Electric baseboard heaters are common in apartments and condos. They operate in silence and operate individually, making them energy efficient because you can warm only the rooms you need to use. If you need to use one of these heaters, this guide will walk you through the installation process.
What is an Electric Baseboard Heater?
Baseboard heaters are heating units installed at the bottom of walls. They come in the form of long narrow devices with a metal heating element and aluminum housing. When electric current passes through the heating element, the heater produces heat.
Surrounding this element are numerous fins that allow air out and into the room. Some come with a thermostat already installed in them, but others use a wall-mounted thermostat.
You need to install a baseboard heater on a perimeter wall under the windows. This helps warm the cold air that may enter your house through window openings. Because these heaters are designed to heat specific zones, you will need a wall-mounted thermostat for each of the units. If you have programmable thermostats, you can set the temperature to reduce at night to save energy.
You can install these heaters as standalone units or as supplements for the forced air heating system. If some rooms in your house are colder than others, installing a baseboard heater in these rooms will make the temperature in these rooms comfortable.
A baseboard heater should be installed permanently and be part of your home’s electrical system. However, you can use portable or freestanding units for your home.
After installation, these heaters work in silence. They do not have a furnace and no fans. Further, they do not have a duct system, which makes them ideal for older homes.
The Working of an Electric Baseboard Heater
The metallic heating element resists the flow of electric current to generate heat. When the heat is generated, the fins and natural radiation helps spread the warmth through the room. Like any other heating system, a baseboard heater requires a thermostat. Set the desired temperature and allow the heater to run.
You need to leave a clearance of about 0.75 inches between the floor and the heater to allow cool air to get into the heater. The cool air that goes into the heater is warmed and then circulated into your room.
Draperies should be at least 12 inches above the heater to reduce the risk of home fires. You also need to ensure there is no furniture near the heater. Ensure you leave at least six inches of the space around the heater. However, some manufacturers recommend a space of about 10 inches around the heater. If the furniture is close to the heater, it may restrict airflow into and out of the unit.
How to Install a Baseboard Heater
The installation of a baseboard heater should occur in two steps:
- Installing the heater
- Setting up the wiring for the heater
It is easy to mount the heater on your wall. However, setting up the electrical wiring may need a skilled electrician. Check the local laws as you may need a permit in some areas to install this heater. Below are the installation steps:
Check the Fitting
The first step should be to locate where you will install the heater. Locate the studs on your baseboard where the heater should go using a stud finder. Mark stud locations with a pencil. There may be a baseboard molding in your room, so check for it and carve it away to allow space for the heater. Measure the dimensions of the heater and mark these dimensions on the baseboard.
You need to carve away the baseboard where you will install the heater. For soft and thin baseboards, use a knife to cut them away, and then you can shape the board with a chisel. You can also use a reciprocating saw or an oscillating cutting tool. If you do not find it easy to cut the board from the wall, you can remove it and cut it out perfectly, and then re-install it.
The wiring may be an easy task, but you need to be a skilled electrician to do it. You also need to have the needed permits to carry out the job. If you have done electrical work before, you will find a baseboard heater easy to install.
A baseboard heater requires that you install a dedicated circuit. You will, therefore, need to add a circuit to the breaker box and keep it shut off until you install the system completely.
To wire, you need to run a 12-2 non-metallic cable with a sheath from the electrical service panel to the baseboard heater location. These heaters come with their built-in junction box, so you will not require a separate junction box for the heater.
Even if you are a skilled DIYer, the final connections at the service panel require a licensed electrician.
If your baseboard heater is 240 volts, you should connect the black and white wires to the double-pole 20-amp breaker. This connection should get taped with black or red tape. These two colors show that it is a hot connection. The circuit doesn’t need a neutral wire, but there is a bare copper ground wire that connects to the ground buss on your heater’s panel.
If you have a 120-V heater, connect the black wire to a single-pole 20amp breaker. Connect the white wire to the neutral terminal and then connect the ground wire to the ground terminal.
The wire panel of the heater is accessible by removing the screw on the heater and lifting its cover. You need to connect the wires for the power supply and for the thermostat.
Mount the Unit
Once you have wired the baseboard heater, you can go ahead and mount it to a wall. You only need to screw the heater to the wall through the screw studs. If the holes on your heater do not match with the screw studs, you might have to pre-drill holes to make the mounting easy.
Installing a Wall Thermostat
You can install a thermostat on the heater. Most manufacturers offer you a kit that allows you to install the thermostat on one side of the heater body. Installing the thermostat on the heater is easy as you do not have to open a wall. However, a heater-mounted thermostat is inferior to one mounted on a wall.
If you place a thermostat on the lower six inches of your room, you will be measuring the temperature of the cold air that sinks to the bottom. When you have a wall thermostat, you place its sensor about 48 inches high, which is closer to where you are, and this allows you to customize your comfort.
Again, when you install a baseboard thermostat on the baseboard, you will have to bend whenever you need to check the temperature. A wall thermostat is easy to access.
If you have an open wall, and you have never installed drywall, you can go for a wall line voltage thermostat.
How Does a Line Voltage Thermostat Work?
A line voltage thermostat works by connecting and disconnecting the power that goes to the heater. The thermostat interferes with the flow of electricity. When there is a connection in the thermostat, the heater activates, and when there is no connection, the thermostat doesn’t control the heater.
These units come with a simple temperature-sensing unit that they control based on the temperature range you set. While these devices are inexpensive to buy and easy to connect, a skilled electrician is needed to wire them correctly.
Note that you need to switch off the electrical supply to the baseboard heater before you start connecting the thermostat. You also need to note that you will break the thermostat if the wiring is incorrect.
How to Wire a Wall Thermostat
You need a few materials and equipment to install the thermostat. These include a wire stripper, a wire ripper, voltage tester, a manual screwdriver, the thermostat, and some wire nuts.
Connecting White and Ground Wires
The first step is to attach a wire nut to the white and ground wires. If the thermostat doesn’t require grounds, say in the case of a plastic thermostat, you need to bypass the device with the ground wire.
Grounded thermostats have a green screw or green wires coming from them. If your thermostat is metallic, you have to ground it too. Attach wire nut to the two ground wires and add another ground wire to attach to the thermostat. For a metallic thermostat, you need a grounded conduit path or a pigtail wire to ground it.
If the system has a white neutral wire, which you do not need for a 240V heater, you should connect it in a way that the flow of the wires coming in and going out of the device continue onward to bypass the device. For a 240V heater, you need to cut off the white wire completely.
Connecting the Hot Wires to Bypass Thermostat
There are two hot wires that go into the heater. These hot wires supply power; one of them is red and the other is black. However, only one hot wire needs to enter the thermostat. The other is wire nutted, so it bypasses the device. Connecting the two hot wires to the thermostat causes the circuit breaker to shut off, and this might cause an electrical flash. You can pick any color to connect or continue onward.
Screw the Thermostat to the Electrical Box
You need to shove the wire into the electrical box and as far back as you can to leave enough room for the thermostat. Fit the screws and get them to line up with the holes on the electrical box.
The thermostat should fall on the electrical box perfectly without you pushing it. If you have to push it to lie on the electrical box, then the wires behind were not pressed enough. Pull the wires out and fold them correctly so that they leave so much space in the box.
Screw the thermostat to the electrical box using a manual screwdriver. The screwdriver gives you better control. Before you power on the thermostat, install the faceplate. The faceplate should not have any fired-up sections that are exposed even without a faceplate but do not take that risk as you are dealing with high voltage.
If your installation was correct, the heater should start working when you trip the circuit breaker on.
Using Your Baseboard Heater the Right Way
Although an electric baseboard heater is energy efficient, you still need to find a way to save energy. You can lower the heat when you can, especially in rooms you are not using. However, you should not turn it down completely as that can cause water in pipes to freeze.
Choose a low temperature such as 16 degrees Celsius. If you set a temperature higher than 20 degrees Celsius, you will spend up to five percent more energy for every degree above 20 degrees Celsius.
You should use a programmable thermostat as it allows you to set temperatures that will run even when you are not at home. You can set the thermostat to go down to 16 degrees C at night and later go to 20 degrees C when you wake up. Ensure that the area around the heater has no obstructions, including furniture and curtains for free flow of air and to ensure there are no fire accidents.
Your heater needs cleaning at least once a year to make it highly efficient. Occasionally, you should vacuum clean the heater to remove dust. If there is something wrong with the heater, check the following:
- Ensure that you have not turned the thermostat too low
- Ensure the circuit breaker is still intact – if it trips, reset it; and if it continues to trip, allow a professional to check the system
- There may be dust in the system that causes the unit to operate inefficiently
- There may be items such as carpets and furniture that are blocking the free flow of air to the heater
When installed and maintained correctly, a baseboard heater can last for 20 years or more. Ensure that you check your home insurance policy terms, and you check your local laws before you make any electrical connections.
Some house insurance policies require that only a licensed electrician should handle electrical work in your home. You may also need a permit from the local authority to get the electrical connections done. Without these permits, you will be on the wrong side of the law.
Feel free to call a professional whenever you do not feel confident in your work.