What to Know About Electric Baseboard Heaters

Want to upgrade your noisy, under-powered electric heater? Discover what electric baseboard heaters have to offer, and whether they're right for you.

Electric heaters offer an effective and affordable way to deliver zoned and supplemental heat. The downside? They’re usually noisy and not powerful enough to adequately heat a whole room. Some take up precious floor space.

However, electric baseboard heaters don’t have any of these shortcomings. They offer a powerful heat source while operating silently and without sacrificing floor space. If those features sound appealing to you, read on to learn what you need to know about electric baseboard heaters.

What Is an Electric Baseboard Heater?

An electric baseboard heater is a short, wide electrical heating element installed near floor level, often over the baseboard trim — hence the name. They are usually hardwired into a home’s existing electrical wiring, but some units can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet for easy installation and portability.

An electric baseboard heater produces heat via convection or hydronic process. Convection baseboard heaters are the most common. They use heated metal fins to turn cold air near the floor into warm air that rises and spreads throughout the room. Hydronic baseboard heaters feature an electric heating element that warms an internal liquid reservoir surrounded by metal fins, distributing radiant heat into the room.

How To Choose an Electric Baseboard Heater

Choosing the best electric baseboard heater mostly depends on the size of the space you need to heat, how energy efficient you want the heater to be, and your budget. Generally, an electric baseboard heater should have 10 watts of power for every square foot of space you need to heat. So a 100-square-foot room would need a 1,000-watt heater to serve as the primary heat source.

Hydronic baseboard heaters are significantly more energy efficient than convection because the warmed fluid keeps generating heat after the heater is shut off. In contrast, a convection heater’s metal fins cool off quickly. That means the convection heater needs to stay on longer to generate the same amount of heat as a hydronic heater. However, convection heaters are cheaper and available in a wider range of sizes and power ratings. They are also more commonly available as plug-in units.

Baseboard Heater Costs and Installation

Electric baseboard heaters cost between $25 and $250. Convection baseboard heaters are on the lower end of that range, often under $60, and hydronic baseboard heaters are on the higher end, usually between $200 and $250. The cost of installation depends on whether you need a professional electrician to connect a hardline heater to your home’s electrical wiring. A plug-in, of course, doesn’t need a professional install.

Hardwiring a baseboard heater into your home’s electrical system may require running new wires through the wall, running existing wiring to the heater’s intended location, and installing a new circuit on your electrical panel. While it’s possible for a highly capable homeowner or DIYer to perform these tasks, it’s usually best to hire a pro.

An electrician’s labor cost can be between $75 and $250 an hour, and the total cost to purchase and professionally install a baseboard heater is usually between $400 and $1,200. Whether you call a pro or DIY, you may also need to remove a portion of the existing baseboard trim.

Baseboard Heater Maintenance

One advantage of baseboard heaters: The lack of moving parts. That means less furnace maintenance and fewer repairs. But you do need to periodically clean the metal heating fins to maintain optimal function and maximize lifespan.

To do this, simply remove the front panel cover and vacuum dirt and debris from the metal fins. You can also use a small bristle brush and damp rag for a more thorough cleaning. Before you begin, make sure the baseboard heater is off and completely cool to the touch to prevent burns. Pros recommend cleaning a baseboard heater’s fins at least once a year, preferably at the beginning of heating season.

Safety Considerations

As with other electric heaters, keep some important space heater safety considerations in mind:

  • Maintain at least 12 inches of cleared space in front of the heater;
  • Maintain at least six inches of cleared space on either side of the heater;
  • Ensure no fully opened door blocks the heater;
  • Don’t use an extension cord with a plug-in model;
  • Ensure the heater has an automatic overheat shut-off feature;
  • Keep children and pets away from active heaters to avoid burns.

It’s also wise to choose a baseboard heater that’s been tested for safety by a third-party testing agency, like Underwriter Laboratories (UL).

James Fitzgerald
James Fitzgerald is a handyman and freelance home-improvement writer with a passion for DIY, gardening, and anything involving working with his hands. He has over a decade of professional experience in a variety of trades, including construction, tree work, landscaping, and general maintenance. When not in search of the next enticing DIY project, he may be cooking, lifting weights, riding his motorcycle, hiking out at the coast, or nose deep in a great book.