The Problem With Baseboard Heat - Cost Comparison (November 2022) (2023)

Baseboard heat is expensive

On the surface, baseboard heat seems to have many advantages. Baseboard heaters are cheap and easy to install. They allow “zoned-heat,” giving you more control over the temperature of each room. And they don’t require ducts.

But there’s one big problem with baseboard heating: it’s incredibly expensive to operate. That is, homes with baseboard heat have much higher utility bills than homes with heat pumps or other HVAC systems.

In fact, according to an analysis we did recently for our heat pump savings guide, homes that use baseboard heat and traditional air conditioning spend on average $1,300 more per year than homes with heat pumps.

In this guide we’ll go over how baseboard heat works, the pros and cons of baseboard heating, and how they compare to ductless mini-split heat pumps and other heating systems.

How does baseboard heat work?

Baseboard heating systems are a type of zone heating that allow you to control the temperature in individual rooms. The baseboard unit, which runs along the bottom of the wall, uses a metal heating element to generate and slowly release heat into the room where it’s placed.

Like other electric resistance heating systems, baseboard heaters convert 100% of the energy they use into heat (compared to natural gas furnaces that generally only convert 80% of their energy into heat).

With baseboard heating, there’s no need for furnaces, ducts, or blowers. The unit creates heat from electricity, gas or water, and it slowly rises from the floor to the ceiling to warm the room.

Types of baseboard heaters

Electric baseboard heat

Electric baseboard heaters are the most common type in America. The heating elements inside are made of electric coils that heat up much like the heating elements in a toaster. A switch on the unit turns it on or off.

Hydronic baseboard heat

Instead of electricity, hydronic baseboard heaters use liquid to heat the copper coils inside the unit. These units are connected to a central boiler in the home that’s heated by gas, oil, or electricity.

Water or oil is heated in the boiler and then runs through pipes to the baseboard heater. When the liquid cools, it returns to the boiler to be reheated.

(Video) Electric Baseboard Heaters: Pros and Cons

Baseboard heating cost

Upfront cost

Baseboard heaters generally cost about $500 per unit to install. So if you want to put them in 5 rooms, it will cost you $2,500.

But most of that $500 will go towards the labor of the installer you hire. Units only cost about $100 a piece. So you can bring that cost down significantly by installing the baseboards yourself. Here’s a good YouTube video on how to install baseboard heaters.

Annual cost

The average home in America is about 2,000 square feet and uses 35 million BTUs of energy for space heating. That’s the equivalent of about 10,000 kWh per year. So at an average price of $0.13 per kWh for electricity, that means baseboard heaters cost about $1,300 per year on average.

But if you live in a colder climate, you can expect that number to be much higher. For example, in the Northeast the average home uses about 50 million BTUs of energy for space heating, or roughly 15,000 kWh per year. And electricity costs about $0.20 per kWh there. So if you live in the Northeast, baseboard heaters cost about $3,000 per year.

Here’s a table showing how much it would cost the average homeowner to heat their home using baseboard by census region:

Census regionAnnual heating cost
Middle Atlantic$2,561

Pros of baseboard heat

Like any heating option, there are pros and cons of baseboard heat. First, let’s look at the pros.

Zone heating

Baseboard heaters give you a way to control the temperature in individual rooms without the use of smart home technology. Bedrooms and living spaces can have the heaters turned on when they’re occupied and off when they aren’t.

If one room runs cooler than the others and needs a boost, a baseboard heater can raise the temperature in that room without cranking up the heat elsewhere.

While it’s tempting to think that this makes them more energy efficient than other types of heating, that’s not the case. As we mentioned earlier, homes that use baseboard heaters and traditional air conditioning spend about $1,300 more per year than homes that use other ductless heating systems like mini-split heat pumps.

Easy installation

Baseboard heating systems are easier and cheaper to install than other types of heating because they don’t require ductwork. The units are mounted to the wall and hardwired into the house’s electrical lines.

(Video) TOP 5 BEST BASEBOARD HEATERS (Reviews & Buyers’ Guide 2022)

Even hydronic baseboard heaters that require tubing to run inside the walls, floors or ceilings are less expensive to install than ductwork.

This can make baseboard heaters a great option if you just need to heat a single room — like an infrequently used guest room or bathroom.

One thing to note for electric baseboard heating: there are both 120 volt baseboard heaters and 240 volt baseboard heaters. 120 volt baseboards are easier to install because they don’t require additional electrical upgrades. You can just plug them into an outlet. 240 volt baseboard heaters on the other hand require their own dedicated 20 amp circuit and 12-gauge wire.

The Spruce has a great article on how to install a 240-Volt electric baseboard heater.

Secondary source of heat

If you live in a place with extremely cold winters and your home doesn’t have proper insulation, an electric heat pump may not be able to keep up with below freezing temperatures. Baseboard heaters are a good solution for those days when you need supplemental heat in the most used spaces in your home.

That backup source of heat will keep your heat pump from constantly running in vain.

Cons of baseboard heat

There are downsides to baseboard heating systems that can make them impractical and expensive.

Baseboard heating cost

As we mentioned above, baseboard heaters cost a lot more to operate than other heating systems like heat pumps.You can expect to spend about anywhere from $500-1,500 more per year to heat a home with baseboards than a more efficient system like a ductless mini-split heat pump.

The placement of baseboard heaters — near windows and exterior walls — also makes them inefficient. Each unit has a thermostat on the unit that controls how much it works to heat up the room. If the thermostat senses cold nearby, such as drafts from old windows, it’s going to work even harder trying to keep the room warm.

That constant battling of cold drafts amounts to high utility bills, especially during the coldest months of winter.

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Interior design

Electric baseboards get hot, which means you have to keep furniture and curtains at least six inches away from them to prevent fire.

You can’t use long drapes on windows that share a wall with a baseboard heater. You can’t have couches or beds up against those walls. All of this limits your interior design options and can make it difficult to place furniture in those rooms.

Safety hazard

Electric baseboard heaters get very hot. They pose a fire risk if things are placed too close or on top of them. If you have young children in the house, they can also be a burn risk.

The heating elements are tucked inside the unit, but the cover itself also heats up. You have to watch children constantly to make sure they don’t touch them when they’re on.

Hydronic baseboard heaters do not pose the same level of risk as electric baseboard heaters. While they do get hot, it’s not hot enough to start a fire.

Dry heat

The heat generated by baseboard heaters is a very dry heat. People who use them often get dry skin, dry throats, dry eyes and bloody noses.

You can use a humidifier to add moisture to the air, but that requires more electricity and regular cleaning.

Baseboard heating vs. forced air heating

Forced air heating is one of the most common ways to heat your home. The system draws in cool air from inside your home, heats it, and then distributes it through your home using ducts and vents.

What makes baseboard heating better

Baseboard heating has some benefits compared to forced air heating.

  • You can customize temperatures in each room by installing units where you need them.
  • It runs quietly because there’s no fan constantly blowing.
  • There’s no need for ductwork, so it’s easier and less expensive to install.

What makes forced air heating better

Forced air beats baseboard heating in some major ways.

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  • Forced air is more energy efficient than baseboard heating which amounts to lower energy bills.
  • It’s less restrictive when it comes to furniture placement and design. There is no fire risk and no wall units to worry about.
  • Baseboard heaters have to be cleaned regularly to operate at their maximum efficiency. Forced air requires less cleaning to function properly.

Baseboard heat vs. ductless mini-splits

If you’re looking to upgrade your heating system, but forced air isn’t an option because of the ductwork or cost, there’s another option: a ductless mini-split heat pump.

As the name suggests, a ductless heat pump doesn’t use ducts to connect the air handlers. Individual air handlers are connected to a compressor outside with copper conduit that runs through the wall.

What makes baseboards better

Baseboard heaters have one major advantage over ductless mini-splits: they’re cheaper to install upfront.

The average cost of installing electric baseboard heating is $800 per room, while the upfront cost of a ductless heat pump system is closer to $2,000 per room. If you’re only replacing the heating system in one zone of the house and a heat pump is too expensive, baseboards might make sense.

But the lower upfront cost of baseboard heat will come back to bite you in the form of higher utility bills. As mentioned above, the average homeowner will spend about $1,300 more per year using baseboards and traditional air conditioning than a mini-split heat pump (which heats and cools a home).

What makes ductless heat pumps better

If you have the money to invest in a heat pump, it has a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to energy savings.

Heat pumps are far more energy efficient than baseboard heating. The average household could save about $1,300 per year by using a heat pump system instead of baseboard heating and traditional air conditioning, with a payback time of seven years. That energy savings also means that your annual carbon emissions can be reduced by 7.6 metric tons per household by making the switch.

Heat pumps also act as air conditioners. A heat pump heats your home in the winter and cools it in the summer, without the need for a separate unit. So when you install mini-splits you get the benefit of a zoned-air conditioning system too.

In general, mini-splits are a much better option than baseboard heaters. They cost more upfront, but deliver benefits in the form of comfort and bill savings for years.

To learn more about mini-splits, check out our heat pump buyer’s guide. Or check out how much it would cost to install a heat pump here.

(Video) Why Baseboard Heaters Should Be Replaced?


How much more expensive is baseboard heating? ›

Baseboard heating cost

You can expect to spend about anywhere from $500-1,500 more per year to heat a home with baseboards than a more efficient system like a ductless mini-split heat pump. The placement of baseboard heaters — near windows and exterior walls — also makes them inefficient.

Are newer baseboard heaters more efficient? ›

Q: Are new baseboard heaters more efficient? Since all-electric baseboard heaters convert 100 percent of the electricity they use into heat, purchasing a newer baseboard heater won't make it more efficient than an older one.

Is baseboard heat more expensive than central heat? ›

Baseboard heat is not as energy efficient as central heat and AC systems. And those who install central HVAC see a nearly 50% decrease in their electricity bill when they stop using the baseboard heat system. So, it is more expensive to run baseboard heating.

Is it worth replacing baseboard heaters? ›

You save money

Replacing your electric baseboard heaters with things like heating ducts or radiant heating may be a significant up-front expense, but you could save as much as 50 percent on your energy bill during the winter months.

Why is baseboard heating so expensive? ›

Is baseboard heating expensive? In general, electric baseboard heaters use more electricity than an electric heat pump. This means higher electric bills, especially in the coldest winter months when they're working overtime to keep your home warm.

How can I make baseboard heat cheaper? ›

7 Ways to Bring Down Your Baseboard Heating Electric Bill
  1. Keep your heater sparkly clean. Dust buildup on your baseboard heater will block the heat and keep it from escaping properly. ...
  2. Turn it down! ...
  3. Calibrate. ...
  4. Insulate. ...
  5. Contact the power company. ...
  6. Run appliances at night. ...
  7. Give your ceiling fan a whirl.
26 Mar 2015

What is better than baseboard heaters? ›

Ductless heat pumps/mini split systems are one of the top alternatives to baseboard heaters if you're looking for the energy efficiency of electric heat but want to avoid the drawbacks listed above. A ductless mini split provides all the benefits of zoned climate control, and doesn't require ductwork.

How do you modernize baseboard heating? ›

Revamping the baseboard heater can make a huge improvement.

You could also sand and paint them, but that's a lot of work. The easiest option is to replace just the front covers and end caps with aftermarket ones made of plastic or metal, which are available at home centers and online.

What is the most energy-efficient baseboard heater? ›

If you're looking for a baseboard heater requiring the least amount of electricity, look no further than Fahrenheat's PLF504 Hydronic Baseboard Heater. It takes just 500 watts to produce a respectable amount of radiant heat, making it considerably more energy-efficient than convection units with similar power ratings.

What is the cheapest way of heating a house? ›

Gas boiler

It's not as cost-effective without solar panels, but a gas boiler is still the cheapest way to heat your home – though that's set to change soon, with the cost of gas rising more than twice as quickly as electricity.

Should I replace baseboard heat with forced air? ›

However, forced air systems will save you resources over time and can work more efficiently to keep your home at your preferred temperature. Changing baseboard heat to forced air is a worthwhile investment for those looking to stay comfortable while saving energy and money.

What is the most cost efficient way to heat a home? ›

A ductless heat pump is an electric system offering one of the most efficient ways to heat and cool a home. The system uses up to 60% less energy than conventional electric heating systems. The main thing you should know about a ductless heat pump is that it's a “zonal” heating and cooling system.

What is the lifespan of baseboard heaters? ›

Electric baseboard heaters have an average life expectancy of about 20 years. However, as with most things, they can last much longer with proper maintenance.

How often should baseboard heaters be replaced? ›

Expected life – According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), a cadet-type wall heater or baseboard heater has a 10-15 year expected life. While that is a long time, the NAHB rates radiant ceiling panels with a 40-year life.

Is it cheaper to run a space heater or electric baseboard heat? ›

Space heaters do use less energy as compared to using central heat. However, they are not as efficient as space heaters. As such, having a space heater in every room in the home and turning them all on at the same will only cost you more, not less.

Why are baseboard heaters so inefficient? ›

Since Electric Baseboard Units circulate heated air by convection, not by radiant heating or a fan blowing air, it is a very slow and gentle airflow. Cobwebs and dust that collect on the tiny metal fins can restrict heating by more than 80%. The units must be kept clean or they will simply not work.

Should I remove baseboard heaters? ›

When Should You Remove Baseboard Heating and Replace it With a New One? To state it very simply, you need to have your baseboard heating system replaced when you detect that it has started to consume too much energy/ electricity and that it takes more time than usual to heat the room than it used to do earlier.

Is baseboard heat cheaper than forced air? ›

Installation costs favor baseboard heating, but forced air heating is more cost-efficient for large spaces. This article will take a closer look at both types of heating, comparing them under various metrics to help you make the best decision.

What temperature should baseboard heat be set at? ›

Choose an energy-efficient setting: 68 degrees when you're home and 60 degrees when sleeping or away. (Exception: For ceiling cable heat, change only 2 to 3 degrees at a time for the most efficiency.) Each degree you lower the temperature throughout your home saves an estimated 2 percent on your heating costs.

Why are baseboard heaters placed under Windows? ›

The gist is that cold air from the window mixes with warm air rising out of the baseboard, that warm air moves around the room, cools and sinks back to the floor, where it is eventually re-heated by the baseboards. That's why traditionally it's recommended to install a baseboard under a window.

How much is baseboard heating a month? ›

Here are the typical running costs for baseboard heaters based on 1,350-watt units running for 10 hours per day, seven days a week, at an average price of $0.13 per kilowatt.
Running Costs.
Number of HeatersMonthly Usage Cost Range
One unit$50 – $60
Two units$100 – $120
Three units$150 – $180
Four units$200 – $240
1 more row

What is the best and cheapest form of heating? ›

Although prices have risen, natural gas is the least costly form of space heating. This is followed by electricity, propane, and heating oil, from the next cheapest to the most expensive. It also pays to consider eco-friendly home improvements that make home eco-heating more efficient, too.

Are mini splits more efficient than baseboard heaters? ›

Energy Efficiency

In other words, ductless mini splits provide, at least, the same amount of heating as baseboard. But, it uses much less energy. That means it has much less of an impact on your energy bills. (And, as we mentioned, the air handlers provide better climate control than the other system).

Is radiant heat better than baseboard? ›

Radiant heating has a number of advantages. It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because it eliminates duct losses. People with allergies often prefer radiant heat because it doesn't distribute allergens like forced air systems can.

Can you put a couch in front of a baseboard heater? ›

Space in Front of Baseboard Heaters

You can place a couch or chair in front of a heater, but it must be at least a foot away. Placing furniture closer than that creates a potential fire hazard, and it can greatly diminish the heater's performance by restricting airflow to and from the heater.

How much does it cost to convert baseboard heat to Central? ›

Most homeowners pay between $3,900 to $7,500 to install a central air system. However, to install ductless mini-split systems expect to pay $2,000 to $14,500.

How much does it cost to run a 1500 watt heater for 24 hours? ›

Running a 1500-watt heater for 24 hours will cost $4.80. $11.20 to run per week (8h/day).

Can you leave baseboard heaters on all the time? ›

Yes, while baseboard heaters are considered very safe, and the risk of fire is pretty low if misused, there is a risk of fire. Here are some safety and maintenance tips for preventing fire and to maximize the heating capabilities in a room. Don't Block the Airflow.

Are old baseboard heaters better than new ones? ›

Answer from Green Energy Efficient Homes

All electric heaters are 100% efficient at converting electricity to heat, regardless of how old they are, so replacing old baseboards with newer ones won't save you any energy.

How can I heat my home cheaply in the winter? ›

10 step guide to keep your house warm without heating
  1. Rejig your furniture. ...
  2. Use a terracotta heater. ...
  3. Invest in insulation. ...
  4. Think about your habits. ...
  5. Put a shelf above a radiator. ...
  6. Bleed your radiators. ...
  7. Analyse any draughts. ...
  8. Block your chimney up.
26 Aug 2022

What temperature should I leave my heating on when away? ›

Setting your thermostat to come on at 16 degrees will help to make sure that your home stays safe whilst you're away.

How can I lower my heating cost per month? ›

12 Tips That Will Help You Save Money on Your Heating Bill
  1. Lower the Temperature on Your Thermostat. ...
  2. Use a Programmable Thermostat. ...
  3. Change Your Furnace Filters. ...
  4. Get a Furnace Tune Up. ...
  5. Add a Humidifier to Your Home Heating System. ...
  6. Improve Your Home's Insulation. ...
  7. Seal Up Any Leaks in Your House.
26 Oct 2018

What are two disadvantages of forced air heating systems? ›

Forced Air Disadvantages (Cons)
  • Costs more to install than other AC options, such as window units.
  • Cannot be installed yourself; a professional installation is required.
  • Risk of improper installation (do your homework before hiring HVAC company)
  • Ductwork is necessary (takes up space and prone to inefficiencies)
19 Jun 2018

What are the cons to forced hot air heating systems? ›

However, like all other heating systems, forced air heating also has some downsides, such as low efficiency due to air leaks or long ducts, noisiness, and high installation costs if you don't have ductwork.

Why is forced air heating better? ›

Forced air heating is the most efficient way to heat your entire home. It heats quickly and provides air circulation throughout the home. Another advantage is that ductwork for a forced-air heating system can also be used for air conditioning to keep you cool in the summer.

What is the cheapest way to heat house 2022? ›

The Top 10 Tips for Heating your Home in the cheapest way in 2022
  • Invest in a terracotta heater. ...
  • Consider your actions. ...
  • Add a shelf to the space just above your radiator. ...
  • Stop your chimney from causing draughts. ...
  • Check your radiators. ...
  • Inspect areas that may cause draughts. ...
  • Invest in rugs. ...
  • Add curtains to your rooms.
21 Feb 2022

What is the biggest disadvantage to having electric heat in a home? ›

The largest drawback of an electrical heater is simply the cost of the electricity used to power it.

Which form of heating is 100% energy efficient? ›

Electric resistance heating is 100% energy efficient in the sense that all the incoming electric energy is converted to heat. However, most electricity is produced from coal, gas, or oil generators that convert only about 30% of the fuel's energy into electricity.

Why you should consider upgrading from a baseboard to a wall heater? ›

Wall heaters are great in rooms that you want to heat up fast. The fan helps circulate air through the room, while baseboards rely just on the natural convection process. Although all electric heat is 100 percent efficient, you can see some energy savings with a wall heater because it takes less time to heat a room.

How often should baseboard heaters be cleaned? ›

Most people aim to clean their baseboard heaters at least twice a year—once before they turn on the heat for the colder months and again when the weather gets warm.

How can I lower my electric bill with baseboard heat? ›

7 Ways to Bring Down Your Baseboard Heating Electric Bill
  1. Keep your heater sparkly clean. Dust buildup on your baseboard heater will block the heat and keep it from escaping properly. ...
  2. Turn it down! ...
  3. Calibrate. ...
  4. Insulate. ...
  5. Contact the power company. ...
  6. Run appliances at night. ...
  7. Give your ceiling fan a whirl.

What is the disadvantage of baseboard electric heat? ›

Best used for supplemental heating needs, the biggest cons of electrical baseboard heating are centered on their annual heating costs. Across the US, natural gas is almost always a less expensive way to heat your home.

Does baseboard heat use a lot of electricity? ›

In general, electric baseboard heaters use more electricity than an electric heat pump. This means higher electric bills, especially in the coldest winter months when they're working overtime to keep your home warm. The placement of baseboard heaters — near windows and exterior walls — can also work against you.

What is the most efficient way to use baseboard heaters? ›

Practice zone heating by lowering the temperatures of heaters in unused rooms. Generally, you'll also want to lower the temperature at night or when you're cooking or cleaning your home. This will save you money on your electricity bill and will keep you more comfortable during these activities.

How much does it cost to run a baseboard heater for 1 hour? ›

On average, a 1,500W heater costs around $0.20 per hour to run on high. This adds up to a cost of $1.60 for 8 hours a day, and $48 per month. The running costs depend on your electric heater's power, running time, heat settings, and your electricity price.

Do baseboard heaters use more electricity than space heaters? ›

Electric baseboard heaters and electric space heaters are both the same efficiency and the same output per unit of input energy. Therefore, they should take the same amount of energy to impart the same amount of heat to the space.

Is baseboard heat better than forced air heat? ›

The Decision. If you're specifically looking for an affordable and energy-efficient heating system then baseboard heating is an ideal choice. However, if you can't wait too long for a room to heat up you should consider the cost-saving forced-air heating.

What can I use instead of baseboard heaters? ›

5 Options to Replace Your Baseboard Heating System
  • Ductless Heat Pumps. One of the most popular alternatives to baseboard heating is a ductless heat pump. ...
  • Solar Heat. One of the most advanced ways of heating your home is doing so with solar heat. ...
  • High-Efficiency Furnace. ...
  • Wood Heating. ...
  • Heat Pumps.

What is the cheapest form of heating? ›

Gas boiler

It's not as cost-effective without solar panels, but a gas boiler is still the cheapest way to heat your home – though that's set to change soon, with the cost of gas rising more than twice as quickly as electricity.

What is the most efficient home heating system? ›

Geothermal systems provide the most efficient type of heating. They can cut heating bills by up to 70 percent. Like other types of heat pumps, they are also very safe and environmentally friendly to operate.

Is it cheaper to use baseboard heat or space heater? ›

Space heaters do use less energy as compared to using central heat. However, they are not as efficient as space heaters. As such, having a space heater in every room in the home and turning them all on at the same will only cost you more, not less.

Which type of heater is cheapest to run? ›

Generally speaking, Halogen heaters are one of the most inexpensive types of electric heater. They average around 1200W in terms of power output and because they provide instant-heat at close quarters, you shouldn't need to leave them on for long periods of time.

What type of baseboard heater is best? ›

Our Best Overall choice is the Cadet 1500-Watt Electric Baseboard Heater. Installation is easy with the pre-drilled holes and universal wiring. The output is also enough for most rooms and uses. The Cadet SoftHeat Hydronic Baseboard Heater offers the same features in a hydronic design.


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