A safe and comfortable home is important, as is choosing the right type of heater to warm a home. Baseboard radiators are a type of heating solution that provide affordable and effective warmth. They are an excellent choice for generating heat throughout your property or just heating rooms underserved by your primary heating system.
Supplementing or replacing your standard heating system with a quiet, energy-efficient baseboard heater can offer relief to your wallet and your allergies. You can disguise baseboard heaters by tucking them neatly down near the floor or behind furniture. (Be sure to have at least a foot of space between a baseboard heater and furniture to avoid a potential fire hazard. Less space than that also reduces a heater's efficiency.) Many models can even be attached to your existing central heating system.
Whether you opt for hot water baseboard heaters or electric baseboard heaters that work via convection, you’ll find these units to be efficient and cost-effective. They’re also a fantastic way to employ zonal heating throughout a home.
What Is Baseboard Heating and How Does It Work?
One of the reasons that baseboard units are typically located beneath windows is because they rely on the dense, cold air coming in from windows. As cold air falls from the window, it makes its way into the baseboard heater via a vent, where the air is heated by a series of metal fins that have been electrically preheated. The warm air rises from the baseboard heater, and then the pattern repeats itself, which creates a circular flow of air.
Although self-contained plug-in baseboard heaters are widely available, you can also buy units that you can hardwire into your home’s central heating system. A baseboard heater is usually controlled by a programmable wall-mounted thermostat or by a dial attached to the baseboard itself, but you can also opt for a smart thermostat that works via Wi-Fi and your smartphone or another Internet-enabled device to conveniently control temperature settings.
Electric vs. Hydronic Baseboard Heaters
Baseboard heaters are generally divided into two categories: electric/convection and radiant heat/hydronic. Electric baseboard heaters are typically hardwired into a home’s electrical system, although some units can simply be plugged into a nearby outlet. Electric baseboard heaters don’t require ductwork or central heating. Instead, they work as independent units; coils inside the units warm the air. They’re inexpensive, available in a range of sizes and heat capacities, and quickly heat up the room they’re in. However, they don’t retain heat. That is, the heat they generate dissipates quickly, so they need to be turned on for as long as you want to stay warm.
Hydronic heaters, also known as radiant heat baseboard heaters, work with fluid, typically either water or oil. The electrical current warms up the fluid and radiates heat throughout a room. Since the fluid reservoir retains heat, these systems transmit heat long after the power has been shut off, making them more efficient than electric baseboard heaters at maintaining the desired level of warmth. As you might expect, with this increased efficiency comes a higher cost, and a longer wait time to initially heat up a room.
Installation Tips for Baseboard Heating
Electric baseboard heaters are some of the most affordable systems on the market, making them a popular choice. Since they take up a small amount of space and don’t require vents or ductwork, installing an electric baseboard heater can be a DIY job for a handy homeowner. Even if you opt to hire a professional to install one, the job shouldn’t be costly. However, keep in mind that you may spend more money on higher energy costs using this type of baseboard heater since it only provides warmth when it’s turned on.
Hydronic baseboard heaters often require complex installation by a licensed electrician, which adds to their overall expense. However, they are also considered more energy-efficient and better at providing long-lasting heat.
Quick tip: For all baseboard heater installations, make sure your unit is installed flush against the wall—the smaller the space between the wall and the unit, the less likely something can get wedged in and malfunction the system.
Maintenance for Baseboard Heaters
Maintaining baseboard heaters is mostly a matter of keeping them free of dust and debris. Make sure no foreign objects become lodged in your heater (especially be on the lookout if you have small children and/or pets). You’ll also want to keep any window treatments from covering or touching the unit. Don’t drape curtains over the unit—not only is it a fire hazard but it also prevents proper airflow into the room. Installing them near or over thick carpets and rugs is also an obvious no-no.
At the beginning and end of every season (in the fall and again in the spring), thoroughly clean and vacuum your baseboard heater. It’s also a good idea to purchase a cover for your heater that will protect it from dust buildup during the off-season.
For hydronic systems, the same tips apply as with electric baseboard heaters, but there’s a bit more. Since hydronic units use a liquid that runs through the center of the heater to conduct heat, air has a tendency to build up in the unit, requiring periodic “bleeding” of the air from the system, as well as fluid replacement.
You can tell it’s time to bleed your baseboard heater when it’s not producing the same consistent heat you’re used to, or if it starts making loud noises. There’s usually a bleed valve on the unit, which you open to release air and replace the fluid.
You can hire a professional to do this for you, or you can try it yourself. If you choose the latter, be sure to precisely follow the manufacturer’s instructions that come with your unit, as there are many intricate steps involved. You may need to bleed your baseboard heater as much as every couple of months in the winter when it’s running at its highest level.
How to Choose the Right Baseboard Heater for Your Home
Once you’ve decided that you want a baseboard heater for your home, here are some things to ask yourself as you consider different models:
1. What is its heating capacity? Typically, a room heater will use 10 watts of heating power for every square foot of space. Therefore, a 1,500-watt heater should heat rooms as large as 150 square feet.
2. Is it energy efficient? If you want to save energy and maintain low utility bills, be sure that the unit you purchase is efficient at heating and maintaining warmth.
3. Is it safe? All baseboard heaters can become fire hazards if you do not install and maintain them properly. Take the extra time to learn how to correctly operate your unit and keep it running smoothly.
4. Is it noisy? As with most electrical appliances, some baseboard heaters are loud when they operate. That said, many electric baseboard heaters and hydronic heaters are very quiet, so pay attention to noise levels when comparing different models.
5. Is it easy to maintain? Since electric baseboard heaters are easier to maintain than hydronic baseboard heaters, consider your level of comfort performing the extra maintenance that hydronic units require.
Home Warranties Offer Budget Protection
Whether you choose an electric baseboard heater that runs via convection, or a hydronic one, you know heating costs in winter can be quite high overall. If you are looking for a smart budgeting tip to help reduce your household costs, consider investing in a First American home warranty plan. We cover many major home appliances and systems that you use every day, providing peace of mind when a covered item unexpectedly breaks down. Learn more about what our home warranties cover and get your complimentary home warranty quote today.