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Typically a baseboard heater is a standalone unit that can be the sole heat source of a small to medium sized room, or supplemental heat to aid other heating sources. Generally, they are placed on the outside wall of a room in order to heat the area facing the outside wall. They radiate heat from the floor and the warm air heats the room as it rises.

Baseboard heaters are configured as 120-volt, which uses a standard 20 amp circuit, or as 240-volt connections. The 240-volt connections require a two pole 20 amp breaker. The minimum required wire is #12. It is strongly suggested that heating sources have their own breakers to avoid overload or fire hazard.

They are usually hardwired into the electrical system rather than using a typical outlet. If a person is not comfortable with DYI electrical wiring, they should consult an electrician for installation.

Baseboard heaters use convection to draw cold air into the unit and allow the warm air to rise, warming the entire room. Many drafts are at floor level making this system ideal for heating a particularly damp or drafty area. Although some units may have an auxiliary fan, many baseboard heating systems simply allow the movement of cold air and the replacement with warm air to circulate the heat.

They are not a source of immediate heat in most cases, and work better as auxiliary or small area heating.


Baseboard heaters generally have a heating element that runs long a shaft that is designed to either attach to or sit beside the baseboards of a typical structure. The control button is usually marked in Low, Medium, or High, or with desired temperature settings such as 65°F.

With no moving parts, they operate silently except for the click when the thermostat kicks on and off, and the occasional sound of the casing as it cools. The lack of a fan and moving parts of most models is preferred by people who do not want dust, pollen, or other allergens to be spread around the room.

At each end there is a knockout replaceable panel to make wiring easy. Easy to install hardware and detailed directions are included with most styles and simple tools such as a screwdriver are often all that is needed for installations.

Front panels often drop open to allow the element to be cleared of dust prior to use.

  • Some models make allowances for the height of carpet for easier installation
  • Some simply mount directly above the tile or hardwood type flooring
  • Some models may have a fan which will cause a low whirring sound when in use
  • However, most models simply use convection for heat and do not make any noise at all

The most popular colors are white or tan to blend with average surroundings, but custom colors can often be ordered, or the panels can be painted with heat resistant paint.

baseboard-ebook-blurb-1-300Typical Baseboard Heater Parts

  • Standard Faceplate covers the front of the heating system and keeps dust and debris from gathering on the element.
  • O-Ring Seals can be used to keep cold air from coming in around the hole for the wiring.
  • Thermostat is the onboard button or switch that allows the temperature to be set to different levels and can be marked Low Medium or High, or marked with levels in degrees.
  • Wiring Covers are at both ends of the heater to allow easy access for wiring from either end. Once installation is complete, they should be firmly replaced.
  • Heating Element generally consists of a single bar, a finned system, or a canister for fluid to be heated. It should always be kept clean and debris free with good airflow to avoid fire hazards.
  • Central Bushing is the part where the element rests that helps insulate noise from the expansion and contraction of the heating element.
  • Wiring from heater to electrical source is generally provided within the package for a new baseboard heater. An opening in either the wall or the floor will be needed to wire the unit to the household electrical current.
  • Wire nuts are used to cap off the ends of any bare electrical wires to avoid arcs against other wires or the metal casing of the heater during operation.
  • Self-tapping screw kits come in a variety of configurations and are used to mount the unit to the floor and or wall and to conceal the attachment as much as possible. This allows for a clean professional looking installation. Some kits even contain stick on screw covers that match the color of the heater for a more professional look.


In the simplest terms, convection is the movement of air from one place to another. Cooler air tends to be heavier and closer to the floor, warmer air rises.

Baseboard heaters are placed where the air is coolest and creates air that is warm which rises and warms the room. The continuous circulation of colder air falling and warmer air rising is the basis for the success of a baseboard heating system.

They work better in situations where immediate heat is not required. They start slowly and work better in instances where they can be left on continuously or where there is lead time to warm the area prior to use. Something to keep in mind is the fast cooling time after the heater is turned off. The inside elements and casing will not hold heat making the area cool very quickly after the heater is used.

Typical baseboard heaters do not have fans and work by convection only. They warm the cooler air from the floor and the warmer air rises to warm the area.

Some other types of heater are hydronic or oil-based heaters.

  • They heat water or oil that in turn heats the air.
  • These heaters tend to stay warmer longer after they are turned off because the fluid will hold heat longer than the bare electric element of standard baseboard heaters.
  • These are more often used in schools or commercial buildings rather than standard homes.

Portable heaters come in a variety of sizes and generally plug into an outlet rather than being wired directly into the electrical system.

baseboard-ebook-blurb-2-300Kerosene Heaters are portable heaters that use kerosene rather than electricity as their fuel.

  • They often have electric fans to help push the warm air.
  • They can be messy and can cause odor and smoke damage to walls and furniture due to open flames.
  • They require enough ventilation to make sure fume from burning kerosene do not cause health hazards.

Propane systems work with standalone propane tanks or are piped to an outside holding tank. They are often preferable to kerosene heating, but still have open flames and require proper ventilation.

Forced Air Furnaces and heating systems usually have a system of ductwork that the unit pushes heat through. They are generally whole house systems that can be fueled with electricity, propane, natural gas, or other heating sources.

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