Are Electric Baseboard Heaters Efficient?

When compared to more modern heating systems, electric baseboard heaters are generally less efficient, but that doesn’t mean they are without their perks.
Written by Andrew Biro
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
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Electric baseboard heaters aren’t necessarily inefficient, but they aren’t nearly as efficient as modern heating systems—such as the electric heat pump. They do, however, handle extremely low temperatures better than their modern counterparts, making them an excellent source of secondary heating.
Electric baseboard heaters do an excellent job at heating a home—or even just sections of a home—but their efficiency often leaves something to be desired, as they turn off and on more frequently than other heating systems. This is largely due to their difficulty maintaining consistent heat, a problem often seen in those installed near windows or in older, draftier homes.
If you’re debating on whether or not to switch to a more modern heating system, or just have questions regarding electric baseboard heaters in general, you’re in luck—
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How do electric baseboard heaters work?

Electric baseboard heaters are designed to control the temperature of specific rooms.
As you might expect, electric baseboard heaters use a thermostat to know when to turn on—and each individual baseboard unit has its own thermostat, allowing you to keep different rooms at different temperatures. This can help cut down on energy bills if you have rooms that are not often used.
Once the thermostat tells the unit to switch on, an electric baseboard heater draws denser, cooler air into the base of the unit and uses electric coils to heat it up, after which it will rise and naturally disperse throughout the room.

Are electric baseboard heaters efficient?

Compared to other types of heating systems, electric baseboard heaters are usually less-efficient, resulting in higher energy bills during the winter months—bills that are sometimes even 50% higher than those issued during months when the heaters are not in use.
This is largely due to their inability to maintain a consistent heat over long periods of time—electric baseboard heaters can heat up a room quickly once turned on, but the room will get cold again quickly after they shut off, resulting in a nigh-constant cycle of turning on and shutting off.
Ultimately, however, the efficiency of electric baseboard heaters depends on a couple of factors, namely the age and condition of the heaters themselves—the older an electric baseboard heater is, the less efficient it will be. 
MORE: How long do HVAC systems last?

Pros and cons of electric baseboard heaters

Though they used to be much more popular than they are now, electric baseboard heaters can still be found in many homes throughout the country, particularly larger, older homes. As time passes, however, more and more households are replacing their electric baseboard heaters with more modern heating systems—to understand why that might be, let’s take a look at their pros and cons.

Pros

Electric baseboard heaters would not have persisted for as long as they have if they weren’t doing something right. Here are some of the key advantages of owning electric baseboard heaters:
  • Allows for zone heating: due to the fact that each heating unit has its own thermostat, electric baseboard heaters allow you to keep different rooms at different temperatures, giving you more control over your home’s climate
  • Quieter than other heater types: unlike an HVAC system or furnace, electric baseboard heaters produce almost no noise when they turn on, allowing you to sleep or go about your business distraction-free
  • Relatively easy to install: seeing as electric baseboard heaters require no ductwork, they are much easier—and usually cheaper—to install than other types of heaters
  • Excellent secondary heat source: homeowners living in very cold climates may find that their primary heating system—such as an electric heat pump—cannot handle extreme winter temperatures, in which case electric baseboard heaters may come in handy as a backup source of heat

Cons

Of course, electric baseboard heaters are not without their faults either, some of which may be deal breakers for those looking to buy a home—here are a few of the core disadvantages of electric baseboard heaters:
  • Produce a dry heat: unlike some heating systems, electric baseboard heaters produce a very dry heat that can dry out your eyes, throat, and skin or even cause bloody noses
  • Take up valuable wall space: per their nature, electric baseboard heaters must be installed on walls and cannot be blocked by furniture or drapes, thereby reducing the amount of available wall space
  • Lead to higher energy bills: generally speaking, electric baseboard heaters use more energy than, say, an electric heat pump, resulting in higher energy bills—this is especially true if the heater is placed near a drafty window or poorly-insulated wall
  • Require routine cleaning: electric baseboard heaters must be cleaned regularly to keep them working at maximum efficiency, and though they aren’t difficult to clean (all you need is a vacuum), it’s one more thing you have to keep up with
  • Pose a potential safety hazard: when they are on, electric baseboard heaters—and their covers—can get extremely hot, posing a potential safety hazard for households with small children

Do electric baseboard heaters affect home insurance rates?

Generally speaking, the presence of electric baseboard heaters isn’t going to drastically affect homeowners insurance rates or raise your premium in any significant way. This is largely due to the fact they are considered to be fairly safe—after all, they run on electricity like many of your home’s other systems—and are not a serious fire hazard.
Of course, if your electric baseboard heaters are decades old and have never been replaced, your insurance company may see that as cause for concern and up your premium to offset the risk you’re taking on.
At the end of the day, however, electric baseboard heaters won’t drastically affect your home insurance rates as long as you keep them clean, replace them when necessary, and don’t block them with furniture or hang drapes over them.

How to find affordable homeowners insurance

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FAQs

While they aren’t the least-efficient type of heating system, electric baseboard heaters are generally less efficient than modern heating systems like the electric heat pump or HVAC system, leading to higher energy bills. Electric baseboard heaters are, however, better suited to extremely cold climates and are a good choice for backup heating should your electric heat pump fail.
As long as furniture isn’t blocking them and there are no curtains or drapes hanging above them, electric baseboard heaters are no more a fire hazard than any other heat source. To minimize the risk of fire even further, take care to remove all flammable objects from the vicinity of heater units, regardless of whether they are currently in use.
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