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Baseboard heating really refers to two separate kinds of heating systems. Electric baseboard heaters are individual units that heat a house room-by-room. They require no central heating and no expensive duct work. They are less efficient than most central heating systems, but use principles of radiation and air flow to work better than most other space heating units.
Hot water baseboard heaters (also called hydronic baseboard heaters) use central heating, but channel hot water through pipes to individual baseboard heating units to heat rooms. These heaters are an efficient heat source. In fact, they tend to be more efficient than other central heating systems. Hydronic heating is ideally used with radiant flooring, where the heating pipes run under your floor. Flooring in many homes, however, make this installation impractical. Hot water baseboard heaters are an excellent alternative for hydronic heating without causing the initial installation to skyrocket.
Electric Baseboard Heaters
Electric baseboard heaters use electric resistance to provide their own kind of baseboard heating. Cables inside the heating unit warm the air, pushing it out of the unit. Simultaneously colder air enters through the bottom of the unit to be warmed. Thermostats are still used in a room-by-room basis. Once the air entering the baseboard unit reaches the desired temperature, the unit will shut off until it is needed again. This allows homeowners to heat rooms individually, recovering some of the lost efficiency. This needs to be done by adjusting the thermostat to a lower temperature in unused rooms. Turning the unit off may cause pipes to freeze and crack.
Hot Water Baseboard Heaters
With hot water baseboard heating, a boiler heats water and sends it through pipes from heater to heater. Each unit takes a small amount of heat from the water and sends it on to the next heater. With a low end installation, this means the units that are further away from the boiler get less heat. Installing flow control valves will stabilize the heat in each room by forcing the earlier units to use less water, conserving heat for later in the system. These valves are also adjusted so smaller rooms and receive less heat than larger rooms. Talk to a contractor about these safety features and the possibility of their failure or disrepair.
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Preserving Your Décor
Baseboard heating requires units that take up space in your rooms. This is an unavoidable disadvantage with this heating system. Still, they can be painted to match your room's décor. Don't try to hide them near curtains or other wall hangings. Besides the fact that this creates a fire hazard, electric baseboard heaters need unrestricted airflow to run efficiently. Specifically designed covers can be used if you don't like the particular appearance of a unit in a room.