a baseboard heater with its cover off

Baseboard Heating Energy Efficiency – How Good Is It?

Electric baseboard heaters, also called resistance heaters, have an energy efficiency rating of 100 percent. That means they generate as much heat as the electricity they consume.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best choice to heat your home. Let’s take a quick look at which would be better with a different HVAC solution.

How Does an Electric Baseboard Heating System Work?

Baseboard heaters are installed on the wall about an inch (2.54 centimeters) from the floor (where your baseboards would be). The heaters can run on any source of electricity, including rooftop solar panels.

The heating unit has an element inside that gets hot and generates heat. The system then releases heat to warm the room.

Baseboard heating energy efficiency in a home
Baseboard heating warms each room, so large houses will require multiple units.

Each room in your house will need its own baseboard heating unit.

The units have a zone control feature that lets you individually set temperature requirements for each room.

Electric heat sources tend to be expensive but the option of zone control can help you save on utility bills because you can selectively lower temperatures in rooms that don’t require too much heating.

The Pros and Cons of Baseboard Heaters

The advantages of a baseboard heating system include the following:

  • Lower upfront costs: The upfront cost of purchasing and installing a baseboard heat system is usually lower than other heating sources, such as heat pumps.
  • No noise: Since baseboard heaters work quietly, they won’t disrupt your quiet moments or make it difficult for you to sleep.
  • Great for backup heat in colder winters: If you have another primary heat source, baseboard heaters can act as a secondary heat source when temperatures plummet below tolerable levels.
  • They do not produce harmful gasses: They are fully electric; they do not use combustion to create heat; and there is no danger of CO poisoning.

On the flip side, here are the downsides of baseboard heating systems:

  • A safety hazard: Since baseboard heaters can get extremely hot as they work, they can be a safety hazard in homes with small children and pets. They can also be dangerous if placed close to flammable objects. This fire risk is low if precautions are taken but there is still a high risk of burns if someone gets too close to the unit.
  • Requires regular cleaning: Baseboard heaters require regular cleaning because they collect dust. Otherwise, the system will be less energy efficient than it should be.
  • Difficulties heating a large home: Since baseboard heaters heat room by room, you may need several units if you have a large house with multiple rooms to keep warm.
  • Expensive to operate: Electric is one of the most expensive forms of home heating.

Baseboard Heating Energy Efficiency – Better or Worse Than Other Heating Options?

Baseboard Heating

Heat pumps are a popular choice for both heating and cooling in the home and are more energy-efficient than baseboard heaters.

A heat pump can convert up to 300 percent of the electricity it consumes into heat in a moderate climate.

Heat pumps are known for their efficiency and low operation costs. These systems are going to use far less electricity than baseboard heaters, especially if you are heating an entire home.

Baseboard Heating Energy vs. Forced-Air Furnace

Forced-air furnaces are one of the most common home heat sources in the U.S. They use either natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity, with gas being the most popular type.

While electric furnaces are the most energy-efficient type, natural gas and propane furnaces will have cheaper operation costs.

This is a big reason homeowners will choose gas furnaces if they have access to natural gas or LP.

Most high-efficiency furnaces average around 95% efficiency.

While that is a bit lower than electric baseboard heaters, the operation costs have a big enough difference to make more people favor forced-air furnaces.

Roaring furnace flames
A furnace doesn’t convert all its power into heat, especially the electric variety!

Baseboard Heating vs. Residential Boilers

Residential boilers circulate hot water around the home to keep the rooms warm.

You can expect a boiler system to convert up to 95 percent of the power it consumes into heat.

Boilers primarily run on natural gas, but some models utilize electricity instead.

Boilers work similarly to baseboards, providing radiant heating through the water lines.

Boilers tend to be more useful for whole-home heating but they need an intensive system of water lines throughout the home and are less popular for new construction projects.

a modern house buried in snow with trees all around it
Heating systems can drop in efficiency in severe winter temperatures.

A Professional’s Thoughts on Electric Baseboards

Electric baseboards can be useful in some situations but they are often not practical for whole-home heating due to their high operating costs.

Their best application is supplemental heating.

They can be perfect for adding some extra warmth to certain rooms and areas of your home you spend a lot of time in (bedrooms, living areas, guest suites, etc.).

Electric baseboards will heat up quickly, so you can use them only when you need to. With this setup, you’ll also take some of the strain off your central HVAC system.

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