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Are Baseboard Heaters Efficient? 

Baseboard Heater Pros and Cons

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Oct 23, 2020

During the winter season, over 40% of our household energy consumption is dedicated to heating our homes. At the same time, much of the energy we use to heat our homes stems from non-renewable resources such as coal, oil, or natural gas. One of the best steps any homeowner can take to reduce their home's carbon footprint is to improve their home's energy efficiency while continuing their search for renewable energy sources. 

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that over 2.5 million households use wood as the primary fuel for heating their homes. Wood is certainly a renewable resource and is considered carbon-neutral. However, it is not a feasible heating alternative in densely populated urban areas where smoke could worsen air quality and increase the likelihood of lung disease. 

Baseboard heaters are a heating option that can be useful in effectively heating certain types of homes. While these heaters have usually been employed as a supplemental heating source for cold and drafty areas of a home, they could, at times, be the most efficient and economical way to heat modern, airtight homes. 

Table of Contents

  1. What is a Baseboard Heater?
  2. Are There Different Types of Baseboard Heaters?
  3. How Much Do Baseboard Heaters Cost?
  4. Is Baseboard Heating Expensive to Run?
  5. What Are The Pros of Baseboard Heaters?
  6. What Are The Cons of Baseboard Heaters?
  7. Can You Heat a Passive House with Electric Baseboard Heaters?
  8. Can You Heat Tiny Homes with Electric Baseboard Heaters?
Stepro Baseboard Heater Rona
Stepro Baseboard Heater. Photo Credit: Rona

What is a Baseboard Heater?

Baseboard heaters come in a variety of different lengths and radiate heat into a room using electricity. One of the supposed benefits of this heating option is that 100% of the heaters' electricity produces heat. While some manufacturers will claim that baseboard heaters are a clean and efficient way of heating your home, it is essential to understand where your home and region's electricity comes from. 

If you have a massive solar panel system on your roof, then the electricity used to heat your home with baseboard heaters will be clean and renewable. If, however, your home is powered by a nearby coal power plant, your electric baseboard heaters are contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions. 

Are There Different Types of Baseboard Heaters?

Baseboard heaters usually come in two different voltage connection varieties. The most common is a 120-volt connection that can be easily connected to a current 20-amp circuit in your home. If the circuit load does not allow for the extra voltage, an electrician can add a new 20-amp circuit from the panel to power the baseboard heaters that you install. You can even find 240-volt electric baseboard heaters, which require a two-pole, 20-amp breaker to power the heaters. 

baseboard heater bathroom

How Much Do Baseboard Heaters Cost?

Baseboard heaters are relatively inexpensive, ranging in price from $30 to about $250 each depending on their size and voltage. Since installation is relatively easy, professionally licensed electricians will usually charge around $600 for a complete installation. 

Is Baseboard Heating Expensive to Run?

While these heaters are cheap to purchase and install, they can be costly to heat a home, especially in large homes that are drafty or energy inefficient. 

For example, let's imagine that you purchased three 1,000-watt electric baseboard heaters to heat a few rooms in your home. The 3,000 watts translates to three kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity used for each hour the heaters are in use. For the sake of calculation, let's imagine that you have your heaters on for an average of 6 hours every day. That means that they are pulling 18 kWh of electricity every day, for around 540 kWh of electricity each month. If you are being charged $0.13 per kWh (the national average in the US) by your utility company, that comes out to an additional expense of about $70 on your monthly utility bill.  

Keep in mind - these baseboards would be active almost 24 hours per day in cold regions - and would cost much more! In addition, if you heat your entire home with them, you might have ten baseboard heaters throughout your home, increasing the cost three-fold.

Atlas Baseboard Heater Cover
Atlas Baseboard Heater Cover. Photo Credit: Veil

While electric baseboard heaters certainly pull a large amount of energy, there are both pros and cons related to using these types of heaters in your home. 

What Are The Pros of Baseboard Heaters?

Baseboard heaters have a low upfront purchase and installation cost. In addition, these heaters can be used to heat colder areas of your home instead of heating the entire house. The US Department of Energy reports that zonal heating in your home can reduce energy usage by up to 20 percent versus heating your entire dwelling. Baseboard heaters are a quiet heating option with no blowing sounds (duct systems) or gurgling sounds (boiler systems). They can function with some brands of smart thermostats mounted on walls throughout the home. This addition would help limit usage and only heat areas of the house when it is most needed.

What Are The Cons of Baseboard Heaters?

Baseboard heaters get extremely hot and can pose a burn hazard, especially to families with small children. They need to be at least one inch above the floor and free from furniture or other flammable objects.  Baseboard heaters are not an efficient or cost-effective way to heat large homes or those that are drafty or not airtight. These heaters are not meant to circulate air since they do not have fans built-in. Thus, if you have a large area to heat and want the warm air to circulate, this may not be the best option.

Dimplex Baseboard Heater
Dimplex Baseboard Heater

Can You Heat a Passive House with Electric Baseboard Heaters?

Passive Houses are very energy-efficient dwellings that aim to be 100% airtight and are super-insulated. So much so that a house could be effectively heated by nothing more than a few hair dryers. Originally developed in Germany, the passive house concept has spread worldwide, even into areas with extremely cold climates like Nova Scotia, Canada.

While traditionally built homes lose significant amounts of heat through drafts and inefficient insulation, passive houses will retain the heat produced by baseboard heaters. Instead of leaving a baseboard heater on for several hours during the day, passive houses can keep the heat produced by these heaters when turned on for only an hour or two each day. This super envelope cuts down on the total cost of heating and will drastically reduce the carbon footprint of a home.

Can You Heat Tiny Homes with Electric Baseboard Heaters?

Tiny homes are usually classified as dwellings that are under 400 square feet or less. These homes often incorporate sustainability features, and the limited amount of energy needed to heat and cool these houses are at the top of the list.

In conventional construction, you generally need around 10 watts of heating power for every square foot of floor area. A 200 square foot tiny home, then, would only need two 1,000-watt space heaters to heat the home comfortably. If the tiny house added passive solar design and maximum insulation, the heating demands would most likely be even much lower.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-22T13:08:05+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.