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The pros and cons of baseboard heat

baseboard heat pros and cons DC MD VA

If you live in an older home or building, you have a higher chance of having a style of heating that was more de rigueur in decades past, such as a wood stove, radiators or electric baseboard heat. Many baseboard heating systems are a form of electric heat that operates without ductwork and which can be costly to run. Often more efficient than radiators, baseboard heat also takes up valuable real estate along the edges of rooms in your home, often limiting arrangements of furniture and home decor.

If you have baseboard heat, should you replace it or keep it running as long as possible? Let’s take a look.

How Does Baseboard Heat Work?

Baseboard heaters are typically mounted under a window on an exterior wall, which promotes convection of heat. Electric current flows through the unit when it’s engaged, creating heat and warming the room by passive convection as the heat naturally rises without the use of a fan. A thermostat mounted to the wall or the unit itself controls the unit.

You usually find baseboard heaters underneath exterior windows, where cold air is likely to enter and drop into the heating system to be warmed.

A more energy efficient and rare type of baseboard heating — called hot water or hydronic baseboard heating — that is often installed with radiant flooring uses a boiler to send hot water from unit to unit via pipes.

Caution: If you have electric baseboard heating, keep furniture and textiles, like drapes, away from the unit to avoid fire hazards and ensure your system runs efficiently.

pros and cons of baseboard heating under window

Some Advantages of Baseboard Heat

Since electric baseboard heating doesn’t require ductwork like forced-air systems, they can be good options for heating older homes that would otherwise need to be retrofitted. They can also be an option for rooms in a home that need an extra source of heating — for example, in a bedroom overnight.

The biggest con of this form of heating is the lack of efficiency and relatively high cost to run these systems. Some homeowners worry about humidity levels or smells coming from baseboard heating units, but a clean and properly functioning unit shouldn’t cause excessive moisture or dryness in the air, or produce chemical or burning smells. Contact a professional if anything seems out of the ordinary with your system.

Here’s a quick list of pros and cons of baseboard heating:

Pros

  • Operates quietly, unlike forced-air systems that periodically blast air
  • Offers a heating option in homes where it would be costly or difficult to install ductwork
  • Costs less to install that many other types of heating system
  • Makes a good source of heating for a single room or a secondary source of heat
  • Can be easily cleaned with a vacuum and requires little additional maintenance
  • Lasts up to 20 or more years

Cons

  • Costs more to operate than other types of non-electric heating in many cases
  • Takes up valuable space along your baseboards, limiting where you can position furniture and home decor
  • Operates without ductwork
  • Becomes less efficient if not properly cleaned

pros and cons of baseboard heat warm cat by window

Alternatives Types of Heating Systems

If you have a house with electric baseboard heating and decide you want to upgrade, other options exist. Other potential heat sources include:

Other types of distribution systems besides electric baseboard heating include:

  • Forced air
  • Steam radiant
  • Radiant heating
  • Hot water baseboards

Factors you’ll want to consider when deciding on an upgrade: life expectancy of the unit, cost to install, cost to operate, whether you’ll need to also install air ducts and heating vents or make other upgrades to accommodate the new system. Talk to an HVAC professional to figure out what’s the best type of heat for your home.

Get Professional HVAC Service

To service your baseboard or other heating system, contact an HVAC expert at John C. Flood. Our technicians can also install a brand new efficient heating system to keep you warm in the cold months ahead.