The Easy Way to Calculate Electric Baseboard Heat Size

One disadvantage: higher electricity costs

Close-up of a baseboard heater

 Frank Bean/Getty Images

Installing electric baseboard heating a simple and effective way to add heating to a room addition or to convert an unheated space, such as an attic or basement. Ideally, it's always best to extend existing ductwork from your central furnace or air conditioning system—a disadvantage of electric baseboard heaters is that they use a lot of electricity. But sometimes, it's just not possible to route additional ductwork. At this time, installing electric baseboard heaters is by far the easiest solution. 

Baseboard Heater Basics

Baseboard heaters are mounted at the bottom of walls and powered by electrical circuits via wiring, which is usually routed through wall cavities to the main service panel. The wiring may route through a wall-mounted thermostat, or the thermostats may be built into the heaters themselves. While portable baseboard heaters are available that can plug into standard wall outlets, these are recommended for temporary use only. For the most efficient heating, it's best to install permanent baseboard heaters mounted to the wall. 

Permanent heaters are available in both 120-volt and 240-volt models. Wherever possible, install 240-volt heaters, as these are more efficient in terms of energy use.

Warning

240 volts is beyond what most DIYers can safely handle. If you plan to install 240-volt baseboard heaters, consider working with a professional to install the units and wiring.

When shopping for baseboard heaters, you may notice many different specifications, including the length of the baseboard heater along with its wattage, amperage, and voltage. For the sake of choosing heaters that are sufficient for the space you need to heat, the wattage rating is the most critical. In general, longer baseboard heaters will produce more wattage. Here is an example from one manufacturer: 

Cadet 240-Volt Baseboard Heater Wattages
30 inches 500 watts
36 inches 750 watts
48 inches 1000 watts
72 inches 1500 watts
96 inches 2000 watts

It's important to determine how much wattage is needed to heat the room, along with how many baseboard heaters should be installed. The answer to this will involve calculating your specific heating needs. The cost to run electric baseboard heat in your space will depend on the room size, ceiling height, and any additional factors like insulation, doors, windows, and exterior walls.

Calculating Heater Wattage: A Quick and Easy Method

A very simple method to determine how much electric baseboard heating wattage you need can be found by calculating the square footage of the room, then multiplying it by 10 watts to produce a baseline wattage requirement. 

For example, if you are heating a 12-foot x 12-foot bedroom, the space includes 144 square feet. Multiplying this by 10 watts shows that the necessary heater wattage for the room is 1440.

This base wattage calculation method presumes that the room uses modern construction methods with typical wall, ceiling, and floor insulation and that it has 8-foot ceilings. If the room differs from these specifications, it's recommended that you make the following adjustments: 

  • Add 25 percent more wattage if the ceilings are 10 feet high rather than 8 feet. 
  • Add 50 percent more wattage if the ceilings are 12 feet high rather than 8 feet.
  • In an older home, multiply the square footage by 12.5 watts, not 10.
  • In an ultra-insulated home, multiply the square footage of the room by 7.5 watts, not 10.

For the sake of our example, let's assume that the room has normal specifications. With 144 square feet, the required wattage is 1440 watts, which means you could heat the room with a single 1500-watt baseboard heater or two 750-watt heaters.

Calculating by Length of Baseboard Heater

In this method, it's assumed that 240-volt baseboard heaters typically produce about 250 watts per linear foot of length. This calculation is designed to tell you how long your baseboard heater should be. 

  1. Begin by measuring the width and length of the room to find the square footage.
  2. Multiply the square footage by 9. 
  3. Using this base wattage number, add an additional 10 percent for each of the following, as applicable: 
  • Each window
  • Each exterior door
  • Each exterior wall
  • An uninsulated space below the room
  • Poorly insulated walls
  • Ceiling more than 8 feet tall

The resulting number will be the total wattage required for baseboard heaters to heat the room. Now, divide by 250 to arrive at the length of the baseboard heater required. 

Using the same size room as described in the first calculation method, we'll assume that our 144-square-ft. bedroom has one window and two exterior walls but is otherwise typical. The calculation runs like this: 

  1. 144 square feet multiplied by 9 watts equals 1296 watts.
  2. Adding 10 percent for a window equals 1425.6 watts.
  3. Adding 20 percent for two exterior walls equals 1710.72 watts.
  4. Dividing by 250 (the normal wattage per linear foot) equals 6.84 feet of baseboard heater required.
  5. Rounding up, this means that a 7-foot heater is needed (or 84 inches). Standard heaters are not available in this length (units are typically available in 48- and 36-inch sizes), so in this case, multiple heaters would be the likely choice.

Manufacturer's Recommended Heating Needs

It is always best to slightly oversize when selecting baseboard heaters. There is no loss of efficiency by heating your space with baseboard heaters that are slightly larger than the minimum requirements.

For example, a 30-amp circuit can accommodate a baseboard heater rated for 500 square feet or 4,500 watts, but the same heater will be more efficient at heating a smaller room (assuming the circuit size is appropriate). It's also possible to put two or more baseboard heaters on the same electrical circuit as long as their total combined wattage is not higher than the circuit's maximum capacity.

Total Area of Room (sq. ft.) Recommended Heater Rating (watts) Electrical Circuit Size Needed (240 volts)
100 900 15 amps
150 1350 15 amps
200 1800 15 amps
300 2700 15 amps
400 3600 20 amps
500 4500 30 amps
800 7200 40 amps
1000 9000 50 amps