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Easy Slip-on Baseboard Heater Covers Are In, Dummies And Painting Are Out.

The "Dummy Cover" Alternative

For the past sixty years, heating contractors and skilled home owners have sought to rejuvenate their hideous baseboard heaters by completely removing the original covers and installing new ones. In nearly all cases the new covers are exactly the same as the original covers – minus the dents and rust. Most finned tube manufacturers like Slant Fin and Hydrotherm offer replacement covers that do not include the heating element. Hence the name "dummy" covers.
This alternative product is fairly inexpensive to buy. Big box retailers and heating supply shops often hold common lengths in their inventories. It is the cost of installing dummy covers that surprises most consumers. The process is
best demonstrated by This Old House heating & plumbing expert Richard Trethewey. A master plumber such as Richard will spend a minimum of fifteen minutes per linear foot on the labor component  (removal of old covers, patching the wall, reinstalling brackets, locating wall studs, etc.) At a conservative $60 per hour rate, the cost of labor alone will add at least $15 per foot to the total expense. A general contractor who might not have the experience of a master plumber might take over twenty minutes per foot. This tedious, fiddly, on-your-hands-and-knees job makes the real cost of choosing dummy covers a very expensive one. The use of galvanized steel or a similar protective coating isn't common – which suggests replacement dummy covers might be needed again in a few years.
Ultimately dummy covers are rarely considered an attractive feature. But incredibly this labor-intensive solution has hardly changed visually in decades. So why would anyone invest in a home renovation project today that installs an architectural detail from the 1950's?

Dummy Cover Alternative

The "Just Paint Over The Rust" Alternative

If ugly rusty baseboard heaters are in need of a quick fix on a shoe string budget; just paint them. Painting the covers can offer a unique personalized look, but unfortunately this alternative rarely produces high quality results. A few coats of paint will only offer a few thousandths of an inch of protective latex or enamel that will fail to protect long term against rust and physical abuse. Dents, another common characteristic of the original thin gauge steel covers, obviously cannot be painted out. Nonetheless, painting over the original covers is very popular. Paint is cheap and just about anyone can brush on a fresh coat. Similar to the dummy covers, painting baseboard heaters is a very time consuming job when done correctly. Numerous how-to videos exist demonstrating the proper surface preparation techniques.
If a paint job is the chosen method of refurbishment, the process has to be repeated numerous times over the years to keep up with rust and other evidence of wear. Multiple layers of paint on the original covers create problems of their own. Endcaps that refuse to come off for cleaning and dampers that cannot be rotated are just some of the problems caked-on layers of paint can cause. Quite often layers of old paint will fill the small space between the back plate and the wall. Baseboarders® use this thin gap to slide into for a secure installation. Running a dull knife or caulk removal tool should easily clear this area of old paint.

Painting Alternative
The Bottom Line: Baseboarders® cost less than remove and replace, take less time to install than painting and look far more attractive.