a closeup a baseboard heat with graphics of red flames indicating heat is coming out of it

Baseboard heating is an excellent option for a larger home since it allows you to heat specific rooms rather than the whole house. You don’t have the heat loss that can occur with ductwork, and homes often stay cleaner since dust isn’t being circulated through the air.

Baseboard heaters can be electric or gas-powered and there’s quite a bit of difference between the two.

How Does Baseboard Heating Work?

Electric baseboard heaters use electric energy to generate heat, which replaces the cold air in your home with warm air.

With electric baseboard, you can choose to heat just one area or the entire house. Depending on your home setup, this could be a decent money-saving option.

But keep in mind, if you live in a harsh winter climate, you should keep indoor temperatures above 50° F to prevent pipes from freezing.

Gas-powered baseboard heaters work slightly differently, using heated liquid (water, in most cases) that circulates through your entire house. These units need some type of furnace or boiler that is responsible for heating the liquid.

Gas-Powered Baseboard Heating

This system is called a hydronic baseboard heater. With gas-powered baseboard heat, you need some type of heat source. In most cases, we are talking about boilers.

With this type of heating, the heat is circulated throughout your home by a series of pipes. These transfer pipes can run in the floor joists or walls.

Most hydronic baseboard heaters use water, but others may use oil. Once the liquid is warmed up, it’s transferred through the pipes by a pump. Then, once they receive the hot fluid, the heating units warm the rooms by radiating heat.

These heating systems work cyclically, allowing the liquid to be heated and cooled to maintain the room’s desired temperature.

Although this system doesn’t require ductwork, keeping it clean will enable it to function optimally and last longer. Homeowners should clean the baseboard units to remove any dust collected, since dust compromises efficient heat radiation.

A Hydronic Baseboard Heater running along the junction of the floor and the wall in a home
Courtesy of Family Handyman

Pros of Gas-Powered Baseboard Heaters 

  • The desired temperature is maintained for long periods – fluids have a higher heat retention capability than air. As a result, a hydronic baseboard heater will maintain the desired temperature in the rooms for a longer period after the thermostat turns off.
  • High energy efficiency – since hydronic baseboard heaters can keep heating rooms after the thermostat goes off, the heater will need to turn on and off less frequently. As a result, the system will consume less energy, saving you money and protecting the environment.
  • Low surface temperature – although hydronic baseboard heaters may get hot, they typically maintain a warm surface temperature. As a result, they pose a lower risk of contact burns and may be safer for rooms with kids or pets.
  • Providing favorable humidity – the fluid heating releases moist warmth. As a result, hydronic baseboard heaters help maintain adequate moisture in a room. Moreover, the humid heat from the system prevents dry throat issues and dampens dust circulation in the room. This is beneficial in cold climates with dry, winter air.
  • Cheap to operate and gentle on the environment – with gas having a lower unit cost than electricity, a gas-powered heater is more affordable to operate.

Cons of Gas-Powered Baseboard Heaters 

Potential drawbacks include the following:

  • Slowly raising the room’s temperature – heating water takes longer than heating air. Moreover, warm but moist air circulates gradually. As a result, hydronic heaters take longer than their electric counterparts to get a room up to temperature.
  • Expensive to purchase – gas-powered baseboard heating equipment can be up to four times more costly than the electric variety. Though it has a cheaper operation cost, the upfront installation is an investment.
  • It may not work for every home – this system requires gas infrastructure. If your home lacks an existing gas infrastructure, installing this system can be disruptive and expensive. You may have to adjust your plans.
  • Potential for frozen and cracked pipes – the pipes and tubes that circulate hot fluid through the hydronic baseboard heater may freeze and crack in cold weather if the system remains shut down for an extended period. Therefore, idling the heater may save energy but leave you with expensive repair work. 

Electric Baseboard Heating

Like gas-powered heaters, electric baseboard heaters run along the bottom of the wall and sit near windows. However, they obtain energy from the electric circuit instead of a gas-fired boiler.

An electric baseboard heater along the junction between a wall and the floor in a home
Courtesy of Tom’s Tek Step

The heater component has a heating element inside and vents for airflow. The heating element becomes hot and warms the air that flows into the unit. 

The warm air is pushed out, allowing the cold air to flow in. The released warm air then heats the room.

The system will keep warming the air in the room until the desired temperature is attained before it shuts down. Then, it will restart when the temperature drops below a specific temperature and resume the heating cycle. 

These can be installed in single rooms or can be used to heat an entire home.

Now let’s consider the benefits and drawbacks of an electric baseboard heater.

Pros of Electric Baseboard Heaters

Some advantages of electric baseboard heaters include the following:

  • Cheap to purchase – electric baseboard heaters are more common and affordable than their gas-powered hydronic counterparts. As a result, installing this system requires little upfront investment.
  • Convenient to use – while gas infrastructure may lack in some places, virtually any home can have electricity to run an electric heater. If you lack access to the grid, you can run your electric baseboard heater on off-grid renewable energy like solar and wind.
  • Quickly heats rooms – since air heats up faster than water, electric baseboard heaters will raise the room’s temperature more rapidly than the hydronic variety.
A homeowner undertaking an  electric baseboard heater installation
Courtesy of That Slumlord Life
  • Easy to install and maintain – electric baseboard heaters don’t require any pipe fitting during installation. As a result, the system is easy to set up and can save on installation costs. Without ductwork and revolving internal components, maintaining the system is also easy.
  • No risk of fluid leaks – these systems don’t contain scalding fluid that could leak and cause burns if the system is damaged. In contrast, hydronic heaters can cause burns if the heating unit or the pipes crack and let out the hot fluid. 

Cons of Electric Baseboard Heaters

Potential drawbacks include the following:

  • Expensive to operate – since electric energy is more expensive than gas, electric heaters will drive up your utility bills. In addition, if you’re powering the system with an off-grid energy source, it may consume more energy than you’d like.
  • Frequently fluctuating temperatures – air cools faster than fluid. If a room can’t be heated for long periods, this will result in frequently fluctuating temperatures. This process means the thermostat will turn on and off repeatedly to maintain the room’s desired warmth. The frequent on-off cycle can also drive up electricity consumption.
  • Not environmentally friendly – since electric heaters must turn on frequently to maintain the required temperature, they aren’t considered eco-friendly. In addition, if your electricity comes from coal-fired plants, drawing more electricity encourages more coal use. 

For What Are Baseboard Heaters Best Suited? 

Whichever kind of baseboard heating system you choose, they don’t typically make a lot of noise when running. As a result, these systems can warm your room without disturbing your sleep or disrupting your conversation.

Baseboard heaters won’t introduce airborne particles or allergens into your room since they do not use fans to circulate air like a central HVAC system does.

These systems typically have zone-control features. As a result, you can easily maintain the temperature in different rooms.

If you are looking to heat an entire home, a gas-fired boiler is likely to be your best choice.

Supplemental heating or providing more heat in certain areas of your home is best done with electric baseboard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *