Pros and Cons of Electric Baseboard Heat

Table of Contents

How Do Baseboard Heating Systems Work?  |  The Different Types of Baseboard Heat  |  Is Baseboard Heat Efficient  |  Pros of Baseboard Heat  |  Cons of Baseboard Heat  |  Baseboard Heat VS Other HVAC Systems

Electric Baseboard Heat

If you have baseboard heaters, then you know firsthand the joys and struggles that come with operating them in the winter. On the one hand, electric baseboard heaters afford you the ability to control the temperature in each room individually — it’s zone heating without the technology! On the other hand, electric baseboard heaters are unsightly, less than efficient than modern electric heat pumps, and can be hazardous if you have young children.

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Maybe you’ve considered replacing your current system with a more efficient option. Or maybe you’re facing a lot of repairs that leave you wondering if it’s worth it.

To understand your system — and how to best heat your home — it’s important to understand how electric baseboard heaters work and how they compare with other systems on the market today. Learn more about the best home heating solutions in Pennsylvania.

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How Do Baseboard Heating Systems Work?

Even homeowners who’ve had electric baseboard heating for years often don’t understand how their home’s heating system works. So before you can understand the pros and cons of baseboard heating, take a few minutes to ask: what is baseboard heating and how does it work?

Electric baseboard heating systems — also known as electric resistance heating — is a form of zone heating that individually creates and controls the temperature in each room of your home. There are no furnaces, boilers, heating ducts, vents or blowers involved in distributing the heat. Each baseboard unit houses a heating element that generates heat and then slowly releases it into the room where it’s located.

The term “baseboard heat” refers to the heater’s location along the bottom of the wall. The idea behind this location is that heat naturally rises so, by starting out along the floor, the heat slowly rises into the area between the floor and ceiling where you spend most of your time.

The Different Types of Baseboard Heat

There are different types of baseboard heat out there, such as gas baseboard heat and hydronic baseboard heat. You might have heard this referred to as hot water baseboard heat. These heaters send hot water through a series of copper coils located in baseboard units around the home. The water can be heated through your home’s boiler system. However, in this post, we’re addressing traditional electric baseboard heat.

Typically baseboard heaters are installed under windows and on perimeter walls of the home. This allows them to counteract the cold air radiating off the window glass, as well as the areas where the home’s greatest heat loss tends to happen. Electric baseboards are individually controlled, meaning each unit — and therefore each room — has its own thermostat. This can be beneficial if your family has disagreements about how warm — or cold — to keep the house in the winter. It’s also helpful because you can turn the heat down in rooms you don’t use often or up in rooms that tend to get drafty.

But Is Baseboard Heat Efficient?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question because it depends on a variety of factors. The overall efficiency of a baseboard heating system depends on its age, its condition and where you live. In most climates, an electric heat pump will operate with more overall efficiency than electric baseboard heaters. In fact, homeowners should see an approximately 50% decrease in electricity use once electric baseboard heaters aren’t being used anymore. This means monthly savings on their energy bill.

Everyone wants a more efficient — and less expensive — way to heat their home. If you don’t want to convert your home to central heating and cooling, the ductless HVAC system — also called a mini-split system — is a great way to get a more efficient system at a more economical price.

Learn more about Mini Splits

We’ll get into the details of the ductless system later in this article. But to understand its benefits, you should first understand the pros and cons of baseboard heat.

Pros of Baseboard Heat

Although not as common as other home heating options, baseboard heaters are still easy to find, especially in older homes. What are the electric baseboard heating pros?

1. It’s Quiet

We’ve all heard it — you’re visiting a friend with an electric heat pump and “woosh!” The heater turns on and starts to blast the house’s occupants with warm air. If you’re near the furnace when this happens or the blower isn’t in great shape, it can be loud enough to disrupt a conversation or make sleep more difficult. Baseboard heat isn’t like this. You’d be hard-pressed to notice when baseboard heaters turn on and off. Other than a few pops and clicks as the heating element begins to warm up, there’s no noise coming from baseboard heaters.

2. Zone Heating

Zone heating allows families to set different temperatures in different areas of the home. Today it’s often presented as a digital feature allowing you to designate different parts of your home to be heated and cooled at certain preset temperatures without being influenced by temperatures in other areas of the house. Electric baseboard heaters have offered this option for years because each baseboard unit has its own thermostat.

If you want your bedroom to stay a cool 67 degrees, but you don’t want to freeze while you’re watching television, then you can set it to 70 in your living space. Or, if your child is away at college most of the winter, you can turn off the unit in their room and then flip it back on when they come home for the weekend.

3. Simple Installation

In homes where it might be difficult to install new ductwork or the cost is too high, baseboard heat can be a more economical alternative. Because there is no ductwork involved in electric baseboard heating, it’s easier — and cheaper — to install than other types of heating.

4. Secondary Source of Heat

When winter temperatures take a dive, electric heat pumps often can’t keep up. In areas prone to extreme winter temperatures, baseboard heaters make a great secondary — or backup — source of heat. Why? Heat pumps weren’t designed to handle the bitter cold of winter. When it’s too cold for a heat pump to operate as it should, flip on the baseboard heaters in rooms where a little extra heat is needed. Besides keeping the house warmer, this keeps the heat pump from running constantly, trying — and failing — to keep up.

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.

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Baseboard Heat Compared to Forced Air Systems

To understand electric baseboard heat pros and cons better, you have to compare it with other systems. You’ll often see electric baseboard heat compared with a forced-air system, one of the most common heating systems found in homes today. When you’re comparing baseboard heat vs. forced air, baseboard heat benefits include:
  • Easily customizable temperatures in each room
  • Better heat when temps are below freezing
  • Quiet delivery
  • Ductless

On the other hand, when compared to forced-air systems, baseboard heat often falls short because it’s:

  • More expensive
  • More restrictive
  • Requires more cleaning

If your home doesn’t already have a forced-air system, this is frustrating. Installing ductwork and machinery for forced air systems is an investment that isn’t always possible. So how can you upgrade your home’s heating system without breaking the bank?

Baseboard Heat vs. Ductless HVAC Units

There is an alternative to baseboard heaters and forced air units: ductless HVAC.

Also called a mini-split system, a ductless HVAC unit combines the best of both types of heating and cooling systems. The ductless system is comprised of a compressor installed outside of the home that is connected to indoor air handlers throughout the house. Rather than connecting the air handlers via ductwork — which can be costly and difficult to install — the air handlers are connected with a copper conduit that runs through the wall to the compressor outside.

What are the benefits of ductless HVAC units?

1. Reduction of Energy Loss

When you install a ductless HVAC unit in your home, you can expect to reduce the amount of energy loss via your home’s system by 30% annually. A reduction in energy loss means monthly energy savings!

2. Simple Installation

Because this system doesn’t rely on ducts to carry forced air from room-to-room, installation is easier and less intrusive. The compressor is installed outside and then connected to rooms in your home via copper wires. Depending on your needs, you can opt to have one indoor unit or, if you want to be able to heat and condition multiple rooms individually, you can install several indoor air handlers in different rooms of your home. Regardless of how many air handlers you opt to have installed, the disruption to your home is minimal and these systems are easily installed in a day or two.

3. Maintain Control of Your Home’s Temperature

Ductless HVAC systems provide the energy efficiency of a modern HVAC system but they still allow you to control temperature individually in each room of your home. You can reduce the temperature in rooms where you don’t spend a lot of time and increase it in areas of your home that tend to get colder.

4. Low Maintenance

Ductless systems don’t require the maintenance that comes with keeping baseboard heaters operating efficiently. Ductless systems do have a filter that collects dust, but these filters are easy-to-remove and washable, making periodic cleaning quick and easy. When you convert to ductless, you won’t spend your winter vacuuming heaters or chasing dust. You also won’t have to worry about small items being dropped — or placed — inside the unit by a mischevious child.

5. Can Be Blended With Your Room’s Appearance

Ductless systems can be installed up high near the ceiling or low to the floor — in various locations around each room. This means you can install them where it’s convenient and even choose a lighter or darker colored unit to blend in better with your existing decor.

HVAC Professionals in Harrisburg and Hershey

Whether you’re looking for a company to repair existing baseboard heating systems or install a new ductless HVAC system, look no further than Home Climates.

Our expertise in geothermal and high-efficiency systems means that we’re committed to saving you money and making our planet a better place — and we don’t have to compromise one to achieve the other! Our Elizabethtown location makes it convenient to offer service throughout Central Pennsylvania, including Dauphin, Lancaster, Cumberland and York Counties.

We’re proud to offer a five-year labor guarantee because we stand behind our background checked, highly-trained and experienced technicians. We also offer convenient scheduling — no more waiting around the house all day wondering when your technician will show up!

Have an HVAC system that needs to be repaired or replaced? Don’t wait. Schedule a repair or in-home estimate now.

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Home Climates Review Scored as of 9/22/22


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