What is an Electric Baseboard Heater? How do Baseboard Heaters Work?

Baseboard heaters make ideal room heating solutions. They require very little space and are usually inconspicuous. They are quiet, safe and energy efficient. They are also easy to install.

Most electric baseboard heaters range from 500 watts to 2000 watts in power. That translates to about 50 - 200 of square feet of space that can be heated. They can be used for whole house heating on a room-by-room basis or for supplemental heating in spaces such as bedrooms, offices and hallways.

Special baseboard heaters are also available for commercial applications, such as in ballparks, stadiums, hotel lobbies and restaurants. They can often be custom-engineered to meet design and size specifications.

How Do Baseboard Heaters Work?

Electric baseboard heaters are basically zone heaters. They are typically installed underneath windows where the heater’s rising air counteracts falling cool air from the window’s glass, and are controlled by thermostats within the room where they are located.

These heaters use heating elements encased in metal sheaths that are surrounded by aluminum fins to facilitate the transfer of heat. They employ a process known as convection, in which cooler air in the room is drawn into the bottom of the heater. Air within the heater is warmed, and then rises into a room. Some heat also radiates from the heater’s element and housing.

There are essentially two types of baseboard heaters:

  • Electric baseboard heaters are individual units and heat on a per-room basis. They function better than other space heating systems because they make use of the principles of radiation and airflow.
    They can be more efficient than a central heating system by controlling rooms that are not frequently used at a much lower temperature than occupied space. For example, baseboard heaters allow one bedroom to be set at 68° while another bedroom can be set at 72°, saving energy and raising the comfort level in the space. A central heating system cannot do this.
  • Electric/hydronic baseboard heaters contain a metal-sheathed heating element that is immersed in a heat-transfer liquid and sealed in a heater-length copper tube that has aluminum fins bonded to it for maximum heat transfer.
    The large diameter reservoir maximizes the volume of heat storage fluid to prolong the thermal effect after the thermostat is satisfied. All available heat is delivered into the space via convection flow. Gentle heat keeps radiating even after the thermostat turns off because of the electric/hydronic elements retention quantities.

Baseboard Heater Efficiency

Baseboard heaters use convection to draw up the cold air near the floor, warming it up and releasing it back into the room where it rises. As the air cools, it sinks and is taken back into the baseboard heater to be warmed again. This convection-powered cycle will continue until the room is at the desired temperature, and the baseboard heater will then automatically shut off, therefore conserving energy.

Since electric baseboard heaters heat the room through convection (usually without the help of a fan), this keeps them quiet.

High-quality electric hydronic baseboard heaters are also available that offer clean, quiet operation, without the noise of a traditional hot water piping system and the noisy blower and dirt of forced-air systems.

Baseboard Heater Safety

Models include safety thermal cutout protection switches that will turn off the heater in case of overheating. Auto safety features then reactivate the heater when the temperature returns to normal.

Ease of Installation

Baseboard heaters do not require ductwork, and are easy to install. Some models, such as the 2500 Series and HBB Series from Marley Engineered Products, are UL listed to mount directly on the floor surface, whether it is wood or carpet.

Maintenance is typically easy too. The heating element inside the heaters does not have any moving parts, so there is less chance of something breaking down. Upkeep usually only requires minor cleaning consisting of removing the dust and lint from the grill of the heater. To prevent warm air from gathering behind the unit and streaking the wall with dust, make sure that the heater fits tightly to the wall.

Learn More

For more information, contact a contractor who specializes in heating and cooling (HVAC) systems. Or visit the Products section of this website to learn about specific products.