Hydronic baseboard heaters are less well-known than traditional ones, but they’re relatively efficient and easy to use. So if you’re considering getting a new heating system for your home, hydronic heating options are more than worth checking out. But how exactly does hydronic baseboard heating work?

Hydronic baseboard heating uses electricity to heat liquid in the appliance, which generates and distributes heat throughout the room. Most hydronic baseboard heaters use oil or water, both of which have high boiling points. The heater can then warm the area without using too much energy.

Throughout this post, I’ll explain how hydronic baseboard heating works, the differences between it and traditional baseboard heaters, and whether or not you should use them. So make sure you keep reading!

How Does Hydronic Baseboard Heating Work?

Hydronic baseboard heating works by pulling power from a wall outlet or directly from a circuit breaker. It heats oil or water, then a series of copper coils.

The heated metal coils generate plenty of heat, making the room feel significantly warmer. Next, it goes through a pipe, then circulates back into the heater.

An electric baseboard heater along the junction between a wall and the floor in a home
Hydronic baseboard heaters can be self-contained or boiler-powered.

There are slight differences in how hydronic baseboard heaters work depending on whether boiler-powered or self-contained. Let’s explore.

Boiler-Powered Hydronic Baseboard Heating

Copper is heated by water or oil, depending on the chosen hydronic baseboard heater. The boiler uses electricity to heat the liquid. Most hydronic baseboard heaters work using boiling water. However, oil occasionally lubricates old pipes and prevents rust, corrosion, and other issues.

The hot water flows through the pipes and coils, which warms the surrounding air. These pipes are almost always copper. Depending on the installation, they run through the walls and go into ground vents or baseboard vents. They can also heat the room through the walls with minimal ventilation.

All the water or oil goes back to the boiler, which heats the liquid again. This continuous cycle works until you turn off the boiler. Most boiler-powered hydronic water heaters pop and thump in cold weather, especially right when you turn them on or off. These noises are normal, so don’t worry – nothing’s wrong with the heater!

Self-Contained Hydronic Baseboard Heating

Self-contained heaters don’t require boilers or loads of pipes. So while they take a bit longer to heat a room, they’re much more convenient for those without plumbing or boilers in the building.

Better Homes & Gardens explains that self-contained baseboard heaters use electricity to heat the liquid inside of the unit until you turn it off.

They typically plug into wall outlets, but some hardwire into the wall behind the heater. Either way, they almost always need a dedicated circuit breaker.

Setting the thermostat allows the baseboard heater to maintain the liquid’s temperature, helping to control the room’s temperature.

You can connect the baseboard heater to your home’s thermostat or control it directly on the baseboard heater. Note, however, that this only works with a handful of models.

The Differences Between Hydronic and Regular Baseboard Heating

There are many differences between hydronic and regular (convection) baseboard heaters. Most involve how the appliance heats the surrounding air, but you’d also be surprised by the energy usage variables.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the differences:

Marley reports that hydronic baseboard heating maintains heat levels without switching on and off as much. Not only does this reduce unwanted noise levels, but it also saves a lot of energy. Most appliances have peak electric consumption right when they start. Maintaining the temperature prevents this from happening.

Convection baseboard heaters use electricity and heating elements, whereas hydronic baseboard heaters use electricity, boilers, and liquid. In the short run, this makes regular baseboard heaters easier to install. However, they’re not always as energy-efficient or effective as hydronic baseboard heaters.

Hydronic baseboard heaters can increase a building’s ambient humidity. If your hydronic baseboard heater uses water, it’ll inevitably evaporate into the surrounding air, slowly increasing the humidity. However, managing the water levels is important to ensure your baseboard heater doesn’t run dry.

Convection baseboard heaters are usually hot to the touch, which can pose various risks. On the other hand, hydronic baseboard heaters don’t get too hot because they carry liquid that won’t boil too much. As a result, these appliances are less likely to burn people and pets who get too close to them.

Boiler-powered hydronic baseboard heaters use copper plumbing, whereas regular baseboard heaters rely on HVAC pipes. The piping throughout your home can determine which baseboard heater is right for you. Getting a compatible heater with copper plumbing or HVAC pipes can save a lot of money.

These baseboard heaters use slightly different methods to accomplish similar results. Both heat the area from the ground or lower on the walls.

Additionally, all baseboard heaters don’t use forced-air HVAC ducts to increase a building’s temperature.

Is Hydronic Baseboard Heating Worth It?

Hydronic baseboard heating is worth it for smaller homes, cabins, and offices.

A self-contained baseboard heater is better for buildings without boilers and copper plumbing, whereas boiler-powered baseboard heaters are ideal for those who want long-term, low-energy heating.

A Hydronic Baseboard Heater running along the junction of the floor and the wall in a home
Hydronic baseboard heating, although not suitable for every home, can be highly advantageous for some.

Why should you consider installing a hydronic baseboard heater? Here are a few reasons.

If you don’t have air ducts in your home, you might want to get hydronic baseboard heaters. Installing air ducts can be incredibly expensive, especially if you live in an older home without enough structural support. However, installing a hydronic baseboard heater can be significantly cheaper than forced-air heating and air conditioning.

InterCounty Supply says hydronic baseboard heaters continue to heat the room long after they’re off. This happens because the heated liquid stays in the pipes, coils, and heater. As a result, the warm liquid doesn’t cool down immediately, so the building will feel nice and cozy for a while after the thermostat shuts off.

They’re quieter than forced-air heating systems. Hydroponic baseboard heaters don’t have clunky air ducts nor make loud sounds from pushing air through various vents. You’ll enjoy peace and quiet after the initial seconds the boiler takes to fire up and adjust to the rapid temperature changes.

The only reason you might not want hydronic baseboard heating systems is if one or more of the following applies:

● You already have HVAC air ducts and a forced air system. They’re more energy-efficient than baseboard heaters, though hydronic is better than convection.

● There’s no boiler, or you don’t have enough space for bulky baseboard heaters.

● You don’t have a dedicated circuit breaker for the hydronic baseboard heater. Hydroponic baseboard heating often uses thousands of watts and enough amps to max out the breaker.

Other than that, hydronic baseboard heaters are often the more affordable solution. Self-container hydronic baseboard heaters are cheaper than boiler-powered variants, but both are excellent appliances.

Note: Make sure you know how much baseboard heating you need before choosing either of these appliances.

Final Thoughts

While hydronic baseboard heaters are unlikely to replace forced-air heating systems in big houses and other structures, they’re handy for small buildings.

You can use hydronic baseboard heaters in tiny houses, cabins, and houses at or below 1,000 square feet or 93 square meters — sometimes more, depending on the make and model.


InterCounty Supply: 6 Reasons To Consider Hydronic Baseboard Heaters | Marley: 4 REASONS TO SWITCH TO HYDRONIC BASEBOARD HEATERS | Better Homes and Gardens: What Is a Baseboard Heater? Plus Pros and Cons to Know Before Installing

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