I'm so cold I can barely type this question
October 31, 2018 4:06 AM   Subscribe

My electric radiators aren't working, and I can't tell if I'm just too silly to work a fuse box or if there's actually something wrong and I need to call an electrician.

Now that winter has come with a vengeance, I need to turn the radiators on, but... for some reason... they don't work. The radiators in my house are electric accumulation/emitter types (which I cannot find a good example of in English), but I don't think the type of radiator is the problem; as none of them are working, I assume the issue is in the fuse box somewhere.

I know literally nothing about electrical systems. The fuse box is a mystery to me. When the electricity goes out, which it does a few times a year, I flip switches until it turns on again. Here is a picture of the fuse box as-is. The four switches on the right of the middle row are the four radiators (all are switched on except for the living room). To the left are the dials which regulate when the radiators draw power (both are on, as is normal). Is it possible to tell, by looking at that picture, if some switch needs to be up rather than down or vice versa? Or is this a problem that only an electrician can solve?

We have done the usual bit and turned everything off and then turned it on again. We've tried switching various combinations of fuses on and off, but nothing has worked. The only other pertinent information is that about a month ago, two of the radiators mysteriously came on by themselves. However, there were also some electrical storms around that time, and the main switch was tripped at least once, so I possibly hit something I shouldn't have when I was sorting that out. I don't remember if these things happened on the same day or not.

I live in a rented flat, but because our lease is up for automatic renewal at the beginning of December, I really don't want to contact my landlord. He's quite nice, but we are paying below market price and he is well within his rights to raise our rent if we call attention to ourselves.

I would also love to avoid paying an electrician to tell me that the problem is that switch X should be up instead of down.

Help? I haven't taken off my winter coat in three days!
posted by lollymccatburglar to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
You need an electrician because the cover is missing from your fuse box, never mind your radiators. We shouldn't be able to see the wiring. That said, while I doubt the absence of covering is legal, norms differ country to country and this looks well enough wired. Keep your hands/tools out.

I can't see enough detail to really help you but I can see that not all breakers are on. Up appears to be on and down off in all cases here, what happens if you turn on the three that are down?

Failing this I'd suggest that the timing things are out of whack, but we can't see nearly enough detail on them to help.
posted by deadwax at 4:22 AM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've seen from your profile you are in Spain. No, the cover missing is not legal, but nor am I surprised. Be mindful of it, don't touch metal bits.
posted by deadwax at 4:25 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, you're totally right about the cover! I just googled a picture and it definitely needs a cover.

Re: the switches, I forgot to mention that the top right switch changes the radiators from demand (radiators draw power as long as they are turned on) to regulated (radiators only work when the timer tells them to). It's on demand right now, so they should be working. That switch is not the problem.

The timers are not the issue, unless they are broken internally. We haven't touched them at all. The only other two switches that are down are the living room radiator switch (which we don't use, so it's down all the time) and a mysterious one in the middle of the top row which I switched up, but seems to have had no effect.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 4:31 AM on October 31, 2018

Can you try switch them to the timer mode, and ensure the timers are set so that it is currently running?

A larger image would also help us to see more detail and perhaps provide other suggestions.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 4:39 AM on October 31, 2018

Yes a high resolution image may allow us to trace the wiring. My eyes get lost on the small one.

But all breakers on should equal radiators on, absent weird timer issues. Turn on the living room breaker to humour us as well.
posted by deadwax at 4:43 AM on October 31, 2018

Ok here are three better images (top to bottom corresponding to top to bottom of the fuse box).
posted by lollymccatburglar at 4:46 AM on October 31, 2018

And I turned on the living room breaker, although it is off in that picture.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 4:48 AM on October 31, 2018

My guess is that there's some kind of breaker, fuse, or manual disconnect in, on, or near the heating equipment itself and that it's off/blown. Can you take some pictures of your radiators so that we can figure out what type they are? That would help us diagnose them.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:19 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ok, I updated the Imgur album with a picture of the radiator and the radiator controls (two wheels, one for charge and one for release; I have no idea what mechanism is behind them, but if you set the charge to 4 and the release to 6, they go cold a lot faster than the other way around). However the radiators are plugged into the household system is hidden behind the cover.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:32 AM on October 31, 2018

Oh, and the controls are set to 1 in the picture (which would mean the radiator would barely function), but this is the living room radiator that we don't use (I've changed it to 4 and 4 just the same). For the purposes of this exercise, assume that we're talking about the bedroom radiator, which is exactly the same size, and is set to 4 and 4. And still doesn't work.

Sorry for threadsitting!
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:35 AM on October 31, 2018

Hmm, looks like a hydronic radiator to me although I'm not totally sure because I've never seen one in person. Is there a pipe coming out of the back of it? Is there a manual valve on the pipe? If so, is the valve in the off position? That would stop hot water getting to the radiator.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:03 AM on October 31, 2018

Oh, and aside from the dials are there any controls whatsoever on the radiator itself? Anything that looks like it could possibly be a switch or button of some kind? It could be hidden, maybe on the back or underside of the unit, or maybe behind a door or panel of some type?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:17 AM on October 31, 2018

Since Spain uses 220 there may well be a switch or fuse proximate to or on the radiators--hope you resolve this for your comfort.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:09 AM on October 31, 2018

I think it could be the rcd switches on your fuse box that are tripping, possibly because there is an earth problem on one of your appliances or circuits.
On your fuse box it appears you have two- one on the top row, 3 units from the left. (The only ones with two black plastic pieces on the surface - switch below, possibly a button above) The second on the bottom row also 3 from the left. I'm in the UK so rcd units are a bit different, but think that's what they are.
The reason that I think it might be these is because the one on the top row appears to be in different positions in two of your photos. If any circuits controlled by that rcd are on with the rcd tripped or in the off position there will be no current to the circuit.
So to test if this could be the problem I would turn every fuse on the board off(down), except the mains inlet (top left) and the two rcds.
Then when you have just these three switches in the on position, go through all of the fuses and sequentially switch them on. Watch the rcds as you do this and see if any fuse being turned on causes the rcd to trip. If there is a trip on the rcd turn the problematic fuse off, turn the tripped rcd back on and continue until you have as many fuses on as possible without tripping rcd.
If you are indeed tripping rcds you'll need to call an electrician to investigate the problem with that fuse/appliance/circuit.
On phone so apologies for typos or formatting.
That's my best guess.
Good luck!
posted by multivalent at 7:13 AM on October 31, 2018

I forgot to mention that the top right switch changes the radiators from demand (radiators draw power as long as they are turned on) to regulated (radiators only work when the timer tells them to). It's on demand right now, so they should be working. That switch is not the problem.

I looked up the Merlin Gerin Multi 9 CM and it appears to be a 3 position selector switch with centre off. Are you absolutely certain you can't get another upward click out of that top right switch?
posted by flabdablet at 7:58 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what mechanism is behind them, but if you set the charge to 4 and the release to 6, they go cold a lot faster than the other way around

I'm guessing that the mechanism involves a bunch of electrically heated bricks inside the heater (are they wicked heavy?) where the charge control sets how much electricity gets delivered to the heater element and hence how quickly the bricks heat up and how hot they ultimately get, and the release control sets a fan or internal baffle that controls how easy it is for air to circulate through the bricks and draw down the stored heat.

I would expect this to make it a bit difficult to tell whether the heater is actually on (charging) or not, since the thermal mass of the bricks will mean that even on full charge it only warms up quite slowly.

If the heater is in fact plugged into anything resembling a normal power outlet, you could temporarily unplug it and run a lamp from that outlet instead; that would tell you instantly whether the heater's outlet was live.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 AM on October 31, 2018

This is a (night) storage heater. Mine has two separate sets of switches, independent of the unit, as well as controls on the unit itself. If I want immediate heat, I need to plug it in at the wall, and then select the "radiator" option on the unit. If I'm using it as a storage heater, I don't need it plugged in at the wall. Instead I need to turn on a switch on the wall which looks like a light switch - again, this is not on the unit itself, but actually on the wall. Then I can set input and output on the unit itself.
posted by boudicca at 8:29 AM on October 31, 2018

Center-off breakers, night storage heaters… wow, Spain is truly a land of contrasts. Learn something every day. Good luck!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:59 AM on October 31, 2018

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