Last year I posted what turned out to be a wildly popular piece on baseboard heaters and child safety. Seems like a whole lotta people have genuine safety concerns about their baseboard heaters. In the interest of adding more details to the discussion, let's go through the known dangers associated with fixed-position finned tube element space heating.
Electric vs Hot Water Baseboard Heaters
First we need to clarify a couple of things. There are two types of baseboard heaters; electric and hot water (aka hydronic). If you have electric baseboard heaters - pay attention. If your baseboard heaters are fed with hot water from a boiler - you can relax a bit.
Generally speaking, and just as all of the electric baseboard heater manufacturers claim; electric baseboard heaters are generally safe. I don't agree. Based on the number of calls we receive about using Baseboarders over electric heaters for safety reasons alone, in addition to scathing reports like this one from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, I'd say electric baseboard heaters are the most dangerous method of home heating available. Bottom line; these line voltage electricity suckers get really hot and if flammable materials get close enough, a fire can result.
Hot water baseboard heaters on the other hand run at much lower temperatures. A boiler brings water to a temperature of roughly 180F, then a circulation pump pushes the heated water through a loop made of copper or plastic pipes that feeds a series of convectors. By the time the energy stored in the water makes its way through the convection heat transfer process to the covers, they are normally below 100F. In other words, a safe temperature range.
Risk of Fire and Burns
Have you ever seen baseboard heaters make the 6 o'clock news? That's right, they cause fires. Once again, I'm referring to the electrical type. Drapery and flammable toys that find their way into the large open gap at the top of the heater is usually the culprit. Imagine having an open flame in the middle of a room. You'd probably be very careful not to get too close. There would be an obvious effort made to keep flammable materials away from the flame. The same precautions should be taken with baseboard heating. Be very careful what you allow to get close to the heaters. This includes taking precautions around small children that play in areas where baseboard heaters are installed. Never allow a child to get close to a functioning baseboard heater. The operating temperature of 200F can quickly burn skin. Take the necessary measures to avoid this danger.
When a Baseboarders panel is installed over a heater, it will cover the open gap at the top ensuring nothing, other than the air currents, will touch the heating element. Never install Baseboarders with the intention of bringing down the touch temperature of the heater. Baseboarders will get just as hot as the original heater.
Risk of Injury
When it comes to exposed unfinished sharp metal edges, both hot water and electric baseboard heaters have them. Baseboard heater covers are always made of steel. This material helps in the convection heating process by holding and dissipating heat energy. As a sheet metal fabricator, we are always mindful of the inherent sharp edges that result from the shearing process. Take a look at any baseboard heater and you will find multiple sharp edges. Hot water baseboard heaters are made up of various parts that easily disassemble. It is on this type of baseboard heater that one must be particularly careful to avoid handling around the exposed sharp edges.
Baseboarders are designed with sharp edges in mind. Using a one piece panel design that has the exposed ends concealed by endcaps and by hemming the bottom edge, there are no exposed sharp edges.
Risk of Ugliness?
Just in case you didn't notice, the last six decades of baseboard heater production has been defined by ugliness. Interior Designers have spent countless hours trying to hide them. Some builders won't deal with them at all. The popular opinion among home owners that employ baseboard heaters is that they offer reliable, comfortable and quiet heating. Perhaps that's why so many just tolerate their poor aesthetic values. I have yet to meet someone who finds their original baseboard heaters to be an icon of good design. So yes there is a very real risk of ugliness. Although it's definitely not in the same category of seriousness discussed above, Baseboarders also address this widespread problem with outstanding results.