Many older homes in the United States feature baseboard heating. These heating systems have no ductwork, and their placement provides more even heating within a room. If you’re considering purchasing a home with baseboard heaters, there are several things you should know before committing to the purchase.
Buying a home with baseboard heaters provides even heating. Compared to hydronic baseboard heating, electric baseboard heating is less efficient and costs more than most HVAC systems. You can mitigate costs by turning heaters off when not in use. Baseboard heaters also limit interior design options.
In this article, we’ll discuss three things you should know before buying a home with a baseboard heating system. We’ll compare baseboard heating with forced-air systems and explain some of the differences between the two. Read on to learn more.
Things To Know Before Buying a House with Baseboard Heating
Baseboard heaters were common in homes until the 1950s and 1960s, though they’re still found in homes today, especially in colder climates. These heating units operate via fluid-based systems or electricity and run along the baseboards of a home. They work by providing zone heating to each room in the house.
Although these systems provide even heat distribution, there are several things potential homeowners should know before investing their money in a home with baseboard heating.
1. There Are Two Primary Types of Baseboard Heating
Most people are familiar with electric baseboard heating, but hydronic heating is also quite common. Both heating methods provide heat to the home via baseboards.
- Electric Baseboard Heating – Since it’s powered by electricity, these baseboard heaters may be operated separately from one another. Usually, each baseboard has its own thermostat, allowing each room to have its own temperature settings.
- Hydronic Baseboard Heating – These heaters utilize water or oil from a centralized boiler system in the home. The boiler pumps hot water or fuel through the system and into metal coils inside the baseboards. These coils provide heat to the house.
Each system has its pros and cons, as discussed throughout this article.
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2. The Efficiency of Baseboard Heating Varies
It’s impossible to say precisely how efficient baseboard heating systems are, as the overall efficiency depends on a multitude of factors, including:
- System’s age
- Condition of the system
- Climate where the home is located
- How you plan to use the system
Older systems tend to work less efficiently, especially if the system hasn’t been regularly cleaned or maintained. Neglected systems may not work as well as those with annual cleanings and regular maintenance.
The location of the home also influences efficiency. For example, if the house is in an extremely frigid climate, you’ll use the baseboards more often. The more often they’re used, the more wear and tear they’ll experience, leading to a reduction in efficiency. If the climate is warmer, however, efficiency is greater, as you won’t need to use the heaters as often.
How you use the system can also impact efficiency, particularly when using electric baseboard heating (as we’ll discuss at the end of the next section).
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Electric Baseboard Heating Efficiency
According to many HVAC specialists, electric baseboard heating isn’t the most efficient heating method. In fact, homes with electric baseboard heating systems typically have much higher energy costs than those utilizing different HVAC systems. Even electric heat pumps are more efficient than electric baseboard systems.
Therefore, with electric baseboard heating, you’re going to see higher energy bills, especially during the colder months.
The placement of baseboards also plays a role in energy consumption. Since these heaters are installed beneath windows and along exterior walls, drafty areas may cause the heaters to switch on more often, increasing energy costs.
There is a positive side to electric baseboards, however. Since you can control the temperature settings of individual heaters, you can potentially save money by keeping heaters off in rooms that you don’t use.
Hydronic Baseboard Heating Efficiency
The most energy-efficient baseboard heating is hydronic heating.
This is the best option for baseboard heating because a cubic inch of water carries more heat energy than air and experiences much less energy loss. As such, you’ll spend less on heating compared to electric baseboard heating and even forced-air systems.
However, as with electric baseboards, the placement could pose problems if the home is drafty.
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3. Baseboard Heaters Limit Interior Design Options
Aspiring homeowners usually look at homes and imagine what they’d do with the space — how they’d paint, decorate, or remodel. However, if the home has baseboard heating, you’re severely limited with what you can do in terms of interior design.
As discussed earlier, baseboard heaters sit beneath windows and along outer walls to mitigate heat loss. These spaces are highly valuable in interior design and usually the areas where you’d place a desk, bed, dresser, or long drapes. With baseboard heaters in the way, it’s nearly impossible unless you allot six inches of space between the baseboard and your furnishings. Otherwise, you’re creating a fire hazard. And long curtains? No way.
The lack of design options can be a major deal breaker for many potential homeowners.
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Other Considerations for Homes with Baseboard Heating
There are some other considerations to think about when deciding to purchase a home with baseboard heating.
Families with Children and Pets
The same reason that you must keep baseboard heaters unobstructed is the same reason why you should keep small children and pets away from the units. These elements get incredibly hot, even with the heat guards. Children can stick their fingers into the units, causing severe burns.
You can’t put items in front of or over these, so there’s no way to block children from accessing the heaters. Cats may even try to stick their paws into the heaters, so you’ll need to regularly monitor pets and young children to ensure there are no accidents.
Those with Allergies or Dry Skin Issues
Although baseboard heating systems do not blow air around, they do produce dry heat, which can exacerbate issues such as dry skin, dry eyes, dry mucous membranes, and bloody noses. You can remedy this problem by investing in humidifiers for each room (or even a whole house humidifier). However, this only increases home energy costs.
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Baseboard Heating vs. Forced Air
Forced air distribution systems are the most common HVAC systems in the United States.
Compared to forced air, hydronic baseboard heating is more efficient because it carries more heat energy than air per cubic inch. Therefore, with hydronic baseboard heating, you’ll spend less on energy costs than forced air.
Electric baseboard heating is more expensive than forced air. As mentioned in this article, you can mitigate costs depending on how you use the system. For example, shutting off several heaters in unused rooms can save on costs.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Forced air systems send air through ductwork to each room in the home. Over time, dust, dirt, allergens, and other particulate matter build up in these ducts. When the system forces air through these vents, it also spreads these particles around. Even with furnace filters, smaller particulate matter can find its way into the home.
The same thing happens with baseboard heaters — dust builds up over time, requiring regular cleaning to maintain overall heating efficiency. However, it’s much easier to clean baseboard heaters than to clean ductwork. The cleaning process for forced-air systems is tedious, and many people resort to hiring a company with specialized equipment for a thorough cleaning.
One of the positive aspects of baseboard heating is that it provides more evenly distributed heat. It relies on air current heating, so it delivers the heat based on how air naturally moves through the room. As an added bonus, it doesn’t force dust, dirt, and other particles into the air, so it won’t bother those with breathing issues.
One of the major downsides to baseboard heating systems in comparison to forced air is that forced air systems can deliver both hot and cold air. Baseboard heating can only deliver hot air.
Therefore, in addition to baseboard heating, you’ll also need a home cooling system if you live in an area that experiences cold winters and hot summers. You may need to opt for window air conditioners, portable units, or a forced air cooling system — but if you’re investing in a forced air cooling system, it may be worth it to eliminate baseboard heating altogether or use it only as supplemental heating to save on costs.
Baseboard heating systems have their pros and cons, but for those looking to buy a home, it’s essential that you look closely at these factors to determine if the home price is worth it. Electric baseboard heating is less efficient than other HVAC systems, and the units eliminate valuable wall space for interior decorating. It’s also a hazard for children and pets and may exacerbate dry sinuses.
On the plus side, they’re easier to clean and provide more even heating. You can even mitigate energy costs by shutting off electric heaters in rooms that you don’t use.