I have a little oil heater in my house that is on the fritz. Its "Off-High-Med-Low" switch is just basically gone. While I might be able to dig out another switch from some of my electronics junk, I was wondering: Is it AT ALL possible to use a potentiometer in place of this 4 position rotary switch?

It seems legitimate - Basically, instead of 4 positions, it seems like I'd now just have something like 270 positions...lol. At the time being, I only have something like 62 cents to my name and a lot of cold weather between now and more money, so I'm 100% going to have to just repair this heater instead of replace and 100% going to have to repair it with stuff that I have laying around.

Thanks for any help - If anyone can help, you'll have the knowledge that you kept me from freezing to death...

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Probably not possible. You'd have to look at the schematic to be sure, but a 4 position switch probably allows 2 separate heaters (one low power, one medium) to be on independently, or both together for high power. Anything that would allow substituting a pot would be more complex and expensive, hence highly unlikely. If you need to replace hte switch, fit 2 toggle switches and learn binary! \$\endgroup\$
    – user16324
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Try to find a schematic for the heater online, then you will know what your switch options can be. \$\endgroup\$
    – user65586
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice. I like the 2 switch binary idea - awesome. I'm an IT student, I do know binary to a little extent. [off,off|off,on|on,off|on,on](so awesome) I think I know what I'm going to tweak out on for the rest of the night lol. Also, I think that heater is pretty common, I'll try to find a schematic. Thanks for replies. I'll try to comment later tonight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shane
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since it is an oil heater, the switch is for the electric motor (not heating elements. All the switch does, is select a particular motor winding. I recommend you use only one switch between the common terminal and the medium (or high) terminal. This way you will have heat for now. Don't do anything else until you get the schematic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Guill
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 9:02

1 Answer 1


Yeah, so this post of mine is very dead - and I hate to ressurect it except for the fix I opted for. It's nearly fall again, so it's been a while since I messed with it, but if I recall properly, I used a 20 amp circuit breaker like a toggle switch since I didn't have any other AC switches. The heater originally had, like I said, an off/high/med/low switch, and a potentiometer/rheostat/whatever for more fine tuning. I just wired the heater together as "High" and then to the circuit breaker. It was something like 1 wire was low, 2 was med, and all the hots wired together was high. (As I'm reading what I'm saying, 20 amps seems awfully high, but I guess since it plugs into the wall, it actually has another breaker associated with it.) Anyway, this wizardry surprised the heck out of me that it actually worked and I think I actually learned something that day. Thanks again to my absolute favorite Stack Exchange community.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The "potentiometer / rheostat / whatever" is probably the thermostat. There is probably a bi-metallic strip contact that bends with temperature and toggles to suddenly make or break the contact. If you're happy with your own answer you can accept it! \$\endgroup\$
    – Transistor
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 20:43

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