How Do Baseboard Heaters Work – 2023

How Do Baseboard Heaters Work?

Baseboard heaters are a type of heating system that provide a steady and consistent source of heat. They are typically installed in homes with baseboards along the walls, hence their name. They work by using electricity to heat a radiator, which is then used to warm the air around it.

The term “baseboard heater” comes from the fact that these types of heating systems are typically installed along the baseboards of a home. Baseboards are the strips of wood or other material that are typically found along the base of a wall. The heaters are installed along these baseboards, which is why they are called “baseboard heaters”.

Baseboard heater – runs along the “base” of a wall

Components Of A Baseboard Heater

The components of a baseboard heater include a thermostat, a radiator, and a furnace that supplies the heat. The thermostat regulates the temperature of the heater, and the radiator is responsible for absorbing the heat and distributing it throughout the room.

A baseboard heater relies on a furnace to generate heat. The furnace creates heat by burning fuel such as natural gas, oil, or directly using electricity, and then the heated air is circulated through the baseboard heater. The baseboard heater then uses the heated air to warm the room.

The furnace could be a central furnace, or an in-place heating element that’s part of the baseboard. The former would send heat to multiple baseboards around the house whereas the latter generates the heat inside the baseboard.

The baseboard heater acts as a heat exchanger, transferring the heat from the furnace to the room. A baseboard heater is a reliable and efficient way to heat a room, but it is important to make sure that the furnace is in good working order and that the baseboard heater is properly maintained.

Baseboard heaters can be either hydronic or electric. Hydronic baseboard heaters use hot water to heat a room, while electric baseboard heaters use electricity to generate heat. Hydronic baseboard heaters are typically more efficient than electric baseboard heaters and can save money on energy bills in the long run. Electric baseboard heaters are typically cheaper to purchase, but they can be more expensive to operate due to their inefficiency.

Efficiency Of Baseboard Heaters

How efficient are baseboard heaters? You can’t answer this question without also knowing what type of furnace is sitting behind the baseboard heater. The efficiency of a baseboard heater depends on the type of furnace that is used. Any furnace will couple to the baseboard heater. For oil, gas, and other fuel burning types, the combustion of fuel heats up a hydronic water source that circulates to transfer heat to the baseboard units. For electricity, heat is generated from “heating elements” which heat water. A longer discussion on heating efficiency has been covered by us before.

Baseboard Heater Furnace TypeEstimated Efficiency
Wood or pellet stove75%
Propane or natural gas boiler or furnace92-93%
Oil boiler or furnace87-88%

Cost Of Baseboard Heaters

You may have noticed electric boilers are 100% efficiency. This is by definition because all of the electricity is converted to heat in the “heating element.” Does this imply that an electric baseboard heater is the cheapest? By far absolutely not! Natural gas may be less efficient in converting the chemical bonds of methane into heat, but it’s far cheaper to buy natural gas and burn it for heat than to use electricity.

The cost of using a baseboard heater will depend on the type of fuel source used.

Baseboard Heater Energy SourceEnergy Unit CostEstimated Annual Cost In Cold Climate
Wood*~$350 / cord of wood$1700
Natural Gas$1.90 / therm$2300
Pellets~$300 / ton$2600
Oil$5.00 / gallon$4900
Electric$0.23 / kWh$5100

Even though wood is super cheap, it’s not a popular heat fuel source. Wood heating can be messy, smoky, and dangerous if the stove is not properly maintained. The smoke from wood burning can also be a health hazard for those living in the home. Finally, wood heating can be expensive to clean and inspect the stove. These factors have contributed to wood heating becoming less popular in recent years.

Wood heating requires that a large quantity of wood be stored in order to keep the fire going. This can be a problem because wood can be bulky and can take up a lot of space. Additionally, the wood must be properly stored in order to keep it dry and prevent it from rotting. This requires a dedicated area for storing the wood, which may not be available in some homes. For these reasons, many people opt for other types of heating systems instead of wood heating.

Pellets, which are made from wood and come in bags, overcome the storage and transportation problem. They have the same messiness as wood though. Pellets are less well-known to most people. You can investigate them here.

Of the remaining, natural gas, oil and electric, the cheapest option is natural gas on “amount of heat” delivered basis.

Final Consideration: Renewables

There’s are two ways to lower the running costs even more beyond what we described, and that is to turn to home renewable energy. There are two major ones and the way they couple to the baseboard heater is different.

Solar For Baseboard Heating

Solar power can be coupled with baseboard heating in order to create a more efficient and cost-effective heating system. Solar panels are used to collect energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. This electricity is then used to power the furnace for the baseboard heater, allowing it to heat a home more efficiently. This type of system saves money on energy bills and reduce a home’s carbon footprint.

Geothermal For Baseboard Heating

The heat transfer medium used in a geothermal heat pump is a mixture of water and antifreeze. This mixture is circulated through a loop of pipes underneath the ground where it absorbs heat from the earth. The heated liquid is then sent back up to the heat pump where it is used to heat the air in a home or to transfer heat to a hydronic fluid that supplies heat to the baseboard heater. This type of heating system is extremely efficient and cost-effective, making it a popular choice for many homeowners.

Why Can’t I Use An Air Source Heat Pump With Baseboard Heating?

Air source heat pumps don’t work with baseboard heaters because they rely on air-to-air heat exchange to transfer heat. This means that the air inside the home must circulate through the heat pump in order for it to work. Since baseboard heaters don’t use air-to-air heat exchange, they are not compatible with air source heat pumps. Baseboard heaters use steam or water as a heat transfer medium.


Baseboard heaters are generally quite safe to use. However, it is important to keep an eye on the temperature of the unit. If it gets too hot, it could be a potential fire hazard. It is also important to make sure that all wiring is properly installed, as improper wiring could cause a potential hazard. This is particularly the case for switching between voltages – going from 110V to a 220V or vice versa means the current changes and the wire specs will change.

Summary – How Do Baseboard Heaters Work

In conclusion, baseboard heaters provide a steady and consistent source of heat. However, they are not very efficient and can be expensive to operate. It is important to consider all of the factors when deciding which type of heating system is best for your home.

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