space heater keeps shutting off

Space Heater keeps shutting off (5 reasons and how to fix it)

When a space heater keeps shutting off, you often don’t know what to do. However, troubleshooting the issue is not too hard. You can find out the reason for the repeated shutoffs even if you are an electronics layman.

In this article, I am going to guide you through 5 different causes of your problem and I am going to present you a potential solution for every case. So, without wasting too much time, let’s get right into it and have a look.

Most often, space heaters turn off when they overheat or when they don’t receive the power they need. The challenge is to find out the reason for the overheating or the power supply issues.

Don’t worry, solving the problem is simpler than you think!

Quick answer: Oftentimes space heaters keep shutting off when there’s an electronic fault in the circuitry.  You can test that by bringing your space heater over to a friends’ house and see if it works there. If it keeps shutting off, the defect is in the space heater. Else if it works at your friend’s house, but not at your home, the defect is in your home power supply. If your space heater is defective, it is best and safest to buy a new one. If your home power supply is defective, you should hire an electrician to have a check.

Replace or repair a space heater that keeps shutting off

Before we’re troubleshooting the technical issue itself, I want to introduce you to my personal philosophy when it comes to space heater problems. Generally, space heaters are dangerous products. Ideally, they should run smoothly without you having to worry about anything. When you buy a space heater, I expect that when you turn it on, it produces safe heat. As soon as you turn it off, it stops producing heat.

If you are neither familiar with electronics nor you are a hobby home craftsman, you should simply replace the heater. Space heaters that keep shutting off indicate that something is going wrong. And you don’t want to run heat-producing devices where you know that they don’t work reliably all the time.

Think of it like that: What’s the best outcome that can turn out after you detected the reason for the space heater shut-offs and you are able to repair the issue yourself? In the best case, you save $50-$200 that you would need to come up with for buying a new heater.

But what is the worst outcome? In the worst case, there are still undetected side defects or you did not properly repair the heater. The heater turns into a safety hazard and burns your house down.

My advice is, therefore: Get a new heater. The cost of replacing your defective heater with a quality product is lower than building a new home or even injuring a family member. For reliable home heating, I am trusting my favorite affordable infrared heater (click here to view it). You should check it out as well!

If you’re still interested in causes and fixes, keep reading. I’ll still give my best to help you.

Dusty air filter causes overheating

If your heater has an air filter, you should check it. Is there lots of dust covering the air filter? A dusty air filter is one of the most common reasons for space heater shutdowns. It blocks the airflow and therefore heat accumulates inside your heater causing it to shut down.

This only applies to heaters with built-in fans that blow warm air. Not all space heaters have built-in fans. If you are not sure if your space heater has a built-in fan, simply turn it on and listen. Is there a “blowing” wind sound? If yes, then check if you see if there’s an opening where you can pull the air filter out. Otherwise check the manual to see where the filter is located. 

Assuming you found the air filter, have a look at it. Is it dusty?

What to do

If yes, clean the air filter by pulling all the dirt off with your fingers. Wear gloves if you are uncomfortable. Or use an old toothbrush to dry-scrub the dust off. You could also use compressed air to blow the fine dust off.

Do NOT use water to clean your space heater’s air filter! Air filters are covered in dust particles, skin particles, and bacteria. It is a perfect living ground for small, microscopic animals. If you wet an air filter, all the life on it will inevitably flourish. Your space heater will stink really really bad every single time you turn it on. Do you know the smell of old vacuum cleaners? That’s the smell you will get. It happened to me once and I had to get rid of the heater. The smell persisted no matter what I did.

Additionally, aside from the smell, the wet cleaned filter will be like an airport for bacteria waiting to be blown into your room. As soon as you turn the space heater on, bacteria will be blasted into your home. That is totally unhealthy. 

Only dry-clean air filters!

After cleaning your air filter and putting it back into the heater, turn on the heater and see if it works now.

Too many electric devices plugged in your home’s circuit

The fault can also be outside of your heater. It could be in your home’s electric circuit. If too many devices are plugged in simultaneously, they can overload the system. The reason is that home power circuits can only provide a fixed maximum amount of power. When you surpass the maximum allowed power consumption, mostly a fuse will blow. If your home circuit or the fuse is faulty, overconsumption of electric current will lead to underprovision of voltage, causing individual electric devices to fail.

Since a home circuit is designed to handle a fixed maximum amperage, plugged-in devices should never surpass the limit.

Different houses have different power limits. The ampere ratings can range from 100A for small homes up to 250A for bigger homes.

“100-amp service provides enough power for a small home without electric heating. […] In large homes, 250-amp or larger service capacity may be needed, particularly if the home has electric heating”

thespruce.com

Now note that the quote above highlights the usage of electric heating. Using an electric heater has a significant impact on the electric current drawn from your home power supply.

Now let’s test this potential cause of failure at your home. Unplug a few large electricity consumers. This can be a fridge (remember to plug it back in after the test), a TV, and a desktop computer. Now plug in your electric space heater. Turn it on and observe whether it still turns off.

If it still turns off, you can say that the issue is not in your electric home circuit. If your heater is running fine now, call an electrician to check the circuitry for you. He will know best how to fix this problem.

By the way: If you don’t trust your home electric circuit to handle your electric space heater, it could be an option for you to switch to a propane heater that does not need electricity (click to see my favorite one).

Your home power supply is too weak

The same principle as above applies to weak power supplies. In the previous section, the potential issue was that your home circuit is working fine, but too many devices are plugged in.

In case of a weak home power supply, your home circuit is not providing enough power even though you don’t have too many devices plugged in.

From a technical standpoint, both of these cases are the same. In both cases, your space heater does not receive enough power and shuts off.

Also, in this case, it is best to have an electrician check this for you who can measure the wall outlet power available. If you can’t afford an electrician, another way to test this is to bring your space heater over to a friend’s or family member’s home. Test your space heater there and see if it still keeps shutting off.

Loose contact in wall outlet causes space heater to shut off

If your wall outlet has a loose contact, your space heater will shut off occasionally. Luckily, this is very easy to test.

Simply plug your space heater in another wall outlet and check if it is running properly there. If your space heater runs continuously without shutting off while plugged into another outlet, you are guaranteed to have the case. The fault is in your outlet. Plug it back into the faulty outlet and see if it shuts down again just to make sure.

You can hire an electrician to get the loose contact in your power supply fixed. This shouldn’t be too expensive. If you are someone who likes to fix stuff on his own, look up how to install wall outlets online and see if any of the contacts in your wall outlet are loose.

I found this video very helpful:

How to replace an electrical outlet – You can use this video to check if your wall outlet is properly installed.

Your space heater stands on an uneven or too soft surface

Most space heaters have built-in tip-over protection. Tip-over protection is a security feature that automatically shuts off the heater when it tips over. A heater that tips over, for example, because of a pet or a child running against it, is a serious fire threat for your home. 

Oftentimes that tip-over protection is a simple button at the bottom of your heater. The button has a longish shape. It touches the floor. If the button is pressed down (eg. by the floor), the heater assumes to be standing upright. If it is not pressed, the heater thinks it is tipped over and shuts off.

space heater tip over shut off protection
The black button you see at the bottom of this infrared space heater is the tip-over protection. When the space heater stands on the floor, the button is pressed down. When it tips over, the button is released causing the space heater to shut off.

 If your heater stands on uneven or soft ground, the tip-over protection button may not be fully pressed, falsely leading the heater to believe it is tipped over.

For very sensitive heaters on uneven grounds, even a person walking past the heater could cause the tip-over protection to trigger. This can also happen if the tip-over protection is using a so-called accelerometer: A sensor measuring acceleration. When the heater senses movement, it shuts off. This can also happen by someone stomping past the space heater or a pet bumping into the heater if the sensor is too sensitive.

The automatic shut-off of the space heater, of course, should not be triggered by such small impacts. Faulty sensors can also cause repeated space heater shut-offs.

How to test it

You can easily test the tip-over protection by tapping the space heater when it is turned on. Does it turn off when you tap it? If yes, the fault is in the tip-over protection.

If your heater stands on uneven or too soft ground, a simple fix is to place it on a solid, even surface. 

Else if the issue persists, it is usually best, to get a new heater. Faulty electronics are hard to detect and it requires professional knowledge.

Conclusion

Oftentimes you can find the reason for your space heater shutting off by trying out different wall outlets, cleaning the air filter, or placing it on a different surface. Once you found the issue, however, it is usually the best solution to replace your space heater. When the issue is inside your space heater, I would not recommend trying to fix up the electronics. The risk of something going wrong is too high compared to saving the $50-$200 for a new space heater.

About the Author

Daniel Hirsch

Daniel is an electrical engineer, blogger, and author. He studied electrical engineering and information technology and decided to blog about heaters after working in the temperature sensing industry.