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Electric Versus Hydronic Baseboard Heating


The Pros and Cons of Hydronic and Electric Baseboard Heaters


By Mark J. Donovan




I remember back in the 1970’s my father installed electric baseboard heating in one of our new homes due to the fact that the United States had gone through a couple of oil shortages. The general belief in 1978 was that the world’s oil wells were drying up and that electricity would be relatively cheap in comparison to home heating oil.


Though oil prices have continued to rise over the past few decades, the cost of heating an entire home with electric baseboard heaters is still much more expensive than using hydronic baseboard heaters.


Certainly the cost of installation of electric baseboard heaters is significantly cheaper than hydronic baseboard heaters. However the costs savings stop there. Hydronic baseboard heating uses hot water from your home’s existing hot water heating system to circulate hot water through the hydronic heating elements. The water is typically heated via gas or oil. The heat is radiated out of the heating elements to provide a slow and comfortable heat. Normally a home has several heating zones such that each zone can be controlled by a separate thermostat.

Hydronic Baseboard Heater Element

Photo by Mark Donovan


Electric baseboard heating on the other hand requires electricity, and is significantly less energy efficient compared to hydronic baseboard heating.


Hydronic heating elements are comprised of a copper tube surrounded by a fin assembly that is encased in a metal frame structure. The frame structure mounts to the base of the wall. Typically hydronic heater elements are located on exterior walls, and preferably under windows. As hot water passes through the hydronic heating elements the energy is transferred from the water to the metal fins, where the energy in the form of heat then radiates upward out of the heating elements.


Electric baseboard heating is similarly installed in each room of the home, however each room typically has its own thermostat. The one advantage of electric baseboard heating is the fact that you have more control of what rooms you heat in a home. Consequently, if you only needed to heat one or two rooms of a home on a frequent basis, it may make more sense to install electric baseboard heaters.


So, before you decide to save a few dollars on home heating installation costs, consider the operational savings over time. You may find out that the additional cost of installing hydronic baseboard heaters is recouped in less than a couple of years, depending upon the cost of electricity in your area.

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