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. The heaters can be electric or gas-powered. 

So, how does baseboard heating work?

If you’re considering upgrading your heating system or looking for an additional heat source, this article provides a complete guide to baseboard heating. We’ll explain how they work and explore the pros and cons of electric and gas-powered heaters.

So, let’s get started!

How Does Baseboard Heating Work?

Electric baseboard heaters use electric energy to remove cool air from the inside and replace it with warm air. This function allows for specific rooms to be heated. Gas-powered baseboard heaters work slightly differently, using heated liquid to promote a more hospitable environment.

Now that you’ve read how they generally work, let’s look at each type of baseboard heater’s functionality.

Gas-Powered Baseboard Heating

A gas-powered baseboard heater has a heating unit and heat source. This system is also called a hydronic baseboard heater.

The heating unit runs along the bottom of the wall in the rooms that require heating. It is typically located below the windows for optimal performance. The heating unit is connected to the heat source, such as a gas-fired boiler, with pipes. These transfer pipes can run in the floor joists or walls.

Most hydronic baseboard heaters use water, but others may use oil or other fluid. Once the liquid is warmed up, it’s transferred through the pipes. 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. For example, homeowners should clean the heating units to remove any dust collected since dust compromises efficient heat radiation—you can vacuum the heaters to keep them clean.

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

It also helps to bleed the pipes occasionally. That way, you can identify and remove foreign materials or address corrosion in the heat transfer tubes before problems arise.

Gas-powered baseboard heating has advantages and disadvantages that you should weigh if you’re considering this heating system. 

First, let’s consider their benefits.

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.
  • 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. Therefore, you can save money with a hydronic baseboard heating system. A gas-powered heater is also more environmentally friendly.

Cons of Gas-Powered Baseboard Heaters 

Despite the numerous advantages, there are several downsides to hydronic baseboard heaters. 

These 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 heat the room to the same temperature. Therefore, this system may inconvenience you if you want to heat a room quickly.
  • Expensive to purchase – gas-powered baseboard heating equipment can be up to four times more costly than the electric variety. As a result, installing this system requires a high upfront investment. However, homeowners benefit from low operating costs, given this system’s increased energy efficiency, so you’ll save on bills in the long run.
  • Limited brand choice – hydronic baseboard heaters aren’t common. As a result, you have a meager brand variety if you want to purchase this system.
  • 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.
  • 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. 

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

Despite the various advantages of electric baseboard heaters and concomitant popularity, several downsides are worth considering. 

These 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 without blowing. They also have zone control features. As a result, you can easily maintain the temperature in different rooms.

Moreover, baseboard heating is ideal as a secondary heating source to supplement your central heating system. They are typically highly reliable and can last many years

Final Thoughts

Gas-powered baseboard heating warms rooms through a hot fluid. It’s best for maintaining a consistent temperature in a space. They’re also ideal if you want supplemental heat frequently.

Electric baseboard heating runs on electric power and warm rooms by directly heating air. These heaters are ideal if you want occasional quick heating. 


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