Why does my dryer not get hot?

Okay, this is actually more of a rhetorical question. I now know the answer to the question, thanks to a call to my handy electrician, Mark. My biggest worry was that I’d made a mistake with high-amperage wiring.
Turns out that I’m just ignorant. Electrically-speaking, anyway.
So here’s a tip for those of you who go the DIY route in putting in your own (modern) dryer. Several, actually, since the process isn’t terribly-well documented.
First, understand that your fancy new (electric) dryer is not a hair dryer, a microwave, or a toaster. This is a fairly large chunk of electricity-sucking mechanical wonder. It needs juice. A lot of it. Usually, about 30 amps, rated at about 125V/240V (more on this in a sec). You won’t be able to plug this into any regular socket, either.
If you’ve already got your dryer, you’re probably staring at the plug. It’s a beast. You won’t be wiggling these terminals — they’re at least 1/8″ thick. And there’s a weird J-shaped one, too. What the heck? This is how you’ll get your electricity. The round pole is your ground. The J-shaped one is your neutral. The two rectangular ones are your hot leads — and you need both for this sucker to work.
Assuming you don’t already have a receptacle for this (in which case you probably don’t need this page), you’ll need to install one. Let’s also assume you’re not going for an electrician and want to do this yourself. You’ll need the following:

  1. A dryer receptacle. You gotta plug your dryer into something, right?
  2. The box to attach said receptable.
  3. Two cable connectors / strain releases. This will keep the cable from being cut by sharp edges on the box.
  4. A length of 4-wire 10-3 electrical cable. (Measure the distance you think you’ll need, and add a metre or so just to be safe.)
  5. A double-pole 30-amp breaker for your panel. (Again, assuming you don’t have one.)

Drill holes (using at least a 3/4″ — preferably a 1″ — drill bit to run the cable through your walls. You might want to soap the holes so the cable glides more freely. The stuff is stiff, and does not bend easily. (It also doesn’t cut easy, so have some strong shears around to cut ends off.)
At the receptacle end, find a proper place on a stud to secure the box. Use screws, as they’ll hold better than just nails. Attach the cable connector, pull the cable through connector (leaving enough room for strippping), and secure the cable by screwing the connector closed. Strip your wires about 1″ at the various ends, and ensure you’ve attached them correctly to the receptacle.
Okay, you’ve got one end. Now you’ve got to do the other. Wiring a panel is a little more involved.

  1. Turn the main power off. The entire panel. (The entire house.) Don’t even think of doing this any other way.
  2. Pop one of the blanks out in the panel, insert a cable connector, and pull the cable in and tie it down. Give yourself a lot of room — you’re going to need it.
  3. Attach the ground (the bare copper wire) and the neutral (the white wire). It should be pretty obvious how you connect these.
  4. Here’s the biggest trick: Make sure your dual-pole breaker is spanning across phases. (More in a second on this.)
  5. Insert the two wires (black on top, red on the bottom). Screw everything tight, and close up the panel.

More on that phase thing. If you look closely at the metal part (usually down the centre) that the breaker plugs into, you’ll see that the plugs are arranged in twos. If you insert a breaker so that it sits in one of those pairs, your breaker will be on the same phase. This means you’re not actually getting the juice you need.
Think of it as one of those fancy executive balls toys, with all the balls swinging in the same direction at once. Really boring, right? That’s because all the balls are in the same phase. No energy transfer. Put the balls in different phases, and things bounce off of each other. Same principle in electricity — your breaker needs to span the pairs, with each half of the breaker in two different pairings. This keeps each of the two wires on different phases, and presto! You have a drying dryer.
Otherwise, you have just a gizmo that spins clothes around. Not so useful.

Join the Conversation


  1. Of course I did. But I wanted to see if I could figure this out on my own. Turns out it was one bloody little thing that none of the literature I read mentioned. 🙁

  2. So when you are done this project, do we get to call you “Sowrey on Shacks”? Not as nice a ring as Holmes on Homes, but what can you do with a name like Sowrey?

  3. Judging by the nicknames I grew up with, you can do a lot with “Sowrey”. But most of those I don’t want to put up here. 😉
    And I’m reasonably certain that if Holmes ever came through my basement, I’d probably fall into the category of those renovators he hates. I’m nowhere as good as he is, but I’d like to think I’m at least effective.

  4. My response to your rhetorical question was that you may not be stroking it the right way, but I just might be accused of having a dirty mind. Either way, although it’s rhetorical, I’m still leaving that as an answer.

  5. I don’t know if “little thing” is appropriate when in reality it was a rather big thing don’t you think?
    FYI – if you’re getting a new stove, it too needs a special outlet – but you probably already knew that!

  6. Not really, no. It was pretty minor. Doesn’t harm anything, but you just get no heat. Technically, the air moving through the dryer does dry things, but it takes a LOT longer. 😉
    Yeah, but I think I’ve finally sold Alex on gas. So nothing beyond an ordinary plug is needed. 🙂

  7. Congratulations on the coming event to you both!! Is the baby’s room done??
    Good luck and please keep us informed on the arrival. Boy, do you ever have some surprizes waiting for you besides diapers!!!
    Aunt Karen

  8. Sigh… we’re barely started on the baby’s room. Lack of free space owing to the basement delays has compounded all the problems. We need to get something on the Gypcrete so we can move stuff downstairs and make room to finish.
    But we’re also planning on having the wee one in our room the first couple of weeks to make the hourly feedings and diaper changes easier.

  9. Geoff,
    You are bringing memories back to me big time….. my neighbor helped me walk Bob’s desk outside the house and around to the walk in basement so I could put up the crib and paint the nursery upstairs…… Bob did not think we needed to move his office!!! Friends of ours loaned us a solid cherry cradle and Bob insisted on
    setting it up right next to his side of the bed in our BR….. when Kara arrived, Bob almost killed himself getting out of bed….. he forgot that the cradle was right next to his side of the bed….. he had insisted on placing the cradle there because he had already had children and I had not had any….. therefore, what could I possibly know!!! Need I say more??? Parenthood is a constant learning experience….. it is wonderful….. good and bad. Keep in touch. Please tell Alexa that childbirth leaves wonderful memories to relive. Kara is now 26 years old and just bought a town house/condo outside Washington, DC. Don’t know where the time went.

  10. Hello, just poppiong in here trying to figure out why my dryer doesn’t pump and heat? I’ve found lots of troubleshooting info however I think my case is slightly different and was wondering if you might beable to shed any light.
    I have recently just moved to a new home. I bought a washer and dryer (used) and found that the dryer didn’t pump heat although it seemed to work in all other areas. I thought i just got ripped off and bought a second used dryer (electric) from people I know wouldn’t have lied about their dryer working. Again, no heat! I’ve read abit about the heating coils or fuses blowing but in two machines? I’m wondering if it could have something to do with the power box/receptical since its unlike that i would’ve broken two dryers in two days!
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
    please feel free to email me. [email protected]

  11. Sorry about the delay, Amanda.
    Sounds to me like the same problem I had — making sure that your breaker spans phases in the panel. From what I’ve gathered, you’ve got two hot lines that must be out-of-phase for your dryer to actually get hot. So long as you’ve spanned phases, it doesn’t matter which of the two wire connect to which pole in the plug. You’ve got four poles (two hots, a neutral, and a ground), and the hots are interchangeable.
    Can you poke around in your panel and see if that’s the issue?

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