Your in-home heating system uses more energy and electricity than any other system in your house. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it accounts for almost a third of your monthly utility bill. This makes keeping your house warm one of your largest expenses. And the price is only getting higher. The World Bank predicts energy costs will increase by more than 50% in 2022.
But you can combat rising energy prices and make sure your heating costs aren’t higher than they need to be by using a system that warms your house without using excess electricity. And installing baseboard heating is an excellent way to improve your home heating system’s efficiency.
What Is Baseboard Heating and How Does It Work?
Baseboard heating warms rooms in a home by relying on individual heating units called “baseboard heaters” or “in-wall electric heaters,” which homeowners place along the walls, just above the floor. The units heat up the air near them, and because hot air rises, it forces the colder air back down toward the baseboards. This is the same reason why it’s difficult for owners of multi-story homes to keep the second floor cool in the summer and often find that their basement is much colder than is comfortable.
Baseboard Heaters Target Cold Spots to Warm the Space
When the room’s temperature dips too low, the cycle repeats — continuing to keep your home warm by heating the cool air as it sinks toward the heater. To improve the efficiency of the heater, homeowners typically install baseboard units directly below windows, which otherwise allow heat to escape and create drafts. Placing the baseboard unit right at the source of the draft allows the heater to counteract the impact the window has on the room’s temperature.
This is likely where the common misconception that heaters must be installed under a window comes from. While it’s often a good practice, it isn’t a requirement. And in extremely cold climates, placing a baseboard unit directly below a window could result in a constantly-running heater, which increases your utility bill.
To help the heater distinguish when the room is too cold and it’s time to begin warming it up, it’s typically connected to a line voltage thermostat, which is designed to control and power the unit. But unlike a central heating system, which relies on interconnected pipes and vents to spread warmth throughout an entire house, baseboard units work independently from each other to provide more targeted heat. And that means each room with in-wall electric heaters requires its own thermostat to control the temperature.
The Two Types of Baseboard Heaters
How individual baseboard units actually maintain the temperature set on the thermostat depends on the type of baseboard heater. There are two types of units, both of which rely on a different method to provide radiant heat:
Electric baseboard heaters use an internal metal heating coil.
Hydronic baseboard heaters use an internal water or oil heating system.
Hydronic heaters are often more energy efficient than their electric counterparts. That’s because even though they take longer to warm up, hydronic units retain their heat much longer. And because the radiant heat that baseboard units provide doesn’t blow hot air into the room like a forced-air system, this heat retention translates into energy savings. But hydronic baseboard units are also more expensive, which makes electric heaters a far more popular option. And while electric baseboard units cost between $300 and $1,200, homeowners interested in hydronic options should be prepared to spend much more.
Why Do Homeowners Choose Baseboard Heating?
While some homeowners use multiple hydronic units to heat an entire house, baseboard heating is most frequently used as a targeted way to heat a specific room or any other small indoor space. Because individual units provide heat to a limited area, homeowners typically only use them as a supplement for a full, in-home heating system. However, while baseboard heating isn’t always an efficient way to heat an entire house, it only takes one or two heaters to provide ample heating for an apartment. As a result, in-wall electric heaters can, and often do, serve as the sole heat source for smaller residences, including condos, townhomes, and cabins.
They Improve Energy Efficiency and Lower Utility Bills
Even though they don’t retain heat as long as hydronic heaters, electric baseboard units are still incredibly efficient compared to other heating options because they convert 100% of the electrical energy they use into heat. That means that all of the energy costs associated with using electric in-wall heating translate directly into a warmer space. But that only happens when both parts of the heating system, the baseboard unit and its thermostat, are functioning properly.
A well-maintained baseboard heater will always convert a high percentage of energy into heat. But if the thermostat isn’t accurate and the heating system runs more than it needs to, then the efficiency of the heating unit won’t matter. And since smart thermostats are designed to help save money by reducing energy usage, pairing one with a baseboard unit allows homeowners to maximize their heating efficiency. For example, Toronto resident Alex Ordanis lowered his energy bill by more than 50% just by switching from dial mercury thermostats to smart thermostats.
Baseboard units also reduce energy waste by heating a smaller area than full in-home systems, allowing homeowners to heat only the rooms they use. And since 80% of prospective homebuyers surveyed by Knight Frank said energy efficiency is more important to them now than it was just one year ago, using baseboard heat to lower utility costs can also have a positive impact on property values.
They Warm Up That One Room in the House That’s Always Cold
Baseboard heaters are a common solution for heating drafty rooms and supplementing whole-home heating systems. They’re particularly popular in older homes, which tend to be poorly insulated and struggle to retain heat. And even though modern homes are much better insulated, they still have drafts and cold spots that baseboard heating can help address.
Many homeowners find that their home heating system just isn’t enough to keep some of the rooms in their house warm. As a result, 37% of homes in the U.S. choose to supplement their heating systems with something like a baseboard heater.
Portable space heaters are another popular heating supplement. And while they are affordable and easy to set up, they’re also far more dangerous than baseboard heaters. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that space heaters cause more than 48,000 fires and are responsible for around 500 deaths every year.
What Are the Alternatives to Baseboard Heating?
Baseboard heating isn’t the only option for in-home heating, and it might not always be the best solution for every homeowner. While other heating systems help achieve the same goal of keeping a house warm, the way they achieve that goal and how much it costs can vary greatly. Understanding the pros and cons of how popular in-home heating systems work helps homeowners determine which one is best for their home.
HVACs are designed to heat an entire home by blowing warm air into the various rooms through vents. And they also provide air conditioning, making them a versatile and incredibly popular system. Since many homes are built with HVAC ducts, installation is affordable for homeowners and easy for HVAC professionals. But they aren’t a perfect way to heat an entire house.
Compared to baseboard heating, HVACs are far more complex systems that rely on many parts and are designed to provide both heating and cooling for an entire house. And while HVACs can last between 10 and 25 years, when they begin to break, they’ll be expensive to maintain. The furnace, which an HVAC relies on to provide heat, costs an average of $4,678 to replace — and it’s only one piece of the system.
Unlike baseboard heaters, which provide a limited area of heat, forced air systems heat an entire house. And since they’re either on or off, HVACs aren’t as efficient as baseboard heating. It’s also difficult to predict just how costly forced air heating systems are because a number of factors can impact monthly heating costs. It’s logical that a five-bedroom home in Northern Canada will cost far more to heat than a condo in Florida, but it’s incredibly difficult to calculate the exact dollar amount for how much energy it takes to power an HVAC.
Radiators work the same way that hydronic baseboard heaters do: an internal element warms water inside the radiator. As this happens, the air around the radiator also heats up and begins to spread throughout the room. But compared to baseboard heaters, which sit along the wall, radiators take up more floor space.
Homeowners must regularly release the air that gets trapped inside a radiator for it to work properly, which means they’re often more difficult to maintain than baseboard units. But even a well-maintained radiator will eventually need to be replaced, which can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $3,500.
While this means that radiators are often more expensive than baseboard heaters, they’re also more effective for large spaces, which means some homeowners might find that radiators are worth their price tag. According to the New York Times, “ten feet of baseboard heating would be needed to produce the same amount of heat as a three-foot-wide radiator.”
Are Baseboard Heaters Right for Your Home?
Not every heating system offers the same level of energy efficiency to every homeowner — it varies greatly depending on factors like the climate where the house is located and how well insulated it is. And while in-wall electric heating is an affordable and easy-to-install option that offers a variety of benefits, it might not be the best choice for efficient in-home heating. Before homeowners purchase and install baseboard units, they should first consider what their needs are to ensure they’re getting the most energy-efficient system for their home.
Consider The Specific Reason Why Your In-Home Heating System Needs an Upgrade
Homeowners who are considering installing baseboard heaters should first ask themselves whether they need to supplement an existing heating system or if they need to replace it entirely. While baseboard heaters vary slightly in how much heat they can produce, generally, one unit generates enough warmth to heat an average room in a home.
But if a homeowner needs to heat more than one or two rooms in their home, installing multiple baseboard units won’t be efficient or affordable.
Assess Your Current Energy Costs and Determine Your Budget
Baseboard units impact your electricity usage, which means relying on them for heat won’t be free. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2021, residential electricity costs increased by more than 4%, the highest increase the U.S. has seen since 2008. And almost every homeowner in the U.S. is worried about what that means for their monthly bills.
With energy costs on the rise, it’s important to make sure baseboard heaters don’t impact utility bills more than they need to. And homeowners will need to calculate heater wattage to help compare options and find a unit that provides enough heat without using excess energy.
Consider How Much Maintenance You’re Willing to Do
Because baseboard heating units sit so close to the ground, they’re often out of sight and out of mind. But they still require maintenance to continue working properly, which means you’ll need to regularly dust the unit. And while it won’t need to be as frequent, you’ll also need to remember to shut down the heater to safely clean its individual components. Failing to do this regular maintenance can cause a variety of problems:
Poorly maintained equipment may run less efficiently over time, which will increase its impact on your utility bill and may ultimately shorten the lifespan of the heater.
The heater may not be able to filter out the dust it collects, causing it to run too hot, which could become a safety hazard.
An unchecked and malfunctioning system could short out and trip the home’s circuit breaker, cutting off power to the entire house.
Even though baseboard heaters are much more inconspicuous than radiators, some people still consider them an eyesore. And while it may be the opinion of a small minority, some homeowners still consider it enough of a drawback to avoid the heating system entirely.
Make the Best Use of Your Baseboard Heating with a Smart Thermostat
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that homeowners can reduce their energy costs by “as much as 10% a year” with daily thermostat adjustments to reduce the usage of their heating and cooling systems. And pairing baseboard heaters with smart thermostats makes it easy to preset and schedule the adjustments.
This also makes it easier to take control of the temperature in your own home. Because each baseboard heater relies on its own thermostat, you’re better able to fine-tune the temperature in each room of your home. You can set different heating schedules for heaters in different rooms based on when you’re home and whether you’ll be in the kitchen for dinner or watching TV before bed. This level of temperature control gives you guaranteed comfort without the hassle of getting up to make the adjustment. But for every room with a baseboard heater, you’ll need a smart thermostat to help control the temperature.
And even if you don’t mind presetting each individual thermostat, it will still be an annoying task to change the settings every time your heating needs change. Mysa’s smart thermostat for baseboard heaters helps homeowners avoid the hassle by allowing them to control all of their thermostats directly from their mobile phones via Mysa’s app.
Learn more about how a smart baseboard heater thermostat helps you lower your energy costs, or download Mysa’s free app to explore how it can help you improve your in-home heating efficiency.
FAQs About Baseboard Heaters
How much does it cost to install a baseboard heating system?
According to HomeAdvisor, baseboard heating installation costs average anywhere from $379 to $1,213. However, exact costs vary depending on the type of heater being installed and whether homeowners hire a professional installer or do it themselves.
How can you install baseboard heaters in your home?
Homeowners can install their own baseboard heaters but should reference installation guides to help them through the process. They’ll need to know how to mount the heater on the wall and wire the unit to the circuit breaker to provide the unit with energy. Then they’ll need to connect the heater to a thermostat to accurately control the temperature.
What do healthy baseboard heaters sound like?
Most baseboard heating systems are relatively quiet, and most homeowners won’t notice the sounds they make after a few days. However, baseboard heaters aren’t completely silent. It’s normal for homeowners to hear some noises, including clicks when the heater turns on and low buzzing or humming while it runs.