There’s No Such Thing As Efficient Electric Baseboard Heaters
Electric baseboard heaters are an older method of heating that is still relatively commonplace in homes across the country. While more modern ways of heating have largely supplanted them, there are still those who prefer this method of heating the home. Baseboard heaters are not without their advantages, after all: they are relatively inexpensive to install and can be placed in buildings that may not have enough space for a larger furnace style. Of course, the fact that they use electricity is a huge bonus for many people, too, since they don’t require piping in some other fuel source, and they do not create toxic byproducts by burning them. Plus, they don’t require ductwork.
Where these heaters are lacking, though, is in their energy efficiency. While technology has led to more energy-efficient versions of nearly every type of household appliance, efficient electric baseboard heaters are still a fantasy. In this article, we’ll explain why that is and what alternatives you can consider if you need a home heating method that avoids fossil fuels and doesn’t take up much space.
What Do We Mean By Energy Efficiency?
Before we can explain why there are no efficient electric baseboard heaters, we’ll have to explain exactly what we mean by “energy efficiency.” Simply put, efficiency refers to your return on your investment: that is, a more efficient system will use less energy to perform the same task.
There are many different methods of heating the home, and each has a different level of energy efficiency. This can make it very difficult to decide exactly what heating method to install in a home or office, so technicians have developed a method to measure the efficiency of a given heating appliance. This method is known as the AFUE standard. AFUE stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency, and it refers to the amount of energy that is directly converted into usable heat energy. The heat energy is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs, so a furnace that generates more BTUs is considered more efficient.
AFUE is measured as a percentage, with a higher percentage indicating a more efficient furnace. Legally, most modern furnaces must have an AFUE of at least 80, and some of the more efficient and advanced furnaces can approach nearly 99 percent efficiency.
How Does An Electric Baseboard Heater Work?
Electric baseboard heaters are usually installed underneath windows and plugged into wall sockets. When they are activated, they utilize the principle of resistance heating to warm a building. Resistance heating refers to a method of generating heat wherein an electric current is pumped through a medium such as a ceramic plate. Ceramics and similar materials are only slightly conductive of electricity, which means that the current is able to pass through but only by encountering a great deal of “resistance” along the way. This resistance causes the heating element to warm up a great deal.
As the heating element warms up, the heat energy is transferred to the air through the principle of convection. This causes heated air to rise and eventually circulate through the room. Eventually, the room will warm to the desired temperature. When it does, the thermostat will then cycle the system off until the temperature once again dips too low.
Why Aren’t They Energy Efficient?
There are several reasons why efficient electric baseboard heaters are just not really possible. The first is the method by which they generate heat. By putting an electric current through a medium to produce heat, you must have a very strong and constant electric current to create any usable amount of heat. Unfortunately, most of this energy is lost as waste heat.
Being installed under a window doesn’t help with the energy efficiency of your baseboard heater either. During cold weather, the window itself will become extremely cold, forcing the air temperature around the baseboard heater to drop. This will, in turn, force the baseboard heater to have to work extra hard to warm the air back up.
So, baseboard heaters need to use a lot of electricity to generate heat in the first place, and they need to work extra hard to spread that heat into a room. For this reason, it’s not really possible for them to be energy efficient.
What Alternatives Are There?
As we’ve mentioned, baseboard heaters are incredibly inefficient, and therefore quite expensive to run. However, they do have advantages that homeowners want to take advantage of, as we’ve mentioned above. Gas and propane furnaces, for example, may be a lot more efficient, but they also take up a great deal more space. So, is there a heating method that is equally economical when it comes to space but less costly to run than an electric baseboard heater?
Up until recently, there weren’t really any great alternatives to the electric baseboard heater, but recent advances in technology have changed that fact. Nowadays, home and business owners looking for a more efficient but still space-saving method of heating their buildings should turn to the heat pump.
Heat pumps are a far more efficient method of heating a building that still brings you the advantages of a baseboard heater. Like an electric baseboard heater, they use electricity alone, so there is no need for a bulky and hazardous fossil fuel furnace. They also take up a very small amount of space and don’t require ductwork, meaning they can function in nearly any building, even smaller ones or ones that do not have the infrastructure for other heating methods.
Since they are fairly similar in the way they operate, why are heat pumps so much more efficient than electric baseboard heaters? The major difference is that heat pumps do not generate heat. Instead, they use refrigerant coils to transfer heat energy from place to place. Rather than using electricity to generate heat in a costly fashion, heat pumps draw ambient heat energy from outside, which is a vastly cheaper way to get the job done. As a bonus, a heat pump also doubles as an air conditioner since it can also transfer heat energy out of a building.
If You Have More Questions About Heat Pumps
If you are interested in heat pump installation, or if you simply have further questions about heat pumps or electric baseboard heaters, contact the experts at Entek. We can perform installations, maintenance, and any other heating services you may require.