Electric baseboard heaters have long been installed in homes as a ready solution to heating issues. They can step in as room-zoned space heaters when whole-house heating is cost-prohibitive. They address the need for a permanent heating system with the convenience of a wall-mounted thermostat. But they cost only a fraction of central heating and can even be installed by the homeowner.
Because electric baseboard heaters are usually a permanent installation, it's important to understand issues like correctly sizing the heater, choosing the right type of heater, as well as potential disadvantages of using baseboard heat.
What Is an Electric Baseboard Heater?
An electric baseboard heater is a permanent, standalone zone heating device. An electric resistance element within the device heats up and gradually trickles heat into the space. It is called a baseboard heater because the device is located at floor height and often replaces baseboard trim or is installed over the trim.
Before Buying a New Electric Baseboard Heater
Electric baseboard heaters are ideal for bedrooms, bathrooms, basements, moderately-sized living rooms, dining rooms, or hallways. Install one or two electric baseboard heaters per room. A small single baseboard heater cannot heat an entire house nor can it heat a large space.
Electric baseboard heaters are often a solution for an add-on like a bump-out, room addition, garage conversion, full-size addition, or a detached accessory unit like a tiny house or granny pod. Running central heat to these areas can be more costly than it's worth. So, electric baseboard heaters fill this need.
Buying Considerations for Electric Baseboard Heaters
Shop for an electric baseboard heater based on key factors like heat output, source of power for the heater, and the length of the heater. Whether you want an onboard or wall thermostat and how much the heater will cost to run are also important.
Correctly sizing the electric baseboard heater to the room is crucial. Undersized heaters run continuously or fail to provide adequate warmth. Oversized heaters needlessly cost more to purchase and install. A simple working rule for sizing baseboard heaters is to multiply the room's square footage by 10 to arrive at a minimum wattage requirement for the heater.
For example, a small bedroom 10 feet long by 10 feet wide is 100 square feet. Multiply 100 by 10 to arrive at a wattage requirement of 1,000 watts. This rule of thumb applies to rooms with 8-foot ceilings and an average amount of insulation (R-13).
Since not all homes are the same, four sizing variations help to closely align the baseboard heater with the room:
- Add 25-percent more watts: For rooms with 10-foot ceilings rather than 8-foot ceilings
- Add 50-percent more watts: For rooms with 12-foot ceilings rather than 8-foot ceilings
- Multiply by 12.5 watts, not 10 watts: For older or poorly insulated homes
- Multiply by 7.5 watts, not 10 watts: For new or well-insulated homes
|Base Room Size||Ceilings 8 Feet, Average Insulation||Ceilings 10 Feet||Ceilings 12 Feet||Poor Insulation||Excellent Insulation|
|50 square feet||500 watts||625 watts||750 watts||625 watts||375 watts|
|75 square feet||750 watts||938 watts||1,125 watts||938 watts||563 watts|
|100 square feet||1,000 watts||1,250 watts||1,500 watts||1,250 watts||750 watts|
|150 square feet||1,500 watts||1,875 watts||2,250 watts||1,875 watts||1,125 watts|
Electric baseboard heaters require either 120- or 240-volt circuits, depending on the type of heater that you purchase. Existing unused circuits can possibly be used for the heater. To reduce or eliminate circuit breaker tripping, run dedicated circuits from the electric service panel to the service location.
Unless you are experienced at electrical work, you'll need to factor in the cost of hiring a qualified electrician to create these circuits, as well as follow-up wall repairs.
Whether this is a new installation or a one-for-one replacement, it is likely that your community will require that you apply for an electrical permit. This is applicable both to work performed by you or by a licensed electrician.
|Volts AC||Circuit Breaker||Wire||Watts on Circuit, Maximum|
|120||20 amp single breaker||Grounded 12/2 wire||1,920|
|240||20 amp double breaker||Grounded 12/2 wire (x2)||3,840|
|240||30 amp double breaker||Grounded 10/2 wire||5,760|
Electric baseboard heaters generally range from 30 to 96 inches long, though a few 24-inch and 120-inch heaters are available, too. Length equals heating capacity: the longer the heater, the more heat it can output.
Open wall space is a major consideration with electric baseboard heaters since 12 inches in front and 6 inches on each side are required. This essentially means that the entire area in front of the baseboard heater should not have any obstructions like sofas, desks, armoires, or even draperies.
Electric baseboard heaters are usually about 7 to 10 inches high and project from the wall about 3 inches.
Electric baseboard heaters are controlled by thermostats that help the room maintain a set temperature.
- Built-in thermostats: Some types of electric baseboard heaters have digital or dial thermostats built into the heater. This eliminates the need to install a separate thermostat on the wall. While this type of thermostat saves on installation costs, it's less convenient because the user needs to reach to floor level to adjust the thermostat. Plus, since heat rises, the thermostat senses the coldest part of the room, so readings are not indicative of the rest of the room.
- Wall thermostats: Most 120 volt or 240 volt baseboard heaters use a high- or line-voltage thermostat. Mounted on the wall at about 48 to 54 inches off the floor, the thermostat is installed on the cable that leads to the baseboard heater. Controlled either digitally or with a dial, this type of thermostat mechanically allows or stops the flow of electricity.
Cost of Electricity
All-electric homes, an initiative that fell out of favor years ago, is once again at the forefront as communities enact natural gas bans to curb greenhouse emissions. Depending on how your area generates its electricity, using electric baseboard heaters might be a positive step toward making your home a green home.
At the same time, it's vital to consider the cost to run an electric baseboard heater in your home. Use this formula, where the cost of electricity is expressed in kWh or kilowatt-hours:
As an example, running a standard 1,000-watt electric will cost $1.60. The national average for the price of electricity is $0.160 per kWh.
Types of Electric Baseboard Heaters
Metal housing with aluminum fins
Poor heat retention
Heats up faster
Metal housing with liquid in chamber (most often, the chamber has metal fins to dispense heat more evenly)
Better heat retention
Heats up slower
Four times more expensive
Two important categories of electric baseboard heaters are convection heaters and hydronic or oil-filled heaters.
- Convection/conventional baseboard heater: A standard or convection baseboard heater heats up by way of an electric heating element cased in a metal housing. Metal fins are intended to radiate some heat after power to the unit has been shut off. These units heat up quickly. They do not hold heat for very long.
- Hydronic or oil-filled baseboard heater: A growing category of electric baseboard heaters have an internal sealed chamber that contains either water or oil, usually mineral oil. Oil-filled heaters are trending more than water-filled heaters. The liquid retains and continues to radiate residual heat, even after the power is shut off to the unit. The heated liquid controls sharp temperature swings found with convection baseboard heaters.
Cost of Electric Baseboard Heaters
Electric baseboard heater pricing follows a basic pattern: conventional heaters are less expensive than oil-filled and longer heaters are less expensive than shorter heaters on an inch-by-inch basis.
- The average cost of an electric baseboard heater, across all categories, is $168.
- On average, convection or conventional heaters cost $76, or $1 to $3 per inch, making them four times less expensive than hydronic or oil-filled heaters.
- On average, convection or conventional heaters between 48 and 96 inches long cost $94, or $1 to $2 per inch, making them less expensive than other lengths.
- On average, oil-filled electric baseboard heaters cost $336 or $4 to $11 per inch.
- Oil-filled baseboard heaters that cost less than the average price range from 46 to 94 inches.
How to Choose an Electric Baseboard Heater
- Size heat output to room: Choose an electric baseboard heater with a heat output equal to or exceeding the requirements of the room. You'll need to either install one heater of the appropriate size or wire multiple baseboard heaters onto the same thermostat.
- Size heater length to wall space: Locate a clear stretch of wall as wide as your intended baseboard heater plus another 12 inches.
- Choose heater power source type: Within the home, 120V circuits are more common than 240V circuits. 240V circuits power appliances like dryers, water heaters, HVAC systems, and electric vehicle chargers. If you're installing your own baseboard heater, it's often easiest to stick with 120V heaters, but most electricians use the 240V heating circuit. It has the same wire type and size but 240V allows for twice the efficiency and the additional savings makes up for the difference in breaker price.
Where to Shop
Locally, electric baseboard heaters are available at most home centers, electrical supply houses, and some hardware stores. Many electrical supply houses are wholesale-only, so first make sure that they sell retail products.
When shopping for an electric baseboard heater online, filter the products by length, voltage, and convection vs. hydronic or oil-filled heaters, then sort by price. Oil-filled heaters are often classified as hydronic heaters, so read the descriptions carefully. Colors are usually limited to white, black, and almond or beige.
Where to Buy an Electric Baseboard Heater
If you hire an electrician, the electrician can supply a basic electric baseboard heater. For a greater selection, purchase your own electric baseboard heater and have the electrician install it for you. Online outlets will have a greater variety of baseboard heaters than local stores.
How much should you spend on an electric baseboard heater?
Expect to pay around $76, on average, for a convection or conventional baseboard heater and about $336 for an oil-filled baseboard heater.
How do you know if you need a new electric baseboard heater?
Replace an existing electric baseboard heater that arcs or sparks, only if a qualified electrician is unable to repair the unit. With severe physical damage to the heater, it's best to replace it with a new unit.
What is the best time to buy an electric baseboard heater?
If possible, buy an electric baseboard heater in the warmer months. Depending on your area, this is the period from spring to late summer. The high demand for baseboard heaters in the fall and winter can often mean product shortages and higher prices.
Electric Resistance Heating. Energy.gov
Natural Gas Bans Are New Front in Effort to Curb Emissions. Pew Charitable Trust
Average Energy Prices. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics