Hiring an electrician to install a baseboard heater can cost upward of $1,000, which means relying on a professional to set up your heating unit won’t be cheap. If you can learn how to install a baseboard heater yourself, hiring a professional won’t be necessary. And fortunately, most homeowners can install their own baseboard heater in a few simple steps.
If you want your DIY installation to be successful, you need more than a basic “how-to” guide — you need to understand the most common installation mistakes so you can avoid them.
How to Install A Baseboard Heater
Typically, the manufacturer will provide an installation guide with the baseboard heater you buy. That’s because not every baseboard heater looks or functions the same. Specific details like where you’ll drill to mount the heater or which side the wiring is on will impact what your installation process looks like. Regardless of the specifics, all baseboard heaters follow the same basic steps.
Before you begin the installation, make sure you have all of the tools you’ll need to complete the job. Typically, that means you’ll need things like:
You’ll also need drill bits for the specific materials you’ll be working with, like a Masonry bit for homes made of brick or concrete or Paddle bits for wood.
Choose an Installation Location, Measure the Heater, and Mark the Drill Spots
Homeowners replacing an existing baseboard heater won’t need to worry about determining where to place the heater. Homeowners with a new unit will need to identify an installation location that’ll allow the heater to warm the entire room.
Placing the heater under a window will automatically improve efficiency by relying on thermodynamics to naturally warm the cool air that sinks to the floor. But you’ll need to be careful not to install your heater beneath a wall outlet, which is incredibly dangerous. Plugging other appliances and cables into an outlet this close to a heater can cause them to overheat and potentially start a fire.
Once you find a location, use a stud finder to identify where you should drill holes for the screws you’ll use to mount your heater. Be wary of electrical wires, gas lines, or water lines that may be hiding behind the wall — drilling into one of these lines could lead to serious problems like flooding.
Be sure to properly lay out your mounting holes, stud locations, and electrical energy points prior to mounting the heating unit. You’ll also need to measure and cut a hole for the electrical wiring, which should also have a knockout on the back of the heater.
Install and Connect Electrical Wiring
Unless you already have the correct wiring installed for an existing heater, you’ll need to hire a professional electrician. An experienced electrician will be able to verify that the circuit breaker you have is compatible with the energy needs of your heater. They’ll also know what size wiring to use and how to properly run and connect wires.
Or, if you understand electrical wiring, you can do your own wiring — but DIY electrical wiring can be dangerous. You should only attempt to install your own wiring if the job is simple and you have prior experience.
Regardless of whether you’re installing new wiring or connecting existing wires, the first step is turning off the electricity by flipping your home’s main circuit breaker to the “off position.” Then, use a voltage meter to double-check that the circuit’s energy level is safe. Failing to turn the breaker off can lead to serious installation accidents like injury or death. Once you’ve done this, you can safely run electrical wire through the wall to connect your service panel to your baseboard heater.
Mount the Heater
After you’ve planned where to install your heater and connected the electrical wiring, it’s time to mount the heater. Be sure to mount the heater using drywall screws, which will support the heater by reaching deep into the wall to provide grip. Once you’ve screwed the heater securely to the wall, but before you’ve tightened the screws, use a level to ensure the heater is even. If not, adjust the heater and then tighten the screws.
Install the Thermostat
Your heater will likely come with a basic thermostat, or you can upgrade to a more energy-efficient option by buying your own. To finish installing your baseboard unit, you’ll need to connect it to the thermostat so you’ll have control over your heating. If you’re replacing an existing heater, you’ll need to first uninstall your old thermostat by removing it from the wall and disconnecting the wiring.
Use your phone to take a photo of your existing thermostat — this makes it easy to see where the wires go. After you disconnect your thermostat, use the photo you took to show you how to connect the wires to your new thermostat.
3 Common Installation Mistakes (+ How to Avoid Them)
Baseboard heater installation mistakes aren’t just expensive — they’re dangerous. Simply hoping your installation will be successful isn’t a good strategy for avoiding common problems. If you want to prevent mistakes, you need to know the common mistakes homeowners make during installation so you understand what can go wrong.
1. Failing to Consider Home Heating Needs
The first step in a successful installation is selecting a heater that meets your needs, including providing enough heat. The only way to avoid buying the wrong baseboard unit is to calculate how much heat you need for the room before you install the heater. To do this, you’ll first need to measure the square footage of the rooms you want to heat. Then, multiply the square footage by 10 watts.
If you don’t consider your heating needs, you might end up with a baseboard unit that doesn’t have a high enough heat output to keep your home warm. That means it’ll run more frequently to keep up with heating demands, using more electricity and raising your energy costs. But overestimating your needs could leave you with a heater that requires more energy than you can realistically provide.
2. Miscalculating the Heater’s Energy Needs
To successfully install a baseboard heater, you need to ensure your circuit can supply it with enough energy to run properly. Your heater might list this information clearly on its packaging or in its owner manual to make it easy for you to check the power you’ll need to run the heater.
Or, you can calculate a heater’s energy needs on your own by locating the wattage on the unit itself and consulting a manufacturer’s guide to determine how many amps you’ll need to power the heater. Then, check the circuit’s service panel to ensure its amperage is at least as high as what your heater requires. If your circuit breaker isn’t powerful enough, you may need to add a new circuit, which is complicated and will require the expertise of a qualified electrician.
Failing to account for a heater’s electrical needs could lead to an overloaded circuit, which will trip the breaker and shut off electricity to everything that relies on it for power. In some cases, overloaded circuits can lead to more severe problems, like an overheating baseboard unit or electrical fires.
3. Making Simple Wiring Mistakes
You already know that electrical wiring mishaps pose serious risks, like fire or electrocution. Unfortunately, wiring is the most difficult task for homeowners doing DIY projects for the first time. Taking on wiring without electrical expertise will require research and advice from a qualified electrician — and baseboard heater installation is no exception.
Some of the most common wiring mistakes homeowners make include easily avoidable oversights, such as:
Loose wire connections
Wiring the heater to an electrical outlet
Using the wrong type of electrical wiring
Failing to connect a home’s ground wire
Fortunately, baseboard heaters generally don’t require advanced wiring skills. You can reduce the chance that you’ll make mistakes by ensuring you know the basics of electrical wiring before you begin your installation. Since most manufacturers include photos in their installation manuals, taking your time and carefully consulting the instructions throughout each step will help you ensure you’re installing the heater correctly.
Install a Baseboard Heater Thermostat That Maximizes Energy Efficiency
Generally, when you buy a baseboard heater, it’ll also come with a thermostat. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best quality or most energy-efficient option to control your baseboard heater. A smart thermostat will offer the highest level of energy efficiency of any thermostat, and that will translate to lower electricity costs. Investing in a smart thermostat up front means you’ll only have to install one thermostat — and you’ll see greater energy efficiency from the first time you use the heater.
Using the thermostat that comes with your baseboard heating unit might seem like a good idea and will be easy to install. But most homeowners don’t see any benefits from using them, and some programmable thermostat users even end up spending more on their energy bills.
See other ways to lower your monthly baseboard heating costs or learn more about how smart thermostats help save you money.