Electric Baseboard

Electric baseboard heating has a reputation for being expensive to operate. Many people use electric baseboard heat economically, however, by heating only occupied rooms. If you are extremely careful, you may use less electricity in your baseboard heaters than neighbors with electric heat pumps.

Baseboard heaters contain electric resistance heating elements encased in metal pipes. These pipes extend the length of the unit and are surrounded by aluminum fins to aid heat transfer. As air within the heater is heated, it rises into the room, drawing cooler air into the bottom of the heater. Baseboard heaters should sit at least three-quarters of an inch above the floor or carpet to allow for this airflow.

There are two kinds of built-in electric baseboard heaters: strip-heat and liquid-filled. Strip-heat units are less expensive than liquid-filled, but they don’t heat as well and can be noisy, making creaking noises when they turn on and off. These strip-heat units release heat in short bursts as the temperature of the heating elements rises to about 350?F. Liquid-filled baseboard heaters release heat more evenly over longer time periods, since the element temperature rises only to about 180?F. This lower temperature produces less temperature variation within the room and better comfort.

Electric baseboard heaters are controlled by thermostats within the zone they heat. The line-voltage thermostats that are attached directly to baseboard heaters often don’t provide consistent control of temperature. The most accurate thermostats for electric heaters are mounted on the wall, and they provide the most satisfactory temperature control.

See The Homeowners Handbook to Energy Efficiency or Residential Energy: Cost Savings and Comfort for Existing BuildingsChapter 6 for more information. For professional information about heating systems and energy efficiency see Saturn Hydronic Systems Field Guide.