat dial was already halfway turned ‘on.’
Immediately I had my presumptions as to the actual issue at hand here. But I did my due diligence and investigated their concerns. I ran every test I could, isolated parts and checked again. Everything was working fine. The solution here was not an electrical one, but an educational one. I brought them over to the heater and thermostat to explain.
A common misconception about the thermostats for electrical baseboard heaters is that the thermostat controls how hot the heater gets; that if you set the temperature, it is indicative of how hot the heating element goes. And it just stays at that temperature until you adjust the thermostat. Thankfully this is not the case, as I shudder to think what that would do to one’s hydro bill!
Electric baseboard heaters have two settings: on or off. When they are on, they are cranking out heat. When they are off, they are just off. The thermostat measures the air temperature of the room. If the thermostat is set at 20 degrees C, when the air temperature drops below this temperature, the heater turns on. It stays on until the thermostat gets a reading of 20 degrees, which is when it tells the heater to shut off. The heater will continue to cycle on and off to maintain the desired temperature. At night, it might cycle more, as the outside air cools down, or during the day it might cycle less, as the sun that shines its warmth into your living room.
This is the reason why, at a lower position on the dial, the heater doesn’t kick in. For those settings, the room is already warm enough. Such was the explanation I provided for the aforementioned folks that I was helping out.
Of all of the things I fix, this was the simplest. It reassured them to know that I had checked everything out, and they got to learn something new.
– Mechanical Techniques – Electrical Monitoring & Systems, 2014
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