What are electric baseboard heaters?

Electric baseboard heaters have an enduring popularity. Their relatively low cost point has made them an attractive option for many homeowners looking to add heating to their home without breaking the bank. While these systems do have several advantages, they also have quite a few drawbacks. If you’re considering installing electric baseboard heaters in your home, there are some things you should know before you move forward.

In this article, we’ll discuss what electric baseboard heaters are, how they work, and whether or not they represent good value for you and your home. In doing so, we’ll compare them to other types of heating systems, such as heat pumps and ductless mini-splits, and help you determine whether or not a baseboard heater is right for your home.

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What are electric baseboard heaters and how do they work?

Many homeowners make the mistake of thinking electric baseboard heaters are the heating equivalent of ductless HVAC units. This comparison has two problems. First, ductless mini-splits are, in fact, heating systems: as heat pumps, they can provide both cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. In this way, they don’t really need a winter-time “equivalent.”

Second, while these two types of systems might look similar at first glance, they’re actually quite different. Compared to ductless mini-splits—which can provide zoned comfort throughout your home and cool / heat entire rooms, electric baseboard heaters actually have more in common with space heaters. They’re good for warming individual spaces within a room, but they won’t really make a dent in the overall temperature of your home—or even that individual room—while they’re running.

That being said, an electric baseboard heater has a lot to offer when compared to a space heater, which is in the same price range. They’re generally far less noisy than space heaters and—because they’re wall-mounted—take up far less space. Many of these systems can be directly wired into your home, so that they’re not hogging up outlets. And while they’re not at the same level as a furnace, heat pump, or ductless mini-split, you’ll feel the difference, especially on the floor.

These systems emit radiant heat energy, warming the air around the system. There are two main types of baseboard heaters: hydronic and convection. Hydronic systems heat fluid inside of the unit and then use it to release heat. These systems are more energy-efficient, but typically cost more upfront to install. Convection baseboard heating systems are less expensive to purchase and install, but operate less efficiently.

What are some of the advantages of these systems?

At their most basic—convection-style baseboard units with a plug—they are incredibly cheap to purchase and install. You can set up this kind of baseboard unit for just a little bit more than a space heater costs. As we’ll discuss in the section below, this low introductory cost hides the later expenses you’ll have to pay, but—if you just need cheap heating, as soon as possible—baseboard heating offers a potential solution.

What are some of the drawbacks of these systems?

At their upfront price point, baseboard heating might initially seem like an attractive option. These systems do have some notable drawbacks, however. First and foremost, they’re energy hogs. Baseboard systems use a lot of electricity. If they’re your primary form of heating, they’re going to need to be running constantly just to keep your home at the temperature you want it. As a result, you’re going to start seeing higher and higher electric bills.

While they’re space-saving compared to a space heater, baseboard units also have a habit of being in the way. They block you from placing furniture anywhere in the vicinity, which limits how you can arrange your rooms. As you might expect from a metal box that emits a lot of heat, they’re also incredibly hot to the touch. This can make them a hazard for small children in your home. Every homeowner with baseboard heaters has a story of the time they accidentally brushed up against one. It’s not the way you want to start your morning.

Finally, it’s worth noting that these systems are incredible at dehumidifying air. That might sound like a good thing, but—as we all know—our winters here in New Mexico are already bone-dry. Dry air feels colder, so further dehumidifying already-cold air starts a feedback loop where you feel like you need to run the baseboard heater more to get your home to a comfortable level.

Watch: Pros and cons of electric baseboard heaters

Learn more about the advantages—and disadvantages—of electric baseboard heaters in this video.

Consider your options

We’ve already mentioned that ductless mini-split systems are different from electric baseboards. Generally, most HVAC techs will steer homeowners toward an electric heat pump or mini-split if they’re looking for reliable, cost-effective heating. While electric baseboard units do have their niche use, they’re massive energy users compared to the efficiency of ductless systems. Depending on the square footage of your home and how often you’re running them, baseboard heating could balloon your utility bills.

If you’re interested in the zoned control that electric baseboards have to offer, a ductless mini-split is probably the better buy. These systems can also provide customizable heat control for individual rooms, all while heating your home more effectively and efficiently than a baseboard unit can.

We’ve already discussed many of the drawbacks of baseboard heating. While these systems do have their merits, the total picture is clear: when you compare cost, features, and effectiveness, you’re probably better off going with a ductless system.

Related: What are the key differences between different types of HVAC systems?

Call Wagner for help with your home’s heating

Wagner is proud to be Albuquerque’s top choice for winter heating help and solutions. We install all kinds of new HVAC systems, including both gas and electric furnaces; electric heat pumps and ductless mini-splits. We’d be happy to work with you to find the right heater for your home and your family.

To get started, just contact us through our website. Or, give us a call.