Picture of a typical installation of an electric baseboard heater in bathroom.

Electric Baseboard Heating Pros and Cons




By now, most of us have heard the horror stories of high electricity bills and insufficient heating capabilities of electric baseboard heaters.



However, on the contrary, they offer an economical alternative to smelly oil and kerosene, potentially dangerous heating, in a properly prepared environment.  In fact, we’ve utilized electric baseboard heaters in our home for twelve years to warm the second floor, and found that the pros of the convection heaters we installed far outweighed the cons.

Picture of a typical installation of an electric baseboard heater in bathroom.
Electric baseboard heater, typical bathroom installation.

Advantages of Baseboard Electric Heating

Decentralized control of the heat.  You can set each room in your home to a different temperature if you wish.  No more fighting over the thermostat, where one person is too hot while the other feels too cold. Separate spaces can be implemented with ease using electric heating.  It’s flexible.

Easy to properly size and position a heater to particular rooms and air flow characteristics. Baseboard heating units come in various physical sizes and wattages, and you can even connect several of them together, to be controlled by a single thermostat if your particular situation dictates this. You can place heaters in the coldest parts of the room.  A properly sized heater should (and did, in our case) keep a room plenty warm, even during those polar vortex days during the winter of 2014, when the outside temperature dropped below zero degrees, and stayed that way for days.

Heaters can be cheap to procure.  Most entry level baseboard units cost less than $100.  Even the eight foot long ones cost only about $80.

No restrictions against placing electric heaters in bedrooms exist as of this writing.  Not true however of natural gas and other fossil fuel heating units.  These may be cheaper to operate than electric resistance heaters.  But they can add harmful pollutants to the air, or deplete the room of oxygen, which can create health problems for anyone sleeping in that room regularly.  Electric heaters on the other hand, emit no pollution, and do not consume any oxygen.

Electric heaters are simple to understand and operate.  Most contain no computer modules that often require costly repairs when they fail.  Since the heater is really just a large resistor encased in a metal box, fitted with heat-spreading metal fins, these units rarely fail.  They’re insensitive to power surges and brownouts, and on the infrequent occasion that they do break, replacing them will not put you in the poor house.  Replacing a failed central heating system on the other hand can run into the thousands of dollars.

Line voltage thermostats are widely available, and come in both the manual and programmable varieties.

Typical baseboard heating units contain no fans or moving parts of any kind.  So there is nothing to wear out.  This also means that they’re generally pretty quiet.  See below however, for qualifications to this statement.

Overheating protection is provided in all commercially available heaters, designed for in-home use.  Verify this however, before buying a particular baseboard heater.

Thermostats can be installed on the baseboard heater itself, or mounted on a wall, away from the heater.  The choice here depends on how easily wiring can be run for satellite thermostat operation.

Once you install the wiring, mounting the baseboard heaters is a snap.  If you’re actually installing them on a flat baseboard, several wood screws is all it takes.  You can mount them on drywall as well, so long as you keep them low to the floor for best performance, and you use heavy-duty wall anchors or toggle bolts.

Works well as supplemental heat for rooms that are located far from the main furnace, as was the case in our home.  But heating with electricity can also work well as primary heat; although since each room can have its own heaters and thermostats, the concept of central heating disappears in the case of primary electric baseboard climate control.

Disadvantages of Electric Baseboard Heating

Requires more insulation for efficient operation. Since baseboard heaters are generally positioned near to the floor, and given the fact that their convection style heat rises, this type of heat works well to ensure that the entire room is heated, from floor to ceiling.  However, since electric heating in general is inherently inefficient due to the implied dual energy conversion process, higher R values of insulation of the room in the walls as well as the ceiling, is required to overcome this inefficiency.

Separate, specialized wiring must usually be installed.  For the best performance and least interference with other electric appliances and lighting within the home, each heating bank (usually banked on a per room basis), must have a separate circuit run.  This minimizes light dimming when the heaters come on, and avoids the possibility of overloaded branch circuits.

Electric heaters of most any type (baseboard units included) require line voltage thermostats. E.g. thermostats that are capable of directly switching 110 or 220 volt supply lines.  Additional control equipment such as low-voltage operated relays and switches can be added, that enable a low-voltage thermostat to control a high-voltage heater, can be purchased.  Get details from your home heating technician.

Unless the heaters you select have built-in humidifiers, electric baseboard heaters tend to produce a very dry heat, resulting in raw throats and bleeding noses during the coldest months of the year.  For maximum comfort therefore, you may need to purchase humidifiers of some sort, to moisten the air.  We used a central humidifier that was attached to our primary furnace.  This added enough humidity to our second floor to solve these dry heat problems.

Baseboard heaters powered by alternating current electricity can hum loudly while operating.  The din can be irksome in a bedroom where quiet operation for many folks, is essential.  However, if you spend a little more for your heaters, such as investing in hydronic baseboard units, any humming or buzzing is hardly perceptible.



This type of heat typically gives off a burning smell when first activated in the fall season.  During the off-months, dust accumulates on the heating elements, and burns when the elements is first energized after long periods of inactivity.  However, this smoky odor disappears within minutes, and does not return so long as the heater is operated at least several times per month.

The typical style of line voltage thermostat features a mechanical switch inside, that can click repeatedly and obnoxiously, as it turns the heater on and off.  After some time, it can also start to stick; the heater remains on even after the temperature set point is reached.  On several occasions, our mechanical thermostats did this, and the temperature in the so heated room, rose quickly to 90 degrees.  Fortunately however, the baseboard heaters themselves had a protective circuit that shut them down when they grew too hot.

So again, make sure that the heaters you buy also have overheating protection built in. Also, using the more modern, electronically switched thermostats like the   Honeywell RLV310A Digital Thermostat  or the   Honeywell RLV430A 5-2 Programmable Digital Thermostat,  solves the problem of the older mechanically based sensors sticking in the ON position.  Both of these line-voltage thermostats feature an all-electronic control mechanism, that never sticks in either the on or off position, and also provides more precise temperature control for your heaters.

You may have to periodically clean and grease your electric baseboard heaters, as discussed in our  Fixing Noisy Electric Baseboard Heaters   article.

Conclusion

As was obvious to us when we opted to install the electric baseboard heating on the second floor of our Cape Cod home, while resistance heating indeed has some drawbacks, it also features numerous favorable points, as outlined above.  These were what won us over.  Plus, our cost to heat the two rooms upstairs during the coldest months of the winter ranged from $60 to $80 per month; not bad, even for us starving-artist writers.  We wired and installed our heaters, ourselves, and so, avoided the expenses of “professional” installation by an electrician.  And, except for occasional greasing, those heaters never gave us any trouble for over a decade of cold Pennsylvania winters.  So, we’d highly recommend baseboard heating, powered by electricity; particularly if you’re building a new home, and can thus, design it from the ground up to support electric heat.  Great comfort levels, simple to work with, rugged, and the heaters endure well.



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References

Revision History

  • 2916-12-21: Added featured image.
  • 2015-11-12: Added more appropriate tags.
  • 2015-09-26: Added tags.
  • 2015-07-22: Added picture of a typical bathroom electric baseboard heater installation.
  • 2014-10-16: Originally published.