Electric space heaters are a great way to keep warm during cold weather, but lots of folks find that they can't run theirs for very long before they trip a circuit. If you've run into this issue, you may be wondering what's going on and how to get actual heat out of your unit without having to constantly reset the circuit breaker.
The first thing you'll need is a basic knowledge of how circuits work, and why they sometimes suddenly stop.
The electrical overload
When a number of devices are connected to the same circuit and running simultaneously, it can exceed the capacity of the electrical wiring. An overcurrent protective device at your home's main electrical panel shuts down power before any damage can occur during an overload – usually it does this by tripping a circuit breaker.
Circuit breakers – sometimes called fuses – limit your power usage to a level that the wiring system can safely handle. When the power demand exceeds how much a circuit can handle, the breaker snaps and shuts it down. Circuits break down into two types: dedicated and general purpose.
Dedicated circuits are singled out for specific parts of the home that require a lot of electricity. This means spots like your fridge, laundry machines, large electric furnaces, electric ranges and microwaves. These tend to be labeled on your circuit breaker box.
General purpose circuits will serve more than one outlet, usually with one circuit per room. These are the kinds of circuits many folks use for their portable space heaters, and that's the beginning of the problem.
Space heaters usually consume upward of 1,000 watts, making it the kind of appliance that requires a dedicated circuit – not a general one. If your space heater is continually overloading a general-purpose circuit, you may want to switch it to a dedicated one.
If the closest dedicated circuit is hard to reach, extension cords aren't a solution. These can't always handle the amount of power required and can become a safety hazard, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
You may want to consider calling up your local electrician and discussing the installation of a new circuit. Circuit power loads can be redistributed around the house, but it's not an easy do-it-yourself project.
As a basic short-term tip, only plug your space heater into circuits that have no other electrical demands. If you find this works, then you may not need to switch to a dedicated circuit.
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