We are about to put electric heat in our basement, and I need to decide
what type of heater to use. I'm considering baseboard heaters. I
talked to the electrical inspector, and standard electric baseboard
heaters aren't permitted below electrical outlets, but he will allow
electric hydronic heaters because they don't get as hot. I've also
read several postings in newsgroups that support this.
But there's something I don't understand. Since all electric heaters
are 100% efficient, how can an 8' 2000 watt hydronic electric heater
not put out as much heat as an 8' 2000 watt standard electric heater?
You are confusing heat (energy) with temperature. Both types put out the
same amount of energy. The hydronic heaters radiate their heat from a
larger surface, but at a lower surface temperature. The standard electric
heater has a smaller radiating surface that runs at a higer temperature.
OK, that makes sense. But if the concern is about melting wires
plugged into the outlets above, wouldn't both heaters put out the same
amount of heat? Or is the concern more about the wires falling into
the heater and touching the heating element?
You're not getting it- the hydronic does not get as hot. A hot water
bottle that you take to bed with you has more heat content (calories)
than your bedside candle (we're back in the 19th century for the
purposes of this example), but unlike the candle it will warm you, not
What I understand so far is that that because the hydronic heating
element has a larger diameter, it has more surface area, and does not
get as hot. But it radiates the same amount of heat as the smaller
diameter element in the standard heater, which gets hotter.
But, I guess I'm having a problem with the temperature of the metal
enclosure and the temperature of the air flowing through it. Aren't
they about the same for both types? If not, then that's my problem. I
can believe that if more air flows through the hydronic heater, the air
temperature would be lower. Is this the case?
No, you're missing the point that the hydronic baseboard is being
heated by 180F water. No matter what you do you can't get the
temperature of the unit above 180F (heat would start flowing back
into the water, if you could). OTOH, the electric baseboard is
being heated by, err electricity. As long as the electricity flows
you're adding heat to the unit. If you block off the air flow (say
with drapes) the temperature can rise without bound, possibly
causing a fire.
Gas may not be readily available to him and it certainly is not as safe
At any rate, he's better off installing hydronic baseboard fed by an
electric boiler for two reasons:
- One is his inspector won't allow the electric baseboard so it's not an
- Two because the hydronic baseboard can be fed from any heat source so
he can readily change an electric boiler for a gas or oil boiler or
geothermal heat pump or solar collector in the future without requiring
replacement of the baseboard.
Our inspector will allow both types of electric baseboards. It's just
that the standard electric baseboard can't have an outlet above. The
hydronic electric baseboard can.
No gas in our area. We have an oil boiler. Yes, I did think about
adding a zone for the basement, but just the copper pipe alone will
cost me about $300. And I'm not willing to do this work myself. Our
oil supply company does do this work and they want $800 - $1000.
If I go with the electrical baseboards, I can do it for $200 for all
parts for standard electric baseboards, or $300 for the hydronic
electric baseboards. Plus, I can do electrical work myself, and I
enjoy it, so I consider my time to be free.
This room in the basement gets used for only one or two days a week for
only a few hours at a time. It hardly ever gets below 60 degrees down
there, even on the coldest days. So, the heater won't have to work
very hard. This is why I'm leaning towards lower install costs rather
than lower operating costs.
I'm also considering in-wall fan-based heaters. Anybody have an
opinion about those?
If the room gets used that infrequently the thermal mass of the room
will make it feel uncomfortable if you only turn the heat on when you
use the room. In that case look at radiant options like radiant wall or
ceiling panels which will have near instant effect to overcome the
effect of the cold floor and furnishings.
I thought about radiant ceiling panels too, but I haven't had any
experience with them. Do these things cycle on/off like any other
heater through the use of a thermostat? Will the people in the room
feel warm when it's on and cold whe it's off?
I checked into this. The place that I called (Enerjoy) estimated that
I needed three 500W 2x4 ceiling panels at $199 each, plus shipping. I
can't seem to find a place locally that stocks something like this. It
would be nice to try one first before spending over $600.
Cheap baseboard heaters from Lowe's are about 1/10 that price. Hmm...
Often the case that the better product is not as conveniently available.
The manufacturer(s) should be able to direct you to a distributor that
might have a showroom display.
The baseboard is cheap and easy, but I expect you'll find the
operational cost to be higher once you find how far in advance you have
to preheat the room in order to be comfortable.
Usually you can arrange things so that you won't have a problem with
standard electric baseboards vs. outlets. However in some cases
(short walls), you might have a conflict regarding outlet spacing
and appropriate spaces for the heater.
Our code (Canadian) still permits outlets above baseboards. US code
does not. However, because of the latter, baseboards with integral
outlets are permissible and apparently fairly easy to get in the US.
There are electric heaters that look rather like a small radiator,
that you can mount on a wall. Your decor/situation may permit mounting
one high enough up on the wall to put the outlet underneath.
Even if you don't want to mount one of these things high, since they're
much narrower than an equivalent baseboard, you'll have room to put
the outlet beside it.
Here's a picture of a high end one: http://www.morelectric.com/ef621c.htm
I installed one that has no controls or fan - it's run from a wall
thermostat, and mounts about 1" away from the wall on a metal
bracket. About $70 CDN for 1Kw - perhaps 50% more than an equivalent
[Can't remember the manufacturer right now, otherwise, I could find
you a picture of the unit we're using. We're rearranging our bathroom,
and we needed something narrow and higher off the floor to avoid
stubbing one's feed on the existing baseboard.]
They're pretty good and warm the area up rather faster than standard
baseboard convection. We installed a pair of biggish Chromolox
ones (2.5Kw?) back in the early 70's, still going strong.
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It\'s not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
The concern is about fire hazard -- the wires falling (or draping) into the
heating element and catching fire. The hydronic has a lower surface
temperature because the heating element is buried inside a larger liquid-
filled container, and thus its surface temperature never reaches the
ignition point for many commany items (such as plastic wires).
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