We talk a lot about the ins and outs of furnaces here and for good reason. Furnaces are the most common form of heating in Austin. They use the same ductwork system as your air conditioner. They provide reliable warm heat throughout the house. And they can run on a variety of fuels making them flexible and convenient. But furnaces are far from the only way to heat a house. In fact, there are many forms of home heating systems and because we tend to have mild winters here in Austin, heating options are broad.
One of those options that most people don’t know too much about is baseboard heating. This is the concept of heating the floor of your home instead of the air that’s pushed through ducts, therefore it falls under the category of ductless heating, along with mini-splits and boilers. In this tip we’ll explore the possibilities in the world of baseboard heating, the various types, their benefits and drawbacks, and why you might consider a baseboard heater in the future.
What are Baseboard Heaters?
Baseboard heaters are heating systems that work by running lines of heat-conducting metal underneath the baseboards of the house. There’s a small unit that powers it that is usually installed underneath the window in each room that is to be heated. Baseboard heaters are by their nature zoned type of heating, by which I mean that each room is controlled separately, with a separate thermostat. The unit heats the metal pipes underneath the floorboards and the floor then radiates this heat. Baseboard heaters contain electric heating elements encased in metal pipes. The pipes, surrounded by aluminum fins to aid heat transfer, run the length of the baseboard heater's housing, or cabinet. As air within the heater is warmed, it rises into the room, and cooler air is drawn into the bottom of the heater. Some heat is also radiated from the pipe, fins, and housing.
Baseboard heaters are designed to envelop the room in warmth without using up a lot of electricity. Because heat rises, having it radiate from the floor is an effective way of spreading heat efficiently and evenly throughout each room. They are installed under windows so their rising warm air will counteract cool air falling from the window. The units must be placed by a window to work correctly and they have to be fitted perfectly to avoid losing heat between the unit and the wall. Meaning they should only be installed by professional HVAC technicians and shouldn’t be seen as a DIY project.
Some people use baseboard heating as their only form of heating but this works better for smaller households that don’t require much square footage to be heated. Baseboard heaters work very well for many as a supplemental form of heating, a way to cut down on total energy use.
Benefits of Baseboard Heaters
One benefit of using a baseboard heater is the potential for lower energy bills and a more energy-efficient heating system. Keeping warm can sometimes be a challenge on cold winter nights. When you crank up your heat, you’re not only heating up the room you’re in, but you’re also heating unoccupied rooms. Why pay to keep these rooms warm when a baseboard heater or portable space heater can accomplish the same warmth at a fraction of the price? The savings on your energy bills are worthwhile.
You can put these in every room of the house if you want, but it’s far more customary for an electric baseboard to provide supplemental heat for individual rooms on an as-needed basis. One common usage is for baseboard heat to run in a bedroom overnight, while the whole-house heating system can be put on a budget-friendly low setting. Think of it like this, when everyone is home and moving about the house, it makes sense to have the furnace blasting warm air throughout the house. You don’t want one room to be warm only to walk into the next and find it significantly colder. But what about at night when everyone is asleep? The kitchen, the living room, the dining room, they’re all being blasted with warm air that is completely going to waste. This is the perfect opportunity to switch your central heating off for a while and use a few baseboard heating systems to heat specific rooms that are being used instead. This will cut down on energy costs especially if implemented smartly over a long period of time.
Built-in zoning is another big benefit of using baseboard heating. Zoning is a popular upgrade that people like looking into when they want to consider how they can improve their heating and cooling systems. It refers to the concept of heating certain rooms more than others and controlled where the heat is in the house so the whole house doesn’t need to be heated equally all the time. This means you can keep your living room nice and toasty while your rarely used guest room doesn’t have warmth wasted on it. Baseboard heating is great for this because by design it needs its own unit for each room.
This fact also makes baseboard heating great for getting warmth into parts of the home that are typically hard to air condition. There are certain areas around your home that are notoriously difficult to keep warm. Your basement and interior garage, for example, are two areas that are known to be very drafty. The cold air gets inside and the temperature dramatically drops as a result. Baseboard heaters are perfect for these types of areas because the convection heat created by them spreads throughout these areas very efficiently. This allows you to forgo the need to install an expensive heating system.
Some smaller pros of using baseboard heaters include their quietness and the superior comfort some find they get out of them. Since electric baseboard heaters heat the room through convection (usually without the help of a fan), this keeps them quiet. And by heating the whole floor evenly, and then letting all that heat rise naturally throughout the room, you get a very even distribution of warmth when using baseboard heating, as opposed to forced air systems which sometimes have pockets of warmer or cooler parts of the room especially when it comes to larger rooms.
Facts about Baseboard Heating
There are two types of baseboard heaters, electric and hydronic. Electric baseboard heaters tend to be the most common type. Electric baseboard heaters work by passive convection. Heat is generated when electric current flows through the heating element. This process warms the air around the heater and creates a natural airflow without the use of a fan.
In a hydronic baseboard unit, the mechanics are similar but slightly different. Electricity still generates the system’s heat, but it does so indirectly. First, the electrical current warms up an enclosed fluid, either oil or water, and then that fluid radiates heat into the room where the unit has been installed. Even though electric baseboard heaters use only electricity, hydronic baseboard heating systems operate more efficiently than do electric units, because once the fluid has been warmed, it takes longer to cool down (the metal fins in an electrical baseboard, by comparison, cool down very quickly). 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 space via convection flow. Gentle heat keeps radiating even after the thermostat turns off because of the hydronic elements retention quantities. That’s why if you come across a home in which baseboard heating is the one and only system of delivering heat, chances are high that it’s a cheaper-to-run hydronic system.
There are downsides to hydronic baseboard heating too though. In a whole-house hydronic system reliant on water circulated from the water heater, the lines can be disturbed by an intrusion of air. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: bleeding the pipes. Another drawback is that compared with electric baseboards, hydronic units take longer to heat up. For many homeowners, however, the efficiency of hydronic baseboards amply makes up for their slow start.
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.
Baseboard Heating and Heating Repair in Austin
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when talking about baseboard heating, from the different types, electric and hydronic, to the different uses, supplemental heating, zoning, and improving energy efficiency and comfort. Baseboard heaters aren’t a great solution for everyone, especially those with large houses that already have a central heating system and don’t have much of a need for zoning. But for those in certain circumstances, they can be a game-changer.
For those of you with central heating systems, which are most of you, regardless of whether you’re considering using baseboard heating as a means for zoning of supplemental heating, you’ll eventually need some heating maintenance services. AC Express is a cooling and heating repair company that can install, replace, or repair any brand and any type of heating system you may have or be interested in. We operate throughout the Austin area, from Hutto and Manor to Taylor and Lakeway and beyond. If you ever need any kind of heater repair in Austin, give us a call!