Will I save electricity by upgrading to newer electric baseboards?

Will replacing old baseboards save us energy? Our house is 20 years old and has electric baseboard heat. I was told by an electrician that we might want to consider getting newer baseboard heaters as they may be more energy efficient. Is this true?

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. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is conserved in any process involving a thermodynamic system and its surroundings (in this case, the baseboard heaters and your house). There is nothing else for the electricity going through your baseboards to do but turn into heat. So there is no way for you to get more efficient baseboard heaters; they are all going to operate at the same 100% efficiency level in terms of converting electricity to heat.

Of course, electric heaters aren’t really that efficient, primarily because thermal power plants are typically inefficient at converting heat (coal, natural gas, nuclear) into electricity. Electricity from coal, for instance, is typically around 35% efficient at converting heat into electricity (the rest of the energy goes up the chimney stack as waste heat). Then there’s another 3-7% loss in transmission (again, electricity getting converted to heat and electromagnetic radiation). That’s why electricity is an expensive way to heat – even an average gas furnace will convert 80% or more of the energy in the natural gas into heat.

If you pay time-of-use or tiered electricity rates…

One way in which you can save on your electricity bill with a newer baseboard heater is if you buy a storage heater and you pay time of use rates for your electricity. For example, in Ontario where I live, we have a three-tier electrical rate: 4.4 cents per kilowatt hour during low use, 8.0 cents during higher use, and 9.3 cents during peak use. In the winter, the cheapest electricity is available from 9pm to 7am, with the most expensive from 7am to 11am and from 5pm to 9pm. Storage baseboard heaters can be set to convert electricity into heat during times of inexpensive electricity, store that heat in a heat sink such as ceramic brick, and release some of that heat later on when heat is needed but electricity is expensive. Another option, if your house is very well insulated, is to use a programmable thermostat to have the baseboard heaters heat the house to comfort level a couple of hours before you wake up, so that less electricity is used to heat the house during peak hours. Of course, if you have a poorly insulated house, much of this heat will escape to the out of doors so the benefits of pre-heating at a cheaper electricity rate may be undone by the heat loss to the outside.

Efficiency vs Effectiveness

The other issue to consider is the effectiveness of different types of electrical heaters. Electric heaters can distribute their heat through conduction, convection, radiation, or a combination of the three. Baseboard heaters distribute their heat through convection – they warm the air around the heating element, which creates air circulation which then spreads the heat through the room passively. Some types of portable electric heaters use radiation (shining heat directly at a solid object), which works very well for drafty rooms, while others use forced air convection, blowing the heat away from the heating element with a fan, which can result in a more even distribution of heat. One easy way to increase the effectiveness of your baseboard heaters is to make sure there is adequate circulation around them, and in fact adding a fan (for instance, a ceiling fan) to increase circulation will definitely help. The more evenly the heat is distributed through the room (rather than concentrated close to exterior walls), the more of the heat will warm you rather than escape through the walls.

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15 replies
  1. Mike
    Mike says:

    We have baseboard heaters and I would like to know how we can tell if they are hydronic or electric. We would like to replace them. They are leaving a black soot like marks on the wall. Do they need to be cleaned? Thanks

  2. Robbin
    Robbin says:

    We also have a problem with dark streaks on walls and were told it’s just what the heaters do. I tried scrubbing wall but doesn’t help. I don’t know if buying new heaters will help. Our home was built in 1974 and theses heaters are original and still work great. I am going to update them with a high heat spray paint in white to match molding. So maybe the old saying “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” may be true to follow.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      My friend has the same problem because the heat comes from the top of the heater. If you get the ones that allow the heat from the front of it you shouldn’t have that problem. She decided to put the base board behind the heater which moved it out from the wall and it seems to have solved the problem.

  3. Roger
    Roger says:

    I hate baseboard heaters. People push their beds up againt them and the bed clothes cover them . Couches cover them, what a waste of money.
    I will change them for wall mounted fan heaters even if i have to run a bit of pipe on the wall to relocate them. These heaters move the heat around the room making it more comfortablle and being on less. Retired electricain

    • Jenny
      Jenny says:

      Roger – did you do this? How did it turn out? What did you choose? Moving and all the heat is electric baseboards and electric bill is through the roof!

  4. Jim
    Jim says:

    Wall above baseboard heater gets dirty. Here’s what’s goin’ on.
    Baseboard heaters are intentionally installed under windows to promote air circulation throughout the room. Same as steam radiators before them. Heat rises up above the heater, passing by and cooling as it travels up, passing by the window to the ceiling, across the ceiling while dropping down and returning along the floor to the baseboard heater. As the air travels, it picks up airborne particulate and deposits on the wall directly above the baseboard heater. What can I do? REDUCE HOUSEHOLD DUST. Purchase a small portable HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuum to clean carpeting. Non HEPA vacuums will not capture miniscule particulate that will then deposit en masse above the heater in such a great number that it is eventually noticeable, Also dust all household surfaces ongoingly with a rag or method that captures and does not broadcast dust particulate.
    Keep in mind that the efficiency of this recirculating air process is greatly hindered by any objects blocking the flow of air up, over, down and back across to the baseboard heater. Typically, furniture. Ideally no couch or bed in front heaters for safety and to promote air flow. At least keep 10″ clearance in front of the heater and a minimum 4″ clearance under beds and couches. Also. hexagon window shades with a built in dead air space will increase heating efficiency. Good luck! Jim

  5. Jim
    Jim says:

    Jim again. Also; cooking creates greasy airborne particulate. Notice how the black above the baseboard heater is smeary? Not just flaky dust that brushes off! COOKING! Keep range filters clean and utilize exhaust fans at all times. Grease screens over sauce and frying pans. You know the drill.
    Worth noting that candles, cigarettes, vapes etc. all create airborne particulate. Hope this inf helps,
    All for your information, Jim

  6. Joe
    Joe says:

    Electric baseboards ARE NOT 100% energy conversion. They are actually relatively inefficient at energy conversion and in heating your body. ..or anything other than the air around you. Boy. A little more reading, less copy/paste.

    • Robin
      Robin says:

      In fact, electric baseboards ARE 100% efficient at converting electricity to heat. Where they are inefficient is if the fuel source for the electricity is thermal (e.g. gas, oil, coal) because only a fraction of the thermal energy gets converted to electricity. Much of the energy in thermal generation tends to be lost as waste heat released into the environment (air or water).

      I think you’re confusing efficiency (of energy conversion) with effectiveness (how much of the heat gets transferred to whatever needs it). Arguably, radiant heat is more effective because it can be pointed at the person who needs to stay warm; this warms the person without warming the surrounding room. The same principle applies to heated seats or electric blankets – they provide warmth only to the person directly connected to the heat source, without heating the surrounding air, so they are more effective at providing warmth at a lower energy cost. But it’s still 100% of the electricity being converted to heat.

      None of this is copy/paste. I write my articles from scratch with extensive research.

  7. Ken
    Ken says:

    Is it worth the money to swap out old baseboard electric heaters for radiant heaters. I know we would have to mount them up high on walls near ceiling so the electrical cost/work might be the. trade off.

    • Robin
      Robin says:

      If you can direct the radiant heaters towards where you spend most of your time in the room, you will use less electricity than with baseboard heaters because radiant heaters focus their heat on solid objects they’re pointed at rather than warming the air itself directly. As well as the electrical cost and installation work, you’d also have to factor in the asthetics of having these up high on the walls, where they’ll be very visible. It depends on whether this is a utility-type room like a garage or workroom, or your main living space. I would stick to baseboards if appearance matters.

  8. Mary
    Mary says:

    The townhouse I moved into is 30 years old. There is a baseboard heater (original?) in the garage. It is mounted on the wall about 2 feet from the ceiling. Guessing this is there to prevent pipes from freezing.
    Do you think there are advantages to putting in a new baseboard heater? If yes, what type of heater would you recommend. Thank you.

    • Robin
      Robin says:

      You might get a benefit in terms of energy savings if, instead of using a baseboard heater to prevent pipes from freezing, you use an insulated pipe warming heater which only heats the pipes themselves when temperatures drop below a threshold. Right now your wall mounted heater is heating the whole garage, at least the upper part. You can probably cut your electricity use for that particular usage by 3/4 or more by doing so, assuming you can get at the pipes easily.


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