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Baseboard heating has been around for decades. It can be used as the primary source of heating for a home, or an additional heating source to customize a particular zone. If you’re looking into baseboard heating, trying to figure out what it can do for you, this guide will help you make up your mind!

What is Baseboard heating?

As inferred by the name, baseboard heating refers to a heating system installed on the baseboard of your home. Baseboard heaters are typically designed to work in zonal spaces such as a living room or bedroom rather than a large, open space. The mechanism of a baseboard heater is simple. 

Working Principle

The heater is placed on the floor. It generates heat energy which heats up the air around the pipes. Once heated, the air radiates up the room, pushing cold air to the bottom to be heated. 

This mechanism completes the cycle, ensuring the entire room is evenly heated. Like most heating systems, baseboard heaters can be thermostat controlled. Baseboard heaters come in two main designs, i.e. electric and hydronic. 

Types

Electric baseboard heaters transform electricity into heat energy to warm the room. Hydronic baseboard heaters are filled with liquid in their pipes. When heated, the liquid, in turn, warms the air around the pipes. The air then radiates to the top of the room.

Electric vs Hydronic

Electric Baseboard Heating

Electric baseboard heaters operate using electricity. These types of heaters are typically placed in a single room (zonal heaters) and can be controlled remotely or through a thermostat controller

In an electric baseboard heater, a metal element is fitted into the metal pipes of the heater. Then, to aid in distributing the heat, aluminum fins are fitted atop the pipes. These aluminum fins are typically built to measure the same height as the heater’s outer casing.

Working Mechanism 

The heater works by transforming electricity into heat energy. The heat released helps heat air in the heater, which rises to the top of the room, pushing cooler air to the bottom and into the heater. This cycle continues as long as the heater runs. 

On the other hand, as the heater continues to produce heat energy, other parts such as pipes, aluminum fins, and casing heat up. This heat also radiates up the room, following the same cycle.

Installation

The proper installation of electric baseboard heaters involves placing them underneath the windows – a few inches on top of the flooring. The purpose is to counter areas in the room where heat loss is most prevalent. 

Furthermore, the rising heat also helps counter cooler air that may radiate through the windows from the outside. 

Environmental Losses

However, electrical base heaters are favorable in some settings over others. This is due to their energy efficiency. Electricity is typically generated from sources such as oil and gas. Thus, by the time it is converted into heat energy by your baseboard heater, a certain amount of loss would have occurred through generation and transmission. Of course, you don't pay for this loss on your utility bill, but it is still something to consider for the environment.

Ideal Climates

Electricity is quite expensive on its own. Thus, electric baseboard heaters work best in dry climates in areas such as California and Nevada. These areas don’t get very cold so electricity costs won’t be driven too high.  You can also use these types of heaters for smaller or enclosed spaces such as basements or cabins.

Hydronic Baseboard Heating

Hydronic heaters offer a much cheaper running option. Instead of using electricity, hydronic baseboard heaters use liquids (usually water). This is done by heating non-toxic oils or water in the heater. The heating process releases heat energy which helps provide radiant heat to the room.  

Heat Distribution

Hydronic baseboard heaters hold two critical advantages over other types of heaters. First, hydronic heaters are more efficient as they offer even heat distribution compared to convection heaters. 

The radiant heat from the bottom pushes out the cooler heat at the top to the bottom, maintaining this cycle to ensure every part of the room is heated. 

Heat Retention

Compared to electric baseboard heaters, hydroponic heaters produce heat that lasts longer. This is because they use denser heat from a liquid rather than dry electric heat. 

The denser heat generated from liquid also comes with benefits for allergy-prone people. This is because the heat takes care of allergens and dust by adding moisture to the air. 

Safety

Furthermore, hydronic heaters offer more safety than electric ones. These heaters don’t depend on surface contact. They only depend on water. So, you don’t have to worry about contact burns even when they are running as they don’t get that hot to the touch.  

Noise

Lastly, hydronic baseboard heaters are quiet. They don’t involve any air movements in the ducts, and unlike convection heaters, there’s no blowing of the air involved!

Comparison

The main difference between convection and hydronic heaters is their working mechanism. Convection heaters depend on electricity to produce heat energy that warms the air. On the other hand, hydronic heaters depend on liquids, allowing the heater to stay warm longer even when the thermostat shuts off. This makes hydronic baseboard heaters more energy-efficient and cost-effective.

Energy Efficiency

As mentioned above, hydronic baseboard heaters are more energy efficient. Convection heaters simply depend on electricity to transform into heat energy to warm the air. But, this method means that heat dissipates faster and doesn’t last long.

On the other hand, hydronic heaters contain hot liquid, which takes longer to lose the heat, allowing a room to stay warm even after the thermostat shuts off.

Size

Size-wise, convection and hydronic baseboard heaters are almost the same. However, convection heaters offer a wider variety. Convection baseboards usually come in a range of sizes between 20 inches and 96 inches. Hydronic heaters come in size ranges between 35 inches and 94 inches.

Cost and Ease of Installation

Generally, convection baseboard heaters are available at a much cheaper cost. Their installation is also easy, quick, and affordable – you still need a technician, though! However, the running of convection baseboard heaters is relatively high since you solely depend on electricity. 

Hydronic baseboard heaters are much more expensive to buy than convection heaters. Their installation is also more complex. However, running costs are significantly lower thanks to their energy efficiency.

Noise

Undoubtedly, hydronic baseboard heaters are the least noise-producing compared to convection heaters. These types of heaters don’t produce noise because they don’t involve any air movement within their ducts and don’t blow air. Thus, their operation is quite muted.

Comparison with Forced Air Heating

The main difference between forced air heaters and baseboard heaters is their capacity. Baseboard heaters are designed for zonal heating. Forced air heaters are designed to heat large spaces much faster.

Furthermore, unlike forced air heaters, baseboards don’t blow air or move hot air through ducts. Baseboard heaters either depend on electricity or heated liquid to heat a room. Forced air heaters use a furnace to heat air and force it into the target space (blown hot air).

Cost

When it comes to the cost comparison between the two heater solutions, the answer varies. You may come across more expensive baseboards and vice versa.

You have to consider factors such as the room size, energy costs, heater size, and furnace efficiency (if you opt for a forced air heater).

Maintenance

Baseboard heaters are much easier to maintain. For example, whether it’s electric or hydronic, all you have to do for these heaters is vacuum out the air and clean any dust over time.

On the other hand, forced air heaters require more frequent maintenance. Remember, in forced air systems, air travels through ducts and is blown into the atmosphere. Thus, you don’t want your heater to blow contaminated air.

This is especially important to allergy-prone individuals. To prevent this from happening, you have to clean your forced air system regularly. In most cases, you will have to hire a servicing company to ensure that cleaning is thorough.

Efficiency

Baseboard heaters do a better job at energy efficiency, especially hydronic heaters. These types of heaters use heated liquids, which help hold the heat longer.  If you turn the thermostat off on a forced air system, on the other hand, the heat dissipates instantly.

Installation

Forced air systems are more expensive and tedious to install. You will need significant space in your home for ductwork to be done to ensure adequate heated air is transported.

On the other hand, baseboard heaters are pretty simple to install. Since they are zonal-type heaters, even the smallest space will do. After all, you are installing them on the floor.

Safety

Unlike forced air heaters, baseboard heaters don’t blow any hot air and don’t involve hot air transportation through any vessels. Furthermore, baseboard heaters, particularly hydronic, produce moist heat.

This helps eliminate allergens from the air. If you use forced air systems, you will risk unwanted particles in the air if cleaning and maintenance aren’t thoroughly and regularly done.

Noise

Even with the hot air transport mechanism, both forced air and baseboard heaters are effective at noise cancellation. However, you may find a few models that are somewhat noisy due to the movement of the air inside the pipes.

The Verdict

Using baseboard heaters is one way to enhance heating efficiency in your living space. Yet, you will still save significantly on energy bills compared to other systems. But, baseboard heaters are only ideal for zonal heating and shouldn’t be used for large open spaces.

Sources

energy.gov

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