Space Heater Improvement
March 6, 2009 1:44 AM   Subscribe

I have an electric space heater that makes a mild burning smell and the fan makes too much noise, any ideas on how an adventurous engineering student might be able to make the unit better than out of the box?

I have this unit specifically. There doesn't appear to be anything solid inside (as seen through the grill) that might be causing a burning smell, and I have no idea where the fan even is. I have a few assorted enthusiast grade computer fans that might be quieter, but i have no idea what to expect once I crack the case.
posted by gzimmer to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
Mild burning smells are never good. It should not be emitting ANY smell after the first initial time (or max 2). It's probably made in China. Nuff said. Try to get another heater without anything burning or malfunctioning. There are probably excellent models out there - el cheapo - if that's a concern in thrift shops (you could check them before buying) or someone here who can recommend a model that won't be a health hazard. Leave it. Don't even try to hack it.
posted by watercarrier at 1:49 AM on March 6, 2009

Yes. Buy a different one. Sounds are one thing but don't ignore smells.

Computer fans are not meant to deal with hot air. As watercarrier said, don't even try to hack it.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:53 AM on March 6, 2009

In my experience, the mild burning smell is one that happens at the beginning of the cold season, and repeats each year. I figure it's from dust. Is the environment dusty? Do you go through periods of non-use of the heater (which explains repeated smell)?

The noise from the fan might be improved by tightening of loose parts around the hub. But in modern stuff, this sort of thing is often impossible, as things are made to be permanent.
posted by Goofyy at 2:23 AM on March 6, 2009

I'm not so alarmed about the smell, because I always detect a wiff of something off from electric space heaters, especially if they haven't been used in a while. It might be dust burning off of the elements, warming paint... who knows? The noise is probably a cheap, tiny, high-speed fan beating the hell out of the air, forcing it over sharp sheet metal edges and through constricted passages. My guess is that significantly reducing the noise could be rather involved.

If you want to try improving this heater as an educational experience, then go for it. If your goal is to end up with a better heater, then I agree with previous posters; just buy one.
posted by jon1270 at 2:38 AM on March 6, 2009

The burning smell, unless its the pretty recognizable electrical-fire smell of burning wire, is probably just dust burning off. If the room is quite dusty, the fan part might even be drawing dust in to be roasted, ad infinitum.

I'm a fan of the sealed oil radiant electric space heaters, myself. Quiet and safe, even if a piece of clothing or paper falls onto them.
posted by rokusan at 2:45 AM on March 6, 2009

I can't tell from your link but on my space heater there is a removable filter that I have to clean off maybe once or twice a month while in heavy use over the winter.

You've probably already checked for a filter but on the off chance that you haven't, why not poke around it a bit?
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 3:46 AM on March 6, 2009

Please do not try to hack an appliance that's already a fire hazard even in a perfectly-working, factory fresh state. (The radiator-style space heaters are much safer... Please consider one if you can afford it.)
posted by kalapierson at 5:35 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I swear I do not work nor have any stake in this company. Vornado space heaters are, by far, the best and most quiet I have ever used. They do not become hot to the touch and can raise the temp in a very large room quite a bit in the matter of an hour. Highly recommended.
posted by Brettus at 6:07 AM on March 6, 2009

I second kalapierson on the safety issue. Best case: you save a few bucks. Worst case: you burn down your dwelling and kill a bunch of people. (You'll get paranoid too if you go into plant safety engineering. But in a case like this, you can't be too careful.)
posted by TurnedIntoANewt at 6:45 AM on March 6, 2009

kalapierson is right. Youre playing with fire, perhaps literally. A computer fan isnt rated for temperatures approaching 150-200 degrees. Just buy a new one and be done with it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:07 AM on March 6, 2009

Response by poster: I'd say that the smell is dust burning now that people mention it. I put the heater under my desk (away from cords) which would account for he dust build up. About all I could think is maybe putting some cheap foam filter thing I have from previous project. I wonder if WD-40 or some lube may make the fan less squeaky.

To those who told me to take caution, I'll keep a bucket of water handy...
posted by gzimmer at 11:41 AM on March 6, 2009

Bucket wont do you any good when youre asleep at 3am and it catches fire.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:55 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, I'm 24 hours late here but seriously:

I teach college courses in circuit bending and hacking electronics; I've let people build explosives and badly-insulated 110VAC toys that would get wet. I circumvented a more-or-less important safety feature of many of my infant son's toys and posted instructions to AskMe. I'm here to tell you that this is a Very Bad Idea. (And I realize that I'm just seconding virtually everyone upthread, but cripes, I think a little repetition is good here.)

And for crying out loud, if you do decide to hack a space heater:

(a) Don't run it when you're asleep
(b) Don't run it when you're out of the room, and critically
(c) Don't plan on fighting an electrical fire with a bucket of water. Invest the money you save doing this in a decent fire extinguisher, and maybe set the rest aside for burn cream.
posted by range at 5:28 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I often forget how difficult it is to properly convey sarcasm on the internet. I was quickly stopped from even exploratory surgery by security torx, so no harm done. Didn't have any intention of doing anything after the second warning.
posted by gzimmer at 6:49 PM on March 15, 2009

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