Electric baseboard heat systems are one of the most inexpensive and easy-to-install heating solutions you can choose for your home. That being said, they are very rarely used as the full time, primary heat source for homes because of the expensive operating cost. They can be a good solution as a secondary heat source to your central heating system, or for heating spaces like basements, room additions, bathrooms, or drafty rooms.
How Does Baseboard Heat Work?
There are two different types of baseboard heating systems: electric and hydronic. From the outside, these two types of heating units look identical. They both provide a slow, gentle flow of heat. So what’s the difference? We break it down for you below.
ELECTRIC BASEBOARD HEATING
In the simplest terms, electric baseboard heaters work by drawing cool air near the floor over heated metal fins, and then the warm air is gently radiated back into the room. They are typically installed on perimeter walls underneath windows, which promotes convection of heat – as cold air falls from the window, it enters the baseboard unit through a vent, where the air is then heated by an electric current. The warm air then rises from the baseboard, and the pattern repeats itself, creating the process known as convection.
HYDRONIC BASEBOARD HEATING
Hydronic baseboard heating works similarly to electric baseboard heating, but electricity generates the system’s heat indirectly. Hydronic systems work by circulating heated water or oil from a boiler to the baseboard heaters, where an electrical current warms the fluid within the baseboard unit. The heated fluid then radiates heat into the room.
Hydronic baseboards operate more efficiently than electric systems because the liquid within the system will remain warm for much longer even after the thermostat is turned off.
While hydronic units are more efficient than electric, they are more expensive to install due to the initial cost of a boiler and running tubing throughout the house. These systems are not as common in new homes today because there are more efficient, cost-effective ways to heat your home.
Why Choose Electric Baseboard Heat?
Since electric baseboard heat systems do not use forced-air, and have no moving parts like fans, they operate almost silently compared to forced air systems.
EASY TO INSTALL
Baseboard heating units do not require ductwork to operate, which means they are easy to install, especially for older or space constrained homes where adding ductwork would be difficult.
There is little ongoing maintenance because baseboard heaters do not have to be serviced professionally like forced air systems.
INEXPENSIVE UPFRONT COST
These units cost less to install than most other types of heating systems. They do not require modifying your home or installing large pieces of equipment like high-velocity, ductless or geothermal systems.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR YOUR HOME
Electric baseboard heaters are infamously known for being inefficient, which can be costly for homeowners to run for a long period of time. Many homeowners use baseboard heaters in conjunction with a central heating system so they are not running as frequently. For more efficient heating options, read more on our guide, The Most Energy Efficient Air Conditioners and Heating Systems.”
While homeowners can save money on the upfront purchase and installation costs of electric baseboard heaters, these systems will cost you more money in the long run because of the inefficiencies and cost of electricity to operate.
Electric baseboard heaters work best when there is proper airflow around them. Homeowners need to be aware of the height of carpet beneath these units, as well as making sure that furniture and curtains/drapery are the proper distance away to improve efficiency and prevent fire hazards.