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 can be expensive to run.
Baseboard heating is often more efficient than radiators, and they are even more efficient when they are run constantly, instead of being turned on and off.
They also take 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 heating includes two kinds of heating systems: electric and hydronic. Electric baseboard heating doesn't require central heating or duct work. Hydronic uses central heating but sends hot water to baseboard heating units to heat the room.
Baseboard heaters are typically mounted under a window on an exterior wall, which promotes convection of heat. You usually find baseboard heaters underneath exterior windows, where cold air is likely to enter and drop into the heating system to be warmed.
Electric Baseboard Heating
The upfront cost of installing electric baseboard heating is less expensive compared to other types of heating, but the U.S. Department of Energy says it can be more expensive in the long-term because it isn't as efficient.
One reason is because baseboard placement often results in heat leaving the home.
With electric baseboard heating, an 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.
It’s important to educate yourself on electric baseboard heating pros and cons before investing in them. Keep in mind that as temperatures drop outside, your energy costs rise.
A good estimate is to expect about a five percent increase for every degree you set your heater above 68°F. The more you’re willing to adjust to cooler temperatures, throw on an extra layer, or cuddle in a blanket, the more you’ll save with electric baseboard heating.
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.
Also, keep in mind that thick carpeting or rugs can get in the way of an electric baseboard heater, so be sure everything fits together well before splurging on upgrades.
Hydronic Baseboard Heating
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. A hydronic heater system seals the water within the system and doesn’t require any kind of recharging to operate well.
If you’re picky about style or sizing, keep in mind that there are fewer options when it comes to hydronic heaters. The most common lengths range between 35 inches and 94 inches, and the length options in between are limited.
While hot water baseboard heaters excel in terms of energy efficiency, it has a disadvantage when it comes to heat-up time and reaching your target temperature. On the bright side however, these systems provide a longer-lasting heat, remaining warm well after their thermostat is turned off.
Baseboard Heating Pros
While they are a good fit for many homeowners, it’s important to understand baseboard heating pros and cons before jumping in.
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.
Pro 1: Quiet Operation
A benefit of baseboard heating is it operates quietly, unlike forced-air systems that periodically blast air. This is a big pro when installing in bedrooms. They won’t negatively affect your sleep schedule or keep you awake with loud noises.
Pro 2: Easy Installation
Baseboard heating offers a unique heating option to homeowners since installation doesn’t require ductwork.
So if you live in an older home that doesn’t have any fancy ducts, don’t fret. Baseboard heating can easily be installed without the use of ductwork, making the installation process fairly painless.
Pro 3: Low Installation Cost
Baseboard heating is less expensive to install than many other types of heating systems since they are so easy to install. So if you’re hoping to get heating in your home on a lower budget, then baseboard heating might be perfect for you.
Pro 4: Good Heating Source
Baseboard heating offers a good source of heating for a single room or a secondary source of heat for a large home space.
Pro 5: Easily Cleaned
Unlike a complicated HVAC system, baseboard heating can easily be cleaned with a vacuum. This is a task most homeowners can tackle on their own without second-guessing it. Additionally, baseboard heating systems typically require little additional maintenance to run optimally.
Pro 6: Longevity
You can expect your baseboard heating to last 20 years or more.
Baseboard Heating Cons
So let’s dive a little deeper into the pros and cons of baseboard heating, specifically the cons.
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.
Con 1: Costly Operation
When compared to many other forms of residential heating, baseboard heating isn’t always the most cost-effective option in every scenario. If the cost-effectiveness of your heating is your main objective, try checking out some other non-electric heating options before going with electric baseboard heating.
Con 2: Takes Up Space
Baseboard heating isn’t the most attractive thing to have along your baseboards. Not only that, but they do take up space along your baseboards, limiting where you can position furniture and home decor.
Con 3: No Ductwork
In most homes, heating is passed through ductwork. This is not the case with baseboard heating since the heat is produced from the baseboard heating and then blown into the space.
Con 4: Needs Cleaning
Baseboard heating becomes less efficient when it’s not cleaned properly… so be sure you clean yours as it should be cleaned! Keep in mind that any sort of heating system operates at its best when it is properly cleaned, which includes an expensive HVAC unit. Always feel free to contact your trusted heating specialist if you’re unsure how to best clean your unit.
Con 5: Heaters Get Hot
When examining electric baseboard heating pros and cons, or even baseboard heating pros and cons in general, this is a serious con: baseboard heaters create heat and often get hot themselves. You’ll need to keep a clear space around your baseboard heaters to ensure they don’t damage anything nearby them or start a fire.
Con 6: Most Efficient When Run Constantly
If you like to adjust your thermostat a lot or turn it off and then on again when you need to, then baseboard heaters might not be the most efficient option for you.
Baseboard heaters tend to be more expensive to power if you change the temperature around regularly. While this isn’t a huge issue for small changes, it can be an issue for users who like to make a lot of thermostat changes.
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:
- Heat pumps
- Solar heating
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: the 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 Heating 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.