Are Hot Water Baseboard Heaters Out of Date?

Modern living room with baseboard heater.

You’re in the market for a new home. You find a beauty with the perfect location and a giant kitchen. Then your hopes come crashing down. It has baseboard heating. Not just that but hot water baseboard heating. Disappointed, you scroll on hoping to find something just as good but without the baseboard heat.

Hydronic, or hot water baseboard heaters, often get a bad rap. They’ve been around forever and the technology hasn’t changed much over the years. They often look old and dingy, but if you look past the cosmetics, you might see something worth keeping. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Cheese and wine are proof of that.

Here are some perks of hydronic baseboard heating for you to consider.

Modern dining room with baseboard heat.

It’s Efficient

Let's get sciency here for a second. The amount of heat-energy water can carry is much greater than air can carry. Essentially that means that water’s capacity to heat something up is far more than air’s capacity to heat something. Bottom line, hot water heat is better than warm air heat.

Hydronic baseboard heat is not only an efficient heater, it also provides more even heat than electric baseboards. It doesn’t cycle on and off as much as other heating systems. That, in turn, decreases your overall energy consumption. The hot water heat is also more constant since the liquid remains heated after the cycle turns off.

It’s Low Profile

The infrastructure of hot water systems is minimal as far as equipment goes. Other heating systems require a lot more than hydronic baseboard heating (think of all that ductwork for forced air). Hot water heat can also piggyback off existing infrastructure, like your hot water heater, so you don’t have to install yet another system.

The baseboards themselves are probably the most bulky part of the hot water system. They sit nestled against the wall and the floor in one of the least invasive in-room heating systems there is.

It’s Cleaner

The hot water heating system is enclosed so there’s no routine cleaning to do as there is with a furnace and ductwork.

Hot water baseboard heaters are a closed loop that’s never exposed to things that could become allergens. Dust, dander, and other allergens blown around the house then inhaled by you and your family are not an issue with baseboard heaters.

It’s Easier

Hot water heaters are radiant heat systems. That means there’s no filters to change or cleaning dusty duct work. They require very little maintenance and are easy to fix. It’s simple technology that doesn’t require specialized training to take care of.

Vacuuming the baseboard heaters and the distribution unit and bleeding the pipes annually are really all you need to do.

It’s a good idea to bleed the pipes to get rid of air when you first turn on the heat in the fall. You can do this yourself. Simply locate the bleed valve on the heater unit, place a towel under the valve and turn counterclockwise to open it. You’ll hear a hissing noise as the air escapes. When water starts flowing out of the valve, you’ve removed all the air. Close the valve and you’re done.

It Lasts a Long Time

The life expectancy of hot water baseboard heaters is about 20 years, however, with care they can last much longer. That’s why you see them in older homes so often. But age doesn’t mean they are defunct.

The technology hasn’t changed that much and there’s a reason for that: it works. If a baseboard heater looks like it’s seen better days, you can easily update the look with Baseboarders products. They are easy to install and change the vibe immediately.

They Are Quiet

There is no noisy fan nor a clicking as the system turns on and off with baseboard heaters. The only noise might be pipes banging as they expand with hot water but this is easily remedied with proper insulation around the pipes.

It Feels Warmer

Sometimes heating systems don’t directly feel warm but they do heat the room generally. Some heat is lost as it travels through ductwork in a furnace system. Air forced systems don’t feel as warm because of the blowing factor.

Hot water baseboard heaters do feel warm. Their heat is transferred to objects in the room and they create a current of warm air in the space. They are also great at making floors feel warm, something that other systems don’t do as well.

They Are Safe

You’ve probably heard that there should be 18 inches of clearance between a baseboard heater and other objects in the room like furniture, curtains, etc. This isn’t because there is a fire hazard. Rather it’s about maintaining proper space to create an air current to heat the room effectively.

Every element of the baseboard heater is kept at a temperature far below any fire hazard or burn risk. They are perfectly safe for children, babies, and pets.

Baseboard heater covers in a new home.

Why Don’t You See Hot Water Baseboard Heaters in New Builds?

For all their perks, hot water baseboard heaters aren’t in favor in new builds today. While this is probably due to a variety of reasons, there are two that you should pay attention to.

Control

When it comes to exact temperature control over a hot water system, it’s more an art than a science. They aren’t precise systems. It’s more reasonable to aim for a range rather than a specific temperature.

But that said, each unit functions independently of another so it’s possible to set up the system in zones or each room on a separate thermostat. This gives you excellent control over heat in different areas of the home.

Cost

One of the big complaints about hot water baseboard heaters is that they can be expensive to run. The system itself is pretty efficient to run. Cost can increase or decrease depending on the type of boiler you have.

Electric boilers can become costly in the coldest part of the winter. By comparison, if you have a natural gas boiler, that is much more affordable. Hydronic baseboard heat may be the most affordable option given the right circumstances.


Though hydronic baseboard heating falls victim to plenty of prejudice, it’s an efficient system that may be the best thing that ever happened to you. Next time you run across it, don’t be so hasty to dismiss it either in an existing home or for a new build.

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October 4, 2021