Electric baseboard heaters work much like plug-in electric space heaters except they are typically hardwired into an electrical circuit. Each heater often comes supplied with its own thermostat, but if not, it's controlled by a line-voltage thermostat that operates at circuit voltage (120 or 240 volts) instead of the low voltage (24 volts) from a transformer at which a central heating system thermostat operates. The result is that an electric baseboard heater is wired almost exactly like a light fixture, complete with wall switch.
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Because of the wiring similarity, the procedure for removing an electric baseboard heater is similar to that for removing a light fixture, and it's even easier because you don't need a ladder. The most important thing to remember is to turn off the power before beginning the procedure because the wires, like those feeding a light fixture, can deliver an injurious and potentially fatal shock if you touch a live one.
How to Remove an Electric Baseboard Heater
Step 1: Turn Off the Power
Locate the circuit breaker in the main panel that controls the heater circuit and turn it off. Don't rely on simply turning down the thermostat; it could switch on while you're working, and that could be disastrous.
Step 2: Remove the Electrical Access Cover
The access cover is on the front of the heater at one end, and it's held on by one or two screws. Remove the screws with a Phillips screwdriver and set the screws and the cover aside.
Step 3: Disconnect the Wiring
Wearing a pair of rubber gloves for insulation, unscrew the wire caps holding pairs of wires together and pull the wires apart. If the heater operates at 120 volts, there will be a pair of white wires, a pair of black wires and a pair of ground wires. It's also possible the ground wire is connected to a screw on the heater, and if so, loosen the screw and remove the wire. If the unit operates at 240 volts, there will be an extra pair of hot wires, which are red. Disconnect those too. Don't touch any exposed wires until you test them.
Step 4: Test the Wires
Use a voltage tester to make sure the wires are dead. Touch one probe to the black circuit wire and the other to the ground or white circuit wire. The meter should read zero, and if the tester has a light, it should stay off. If you get a reading or if the light illuminates, check the breakers. You may have turned off the wrong one.
Step 5: Unscrew the Heater From the Wall
Look inside the heater housing and you should see three or four screws holding it to the wall. Remove these screws with a screwdriver.
Step 6: Pull the Heater Away From the Wall
Gently pull the heater away from the wall using a putty knife to pry it if it's stuck. Feed the circuit wires through the hole in the back as you separate the heater from the wall.
Dealing With the Circuit Wires
After removing the heater, you'll be left with wires hanging out of the wall, and you can't just leave them there. One option is to disconnect the wires from the panel (for safety, have an electrician do this) and pull the cable out of the wall. If the wires are connected to a thermostat, you'll have to disconnect and remove that as well and pull out the wires to which it is connected.
Another option that's preferable if you plan to install another heater in the future is to screw a wire cap onto each wire, push the wires into the electrical box and screw on a cover plate. If there's no box and the wires are just hanging out of the wall, you can install a remodeling box, which attaches to the drywall, and screw a cover plate onto that.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.