How Do Hot Water Baseboard Heaters Work

Types of Baseboard Heaters

There are two types of baseboard heaters: convection and hydronic. Convection types have a heating element and fins that heat up and slowly radiate heat. Hydronic baseboard heaters are filled with either water or oil which also heats up and slowly dissipates heat. Both styles are similar in design on the outside, and both have their own pros and cons when it comes to their costs, energy usage, and installation.

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.


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.


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.

Cons of Baseboard Heat

Although there are some notable benefits to electric baseboard heaters, they aren’t considered the most efficient or practical heat source on the market today. Why is that?

1. Cost

Is baseboard heating expensive? In general, electric baseboard heaters use more electricity than an electric heat pump. This means higher electric bills, especially in the coldest winter months when they’re working overtime to keep your home warm. The placement of baseboard heaters — near windows and exterior walls — can also work against you. If the thermostat on the unit senses cold nearby, such as drafts from old windows, it’s going to work even harder trying to keep the room warm. Why? It responds to the temperature nearest the thermostat. This can increase your energy expenses even more.

Some homeowners can save some money by keeping the heaters off in rooms where they don’t spend much time, but depending on the size of your home and how many people live there, this may not be an option.

2. Interior Design

By design, baseboard heaters take up valuable wall space in every room. They’re under windows and along exterior walls to mitigate the cold that passes through these parts of the home. Inevitably, this means you’ll find a long baseboard heater right where you’d like to put the couch or bed or dresser. Because electric baseboard heaters get hot, you should keep furniture and curtains at least 6 inches away from them to prevent a fire. The placement of the units and the need to keep them unobstructed can severely limit where you can place furniture and what kind of curtains you can safely hang. Long drapes are a big “no” on windows above a baseboard heater!

3. Safety Hazard

Electric baseboard heaters can get really hot when they’re on. The heating element itself gets hot, but the heater covers also get incredibly hot as well. If you have young children who are prone to sticking their fingers where they don’t belong, this can be dangerous. Parents naturally look for ways to hide or block safety hazards in their homes, but unfortunately, because you can’t put items over or in front of the heaters, there’s really no way to block them from a curious child. Because of this, young children in homes with electric baseboard heaters require constant monitoring to ensure that they’re safe at all times.

4. Dry Heat

We’re often asked: is baseboard heat dry? Electric baseboard heaters are notorious for producing an incredibly dry heat. Residents of homes with baseboard heaters may experience dry skin, dry throats, bloody noses and dry eyes, especially if they’re prone to these problems to begin with. Sometimes homeowners use a humidifier to compensate for the dry air in their home, but that requires more electricity, and it can be a pain to keep them clean and filled with fresh water.

5. Require Regular Cleaning

Anytime the system is forced to work harder or longer means an increase in energy costs. To keep baseboard heaters operating at their maximum efficiency, you must clean them regularly. The good news is they aren’t difficult to clean — all you need is a vacuum — but if dust begins to collect on the system, it will have to work harder to produce enough heat.

How Do Baseboard Heaters Work?

When placed at the bottom of a wall, baseboard heaters take the colder air from the floor, heat it up, and then push it out the top to slowly warm a room. Because there are no fans to force the air away from the heater, it can take up to an hour to feel a rise in a room’s temperature after the baseboard heater is turned on. The heater itself gets warm, but it can take some time for the warm air it produces to rise and fill the rest of the room.

Baseboard heaters use either 120 or 240 volts to operate. A 240-volt heater will put out more heat and be more efficient than a 120-volt heater. Most baseboard heaters are hardwired and considered permanent fixtures. Some plug-in models exist and may appeal to homeowners without electrical skills.

Because baseboard heaters have no moving parts such as fans or motors, they are very quiet other than a ticking sound that results from the metal casing expanding and contracting when the unit heats up and cools down. They’re also very clean and don’t produce dust or other pollutants. There’s no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of electric baseboard heaters.

If your main heat source is a wood stove, baseboard heaters can be set to come on when the temperature drops below 60 degrees which will keep the house from getting too cold until the fire in the woodstove can be fed more wood.

Disadvantages of Baseboard Heating

You’ve seen some of the pros, but what about the cons? Like any heating system, baseboard heaters have plenty of both. Considering every factor is the best way to make sure that you’re picking the right way to heat your home. Here are a few of the biggest disadvantages involved with using a baseboard heating system:

  • Costly to Operate – Electric baseboard heaters are extremely inefficient, making them expensive to run. While hydronic baseboards are much more efficient, they still fall short when compared to some heat pumps. If you’re willing to spend the money, modern solar heated ducted systems are significantly more efficient and less expensive to operate.
  • Space Requirements – While baseboard heaters are smaller and less obtrusive than radiators, they can still be a bit of an eyesore, especially since they need to be placed in every room that you want to heat. Additionally, because they work best when placed directly underneath windows, they limit your options for curtains and drapes. Long curtains placed over a baseboard heater are a pretty serious fire hazard.
  • Slow to Adjust – While baseboard heaters will warm the air in your home just as effectively as other systems, they will take a little bit longer to do so. This means you’ll have to be a little more patient, and you can’t turn the heaters on and off frequently throughout the day without wasting a lot of time and electricity. For this reason, baseboard heaters are best used with a central thermostat you can set and leave alone for the rest of the day.

Let Summers and Zims Repair or Replace Your Baseboard Heater

If you need to replace your baseboard heater in the Lancaster, Chester or Delaware County in Pennsylvania, consider a ductless split system. When comparing ductless vs. baseboard heating, a ductless split system efficiently provides both warm and cold air for your home. We specialize in repairing and replacing baseboard heaters or any heating system. Contact us online to schedule an appointment or ask us questions about our services. You can also call us at 610-593-5129.


Convection Heater

An electric convection baseboard heater is the cheapest, but also least efficient, type of baseboard heater you can buy.

Hydronic Heater

Hydronic heaters will cost about four times more than the corresponding convection baseboard heater.

Key Features

Convection Heater

A convection heater is the most basic type of baseboard heater. The functioning innards of this heater are comprised of a heating element. The interior electric coils heat up much like coils inside a toaster. This type of heater either has a thermostat located on the heater itself or on the wall.

Hydronic Heater

Instead of electrical heating elements directly heating the air, with hydronic or oil-filled heater systems, the heating element warms the water or oil, which in turn heats the air. The water or oil is sealed within the system and does not require recharging.

Baseboard Heaters vs Ducted HVAC

A standard ducted HVAC system, often referred to as central air heating, is by far the most common way to heat a home, especially for newly constructed houses that can have the ducts built right in. These systems often have both heat pumps to raise the temperature in your house and air conditioners to lower it. For the purposes of this comparison, however, we’ll just focus on the heating elements for now.

Ducted HVAC systems can heat air in a few different ways. They can use a furnace inside your home to generate heat, they can use a boiler to create heat like a hydronic baseboard, or they can use a combination air conditioner/heat pump to bring either hot or cold air inside the house as needed. However, they all distribute heat in pretty much the same way. After the heat has been generated, either by a furnace or by passing air from outside across a heating element like a compressor, a blower fan will force the warm air through the ducts and out of vents placed throughout your home. These systems are usually controlled by a thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the temperature has dipped too low, it turns the central heating on until it’s warmed back up.

The biggest advantage that baseboard heating has over a central air system is the cost of installation. Forced air requires ductwork to be installed all throughout your home to work, otherwise, it won’t be able to distribute the warm air. A baseboard heater only needs to have single units installed in the rooms you need to warm, and a boiler is cheaper than a furnace. Baseboard heaters also work silently, unlike central air systems that have loud blower fans. Hot water baseboard heaters are also frequently more energy efficient than furnaces or heat pumps, although new technologies like active solar heating are making ducted systems more efficient. Finally, air that’s been warmed by a furnace is often dryer than the warm air created by convection heaters, which can create static electricity and make things worse for people who already suffer from dry skin.

How do electric baseboard heaters work?

An electric current flows through the electric baseboard’s heating element. The electrical resistance of the heating element causes it to heat up as the electricity tries to flow through it. Baseboard heaters don’t have fans; their heat naturally spreads throughout the room.

Like any heating system, you control baseboard heaters with a thermostat, which is either on the unit itself or on the wall elsewhere in the room. Digital thermostats on the wall are the most accurate.

To operate a baseboard heater, set the desired temperature on the thermostat; the heater will turn on until that temperature is reached. If the temperature later drops, the heater turns on again.

There should be a minimum clearance of 3/4 inch between the heater and the floor. This allows cool air to enter the heater from underneath and, once heated, flow out through the fins.

Draperies above the heater should have at least 12 inches of space between them and the unit. However, some manufacturers suggest 4 to 6 inches is enough. Keep in mind that draperies above heaters have resulted in home fires — it’s best to be on the safe side.

Also, don’t place furniture (especially fabric furniture), or other items too close to the front of the unit. Some experts say 6 inches of space is enough, while others recommend 10 to 12 inches.

In addition to being a fire hazard, furniture can restrict airflow. If your baseboard heater is close to the floor, even a high pile carpet can block airflow into the unit.

How Much Baseboard Heat Do You Need?

Typically an electric baseboard heating systems heats areas of about 100 square feet or so. If desired, multiple systems may be purchased to heat a larger room. However, be sure to take into consideration the energy costs involved with heating a large space with baseboard heating, and calculate whether this is the best financial option.

Be sure to explore different types of heating systems before you decide on which one you would like to get. Start with our handy guide that breaks down information on each of the most common types of heating systems and in what types of spaces they work best.

How efficient is baseboard heat?

These days, many consumers are looking for efficiency in both cost and energy. While electric baseboard heat boasts 100 percent efficiency, meaning that all of the electricity used goes to producing heat, it uses a good amount of electricity to operate. So, on the surface, you may save money on the initial purchase, but over the long run, it could be more expensive. For the same reason, it is not a particularly environmentally friendly option either.

You should take into account the fact that baseboard heaters also aren’t recommended to cover a large area, so this 100 percent efficiency rating may drop if used in a bigger room.

Choose the best heating option for your home

There are many choices out there when it comes to heating your home, or a specific room or space therein. It is important to weigh out the different options and their particular benefits and drawbacks, from cost and energy efficiency to space and safety.

The electric baseboard heater option is attractive to many homeowners because of its ability to evenly disperse warm air throughout a room from top to bottom. No more cold feet with electric baseboard heating. Especially for extra bedrooms, new additions, and attics, electric baseboard heating can deliver the targeted zonal warmth when and where it’s needed.

However, you should be sure you are not attempting to heat too large of a space with this setup, as one unit isn’t designed for rooms or spaces much larger than 100 feet. So if you do choose this option for a larger area, you’ll have to purchase more than one unit. If you aren’t certain this is right for warming up your space, be sure to examine other options or consult an HVAC professional.

Are you ready to start warming up your home this winter with an electric baseboard heating system? Total Home Supply has you covered. Stop by and browse our selection of baseboard heaters and figure out which one might be the best fit for you.


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