Electric forced air wall heaters are very common. Other than needing cleaning periodically they typically work pretty well.
I did a post recently about one that caught on fire due to being plugged with lint. They often have a foul smell when they are turned on for the first time in the fall. All the lint, that has been collecting on the heating elements during the warm months, gets burned off the first time the thermostat gets turned up.
It is a good idea to have them properly cleaned prior to turning them on in the fall. Many manufacturers recommend, after turning the power off to the units, removing the cover and then “blowing” the dust out with a vacuum cleaner. Sounds like a great way to make a mess but it is apparently more effective than trying to suck all the debris out of the thing. I might try getting as much as I could out with suction and then blowing out the rest.
Professionally the unit could be removed from inside its metal case and taken outdoors for better cleaning–but that should only be done by an electrician.
At a recent inspection I noticed some “checking” of the wood paneling above the heater. It looked like the area of overheating has been painted-over. The cracking was caused by the wood turning to charcoal from repeated overheating. The unit was not functional and looking through the openings in the cover I could begin to see why.
Taking the cover off, it became obvious that components had melted and burned up on the interior of the unit. There were melted wire-nuts and obvious signs of arcing. There was still power to the unit as was indicated by multi-meter.
Obviously the unit will need to be replaced.
Equally obvious is how lucky someone had been.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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