Baseboard Heater vs. Space Heater Efficiency

Baseboard heaters can provide draft-free warmth in basement family rooms.

Baseboard heaters can provide draft-free warmth in basement family rooms.

When the weather outside turns frosty, your furnace works hard to provide even warmth throughout your home. Unfortunately, that may not be the most energy efficient heating solution, because the rooms in your home are not evenly used. Bedrooms are occupied primarily at night, home office and family rooms primarily during daylight and evening hours. Supplemental heating through baseboard systems and space heaters can provide comfort while reducing the need for whole-house heating. To determine which supplemental heat is most efficient for your home, you must first take a closer look at some lifestyle issues.

How Baseboard Heaters Work

An electric baseboard heater is designed to heat an entire room. If you look inside the housing of a working unit, you'll see a pipe that carries the heating element, which is then surrounded by a network of tightly-space aluminum fins that help disperse the heat. As cool air flows into the housing, it becomes warms up as it passes through the fins and emerges as heat through an opening near the top. The process is known as convection heating, and it is sometimes employed in smaller homes in place of a central furnace unit. These units commonly range from 500 to 1500 watts in power usage, and most models can be adjusted by a thermostat for user comfort. Although electric baseboard heaters are often permanently affixed to a wall, they are also manufactured in two to six foot lengths that can be transported from room to room (See Reference 1, 2).

How Space Heaters Work

Rather than warming an entire room, most portable space heaters are designed to supply directional heat using a heating element that can be pointed at a small area. Some models come with a built in fan to focus the heat more directly. Space heaters are available in all shapes and sizes. You can select between a very portable 400-watt model that's small enough to fit under a desk, or a much larger 1500-watt oscillating unit that can cozy up an entire family on the couch. Unlike baseboard heaters, which require some warm-up time, electric space heaters become hot immediately (See Reference 1, 2, 3).

Ideal Places For Space Heaters

Space heaters usually offer the most energy efficient supplemental heating performance in small rooms. A compact 400-watt heater can warm up a single user in a reading room or in a single-user home office area. That same space heater can also be carried into the bathroom for a morning warm-up. A larger oscillating unit can swing back and forth at the Ping-Pong table in a basement room that's only in use a few hours per week.

Ideal Spaces for Baseboard Heaters

Thermostat-controlled baseboard heaters usually offer the most energy efficient supplemental heating for larger rooms. They are ideal for converting previously unused basement space into family rooms, because they draw the cool air up from the concrete floor and divert it into a continuous flow of draft-free heat throughout the room. That's why baseboard heaters are also an energy-efficient choice for ground-level room additions.


About the Author

Mike Matthews is editor of Green Building Product News, a national publication that covers sustainable innovations in building and remodeling, and he has spoken at national conferences on green building. He has also served as founding editor of "Paint Dealer" magazine.

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