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Types of Electric Baseboard Heaters

Hydronic, Oil-Filled, Or...? Learn Your Options.


For most homeowners, electric baseboard heaters provide a secondary heat source for their primary living space or act as the primary heating source for spaces such as basements, workshops, and additions. Rarely are these heaters used as a primary heat source, except in some warmer climates where additional heat is rarely needed.

But the choice of baseboard heaters is not as simple as it used to be. Evolved heaters from manufacturers such as Cadet, Fahrenheat, and QMark have come on the market in the last few years that run smoother, smarter, more efficiently, and provide more heat for your energy buck.

Find out the different kinds of baseboard heaters on the market nowadays--before you undertake the major step of installing electrical supply wires and buying the heating units.

Features Common to All Electric Baseboard Heaters

All baseboard heaters have a few common aspects. Most can run on a 120 V line or a 240 V line. The higher voltage heaters are considered to be more efficient than the lower voltage ones. Generally, baseboard heaters are meant to be hard-wired directly into an electrical line, rather plugged in. For that reason, homeowners who are not confident about dealing with electrical work choose to have these products installed by electricians.

Baseboard heaters do not heat up immediately. Heat time varies, but usually you can expect to wait 30 minutes or even up to an hour for a baseboard heater to really start "cooking." But it's this slow trickle of heat that homeowners prize, rather than the quick blast of hot air that you might get from HVAC forced air heating.

Because these heaters have no moving parts, operation is usually completely silent, except for the "ticking" sound that happens after the thermostat turns off the heater and the electric casing cools down. Not only that, these heaters do not blow air--and dust, pollen, and other pollutants--around the room, making them an better option for persons who suffer from allergies or anyone affected by dust.

1. Electric Convection

For lack of a better term, this basic type of baseboard heater I will call a convection heater. The functioning "guts" of this heater are comprised of a heating element: electric coils that heat up much like a coils of the inside of a toaster. This type of heater has no fan to circulate the air. It has a thermostat located either on the heater itself or, better yet, on the wall.

An electric convection baseboard heater is the cheapest--but also least efficient--type of baseboard heater you can buy.

One great advantage of baseboard heaters: cost. You can purchase three foot-long 750 watt/240V heaters for as little as $35-40 (June 2011) from home improvement stores.

Heaters termed "portable" will work fine, but these are not the type of heaters we are discussing here which are permanently attached to the baseboard about one inch above the floor covering. Permanent heaters hug tighter to the wall, giving you more floor space, and may be considered safer as you never have to worry about loose or dangling cords.

The takeaway with this is that the electric convection baseboard heater does not stay warm for very long after the thermostat kicks off. The inside heating elements and the outer steel case quickly cool down, and this is the critical difference between this and the following types of heaters.

2. Hydronic and Oil-Filled Baseboard Heaters

This type of baseboard heater is like the improved version of the heater we discussed above. Instead of electrical heating elements directly heating the air, in hydronic or oil-filled heater systems in the heating elements heat water or oil, which in turn heat the air. The water or oil is sealed within the system and do not require recharging. But the main value of these systems is that the liquid will remain warm for much longer after the thermostat goes off.

You can think of these hydronic baseboard heaters as being like steam or water radiators. In hydronic systems, they might be self-contained or they might be fed from a central boiler system. In the self-contained types, the baseboard heaters are located intermittently throughout the room, as needed. But in the other type of hydronic systems, the baseboard heater runs continuously down the baseboards, even around corners. These types of heaters are often found in commercial buildings and schools.

One disadvantage of hydronic systems as compared to the electric coil convection systems is that they take longer to heat up.


As mentioned before, the "big three" of baseboard heating are Qmark, Farenheat, and Cadet.

Cadet is based in Vancouver, Washington and has been in business since 1957. It exclusively makes zonal heating products.

Fahrenheat, the one with the clever twist of words (Fahrenheit = Fahrenheat), is owned by Marley Engineered Products.

Qmark is also a subsidiary of Marley Engineered Products. Qmark is the line of "competitively priced" baseboard heaters, while Fahrenheat is the more upscale line.

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