Electric v. Hydronic Baseboard Heat: Which Is Best?
Baseboard heating systems are the ideal solution for a range of home heating challenges. They’re cost-effective, comparatively easy to install and offer a number of benefits.
There are two types of baseboard heaters: electric and hydronic. Electric systems use electricity to generate heat and hydronic systems use heated water. The heat sources may differ, but the systems share certain commonalities. They:
Require no ductwork.
Offer quiet operation.
Distribute heat at floor-level where it’s needed most.
Deliver even heat without the highs and lows typical of forced-air systems.
Are less drying than forced-air systems.
Can be installed to create defined heating zones that allow you to control heat levels in different areas of your home, which can help lower your heating bills.
Feature compact profiles.
These are very positive features, but each system offers specific advantages and disadvantages, which you should consider before you make a decision.
Electric Baseboard Heaters
- Advantages. They:
Are extremely affordable.
Are fast and comparatively easy to install.
Connect to your existing electric system.
Require no additional heating source such as a furnace, heat pump or boiler.
Require minimal maintenance.
Do not leak.
- Disadvantages. They:
Are typically more expensive to operate on a day-to-day basis depending on local electricity rates.
Can be hot to the touch and potentially harmful to curious kids or pets.
Must be connected to a 240-volt circuit, which may require additional wiring.
Hydronic Baseboard Heaters
- Advantages. They’re:
Affordable, but more expensive than electric heaters.
Very energy efficient.
Less expensive to operate on a day-to-day basis.
- Disadvantages. They:
Must be plumbed to connect to the heated water source to the units, so they should be installed by an HVAC professional experienced with hydronic systems.
Are typically more expensive to have installed.
Can also be hot the touch and potentially harmful.
May leak if improperly installed.
Require routine maintenance.
Electric baseboard heaters are more affordable upfront, but can be more costly to operate long term. Hydronic systems are more expensive upfront, but less expensive and more energy efficient over the long run. One shared disadvantage is the heating units are installed in front of the baseboard, which minimally reduces available floor space, may restrict furniture placement and could limit window treatment options. However, modern units are slimmer and more compact than ever, so the drawbacks are minimized.
Whether you’re adding one unit, expanding an existing system or revamping your home heating strategy, work with a heating and HVAC professional who can evaluate your home heating needs, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each system, and help you choose the one that’s right for you.