Sign In

Baseboard tips

​Squeeze the efficiency out of your baseboard heaters

They don’t have to be the bane of your existence

Joan Churchill 

Recently I went house hunting with my friend, Susan. She’d found the perfect house. In the right neighbourhood, it had a yard for the kids, garage for the hubby and beautiful granite counter tops for her. Being that I’m an energy efficiency nerd, I was more interested in whether the house had enough insulation, if the water heater was past its prime and was the heating system affordable to operate. When I noticed the baseboard heaters in every room, my energy senses started tingling. “You better find out how much it costs to heat this house before you make an offer,” I warned her. “Or better yet, get an energy assessment and find out if making upgrades like a ductless heat pump makes sense.”

While heating with electric baseboard heat is typically 100 efficient—meaning for every dollar you spend, you get a dollar of heat—but if you’re heating with electricity, it's the most costly option. But my friend, dreaming of those granite counter tops, bought the house providing I’d help her save money on heating with my nerdy energy efficiency knowledge.

I told her about 40 per cent  of her total electricity consumption would be taken up by space heating. In comparison, that light that her mother always told her to turn off when she was a kid? Only about six per cent. The lesson here? Susan will need to tell her kids not only to turn off the light when they leave a room, but also turn down the heat a  notch and close the door behind them.

Baseboard heaters 101

Baseboard heaters don’t use ducts, so that can be a good thing as it means no heat is lost travelling through a long duct or pipe. Like an electric kettle or oven, they use a heating element. When turned on, the heating coil draws in the cold air from the room and then warm air from the heater rises out the top. They’re usually installed under windows where the air is the coolest.  

Heat the room, not the whole house 

Unlike a central heating system which heats up the whole house to one temperature, each baseboard heater has its own thermostat. Meaning the temperature can be controlled room-by-room. “I have the control?” mused Susan. “You mean if my teenager turns up the thermostat to 25 °C, he won’t heat up the whole house?” “Nope,” I retorted. “Just the room.”  Add some energy-saving  education to the mix and she could teach her kid to only turn up the heat in his room to 20 °C (instead of money-draining 25 °C), and then turn it down when he leaves. 

Just a little low-cost maintenance 

A yearly vacuum with a soft bristle brush just before the heating season is all baseboard heaters need. And you don’t need to hire a professional to carry that out. “Heck, you could train your teenagers to vacuum them,” I told Susan. And a clean baseboard heater not choked with dust, won’t have to work as hard, meaning less kilowatts of electricity will be used.  

Easy tasks to continue saving  

After she took possession, I gave Susan some easy, no-cost and low-cost tips to optimize her baseboard heaters efficiency. All it took was a trip to the hardware store, and a promise of a trip to the mall with her kids if they followed her instructions.  

  • Susan replaced the manual thermostats with programmable ones. This made sure that if someone forgot to turn down the heat, the thermostat would do it for them. Plus for the frequently used rooms, such as the kitchen and family room, the programmable model avoided constant ups and downs in temperature. They also turned down the heat and closed the doors of infrequently used rooms.
  • Susan programmed the thermostats to 20 °C for when the family was home and 17 °C for when they were sleeping and away. For rooms that were not used frequently, she programmed the thermostat to a constant 17 °C in the winter.
  • A few of the bedrooms had deep pile carpeting which we noticed was touching the bottom of the baseboard heaters. Ideally, baseboards should sit 3/4" above the floor. Susan trimmed the carpet pile under the heaters. By doing this she increased the airflow to the heater and ensured the heaters would work as efficiently as they were designed to. For safety, drapes should be at least 4" above the baseboard.
  • Susan also made sure that when the family moved in, beds, drapery and furniture were not placed too close to the heaters. After all what would you prefer? A warm room? Or a warm couch? 
  • Once winter came around, a trip to the mall included new sweaters and slippers for everyone. And Susan trained her whole family to wear them instead of turning the heat up too high.

When it’s time to upgrade

Susan dreams of one day renovating the kitchen in her family’s new home. “I’d love an island and a double oven,” she pondered. I reminded her to include energy efficiency upgrades such as insulation throughout her house and ENERGY STAR appliances.

“And don’t forget those baseboard heaters!” I added. A ductless air source heat pump would be a great option if Susan wanted to upgrade her baseboard heater’s efficiency, saving her money on electricity bills. And as it’s ductless, she wouldn’t have to tear her house apart to install it and in the summer months it can provide air conditioning.

“A new kitchen and saving money on my electricity bills! I think you’re onto something here with this energy efficiency thing,” quipped Susan.



Email PowerSense at  or call us at 1-866-436-7847.

Joan Churchill spends her days writing about energy efficiency for FortisBC. In her spare time, she's renovating her house and shopping for low-cost energy saving devices while caring for a houseful of furkids. Read her stories in her Renos with Joan web series.