Electric Baseboard Heaters

baseboard electric heater coil

In the right geographical location, electric baseboard heaters can prove to be a welcome addition to a home's heating system. However, in a cold weather environment or an area where the electric company charges more than the national average (9.52 cents per kilowatt hour as of Februrary 2010), the cost of operation may be more than you bargained for. Understanding the pros and cons of this heating option will help you make the best decision for your home improvement needs.

How They Work

An electric baseboard heater is installed as its name indicates, on the floor at baseboard level. A 240-volt circuit powers most permanent installations although some portable models are powered by 120-volts.

Baseboard heaters powered by electricity have no moving parts, so the heat is generated through conduction. Cool air along the floor is sucked into the lower slot that extends the length of the heater, passing over the internal heating coils, and is then expelled through the top slot. The heat rises naturally and evenly to fill the room. Then when the air at floor level reaches the desired temperature, the unit automatically shuts off.

Depending on the model, some baseboard heaters feature an integrated thermostat control knob on the heater itself, whereas you control other models via a 24-volt line voltage thermostat.

Pros and Cons of Electric Heaters

There are two schools of thought concerning baseboard electric heaters. Some people love them, whereas others would prefer to never use them. It basically comes down to whether or not the heater's pros or cons carry the most importance for the individual.

Pros

  • Easy to control the temperature in a room
  • Easy to install
  • Inexpensive to purchase and/or replace
  • Maintains more consistent temperature in a room
  • Self-contained heating units allow for total control over the home's heating needs
  • No expensive ductwork or insulation needs to be installed
  • Very low maintenance
  • Quiet operation
  • Doesn't dry out the home's air like a gas furnace does
  • No risk of carbon monoxide entering the home

Cons

  • Expensive to operate in cold climates
  • Puts limitations of furniture placement or curtain selection
  • Can be easily dented or damaged by children or pets
  • Dangerous for young, curious children
  • Requires routine dusting
  • Requires a 240-volt circuit at the point of installation (unless it's a portable model)

Misconceptions

Many electric heater manufacturers claim their product to be "100 percent efficient," which can often confuse uneducated buyers. While the claim is true, what it is pertaining to is the fact that 100 percent of the electricity used by the heater is generated into resistance-free heat. The claim does not mean that baseboard electric heaters are more energy efficient when compared to other heating options.

Example of Electric Heat Costs

In most temperate climates, a 1,200 square-foot well-insulated home requires approximately 12,000 watts of electric baseboard heating power. If the electric heater runs for 12 hours each day over the course of the month, the electricity costs for running the heater alone will be over $411.

If the home is drafty or the region a particularly cold one, the necessary wattage could double, skyrocketing the electric bill to over $800 in heating costs. These figures are based on the national average cost of electric delivery and do not include the home's other electricity usage.

Use the following equation to determine the cost of electric heat for your home if you have or are considering this option. In order to come up with the daily cost of running the heater, you will need the heater's wattage that is normally found on a metal tag on the unit itself. The equation is as follows:

Determine the kilowatts of the heater by dividing its wattage by 1000

  • Appliance wattage ÷ 1000 = kilowatts (kW)

Multiply the number of kilowatts by the number of hours per day the unit is on

  • Kilowatts x (number of hours in a day that the unit is on) = kilowatt hours (kWh)

Multiply the number of kilowatt hours by your electric company's rate per kWh for your daily cost of running the heater (don't forget to move the decimal two spots to the left)

  • Kilowatt hours x (your electricity company's rate per kWh) = Daily cost

Multiply the daily cost by the number of days in the month and you'll have your average monthly cost of heating your home with electricity during the winter months.

Maximizing Electric Baseboard Heater Results

In order for baseboard heat to reach its full potential and efficiency, it is critical that nothing be placed directly in front of the unit. Air needs to circulate in and around the heater in order for it to work safely and effectively. Anything placed in front of the unit will lead to less-effective performance, higher electric bills and increased risk of fire or heat-related damage.

Electric heating tends to be the most expensive on a per-BTU basis in most regions in the United States. To get the most out of this heating option, it's important for the rest of your home to be as energy efficient and heat-loss resistant as possible.

Final Considerations

It is wise to ask the electric company for copies of the utility bill from the previous winter if you're considering purchasing a home that has electric heat. This will give you an idea of what you can expect to pay for heat before purchasing the home.

Look at your overall heating needs, your climate, the cost of installing and operating electric heat against the cost of replacing a gas furnace and your area's electricity rate to determine if this heating option is viable for you before you make the decision to install baseboard electric heat in your home.

Electric baseboard heaters are available for purchase at most home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot and online directly from the manufacturer or another home improvement website. Popular brands include:

Electric heaters provide a safe and effective home heating alternative, but they aren't for everybody. Taking the time to do region-specific research will help you determine if electric heat is something that will work for you or if another option is more viable and affordable.

Electric Baseboard Heaters