Ten Winter Tips for Baseboard Heater Owners

With the first dusting of snow landing in Halifax this morning, it appears that fall has finally caught up with us. Winter won’t be far behind. Now is the season to start thinking about winter heat. Here in Nova Scotia, most of us rely on oil, gas, wood or electricity to keep our homes cozy during the winter months. Heat pumps are becoming more prevalent in our province as well, but with our extreme temperature range, they can fail when needed the most. Most heat pumps are secondary sources here.

Today we’re going to focus on electricity. Let’s talk about how to cut costs by using your baseboard heaters efficiently. Baseboard heaters rely on electricity, and can make up nearly 45% of your electric bill in the colder winter months. Make sure yours are operating efficiently and in good working order in order to keep those costs down!

Here are TEN things you should know about your baseboard heaters:

  • Baseboard heaters are usually situated under windows because it’s most efficient that way. Windows are colder than the rest of the room, and can create unpleasant drafts, making you cold and uncomfortable. Dense cold air near the window sinks to the floor, but heat from a baseboard heater under the window will rise, counteracting the falling cool air. If you have efficient windows, you may not notice these effects as substantially. Reducing drafts from your windows with window film and coverings such as blinds and curtains can also help.
  • Heat rises… and so do your costs – for every single degree above 68°F. Heating costs rise about 5% for every degree above 20°C (68°F) that you set your thermostats. If you are comfortable at cooler temperatures (especially if you’re cooking or puttering around the house), you’ll be able to save!
  • Contrary to popular belief, cranking up that thermostat will not warm up the room any faster. If you’ve ever returned home to a room that feels like an igloo, it’s pretty tempting to crank the thermostat up four or five degrees past where you normally set it. It will still take the same length of time to warm up, and you’ll just use more energy, because it keeps heating the room after you’ve passed your regular comfortable temperature.
  • Thick carpet or rugs can get in the way. Carpets and rugs can warm up a room and help keep your feet warm – as long as they’re not making your baseboard heaters inefficient. Although it looks like warm air is only coming out of the front of your heaters, the air is actually circulating all around the room. Your baseboard heaters should sit at least two centimetres above the floor or carpet to allow the cooler air on the floor to flow under and through the electrical element… if your carpet is too thick, trim it down around the base of your heaters!
  • Window coverings keep cool air out but can aslo block your baseboard heaters! The bottom of your drapes should end at least four inches above your heaters or, if your drapes run floor-to-ceiling, at least one inch above the floor. Make sure you have at least two inches between the back of the drapes and the front of your heaters. It’s all about airflow — don’t let flooring or window coverings block airflow anywhere around your baseboard heaters.
  • Baseboard heaters don’t circulate air very well. They do a great job of heating in “zones” – that is, heating the spaces that you need, compared to heating your entire home all the time. But since they don’t have a forced air or fan system, don’t rely on baseboard heating in one room to heat hallways or adjacent spaces, such as by leaving doors open. Instead, heat the space you need when you’re using it.
  • If it’s dusty, it’s not working efficiently. An electric baseboard heater has an electrical heating element inside a metal pipe. When the heater is turned on, an electric current flows through the heating element. Although baseboard heaters will always turn electricity used into heat, dust and dirt on your heating system can block that heat from being distributed effectively in your space. You can end up running heaters longer because it’s more difficult to release the heat that’s generated, through dirty fins, into the room. At least once a year (usually in the fall, before using them for the first time), wipe down the surface of your heaters and vacuum the fins and housing to remove as much dust as possible. A brush attachment for your vacuum can work well if you have one.
  • Sixteen is golden… keep it at 16 degrees to maximize your savings. 16°C (61°F) is too cold for most of us to stay comfortable when we’re home, but what about when you’re asleep and covered in blankets? Setting your baseboards to 16°C at night and when you’re away can help you save up to 10% on your energy bills.
  • Baseboard heaters are one of the safest heating options available since they can’t tip over and catch fire. Dust and lint on the unit aren’t likely to pose a safety risk, but regular cleaning (vacuuming) won’t hurt and can minimize the risks even further. Unlike portable space heaters (which can tip over very easily), baseboard heaters are safer for children and pets. However, be sure to keep them away from the unit and the interior fins – which can be warm to the touch.
  • Programmable thermostats are much more precise than the manual ones located on your heater. Most heaters are controlled by a wall-mounted dial thermostat or a dial on the side of the baseboard itself. But they’re less precise and harder to control than a programmable or digital model. Thermostats mounted directly on the heaters can be slower to respond to changes in room temperature, so for rooms where you’re spending a lot of time (such as your living room), you should consider replacing that thermostat with a wall-mounted model. For accurate readings, never install a thermostat directly above a baseboard heater, near a refrigerator or other large appliance, or where it will be in direct sunlight.

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