Do You Hear That? Solutions for Noisy Baseboard Heaters
Hydronic baseboard heaters are notorious for all kinds of noises. Temperature changes as the system cycles translates into lots of expansion and contraction of copper pipes and that might mean some creaks, clanks, and clicks.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Most noisy baseboard heaters are the result of one of a few issues that are fixable. Here’s what makes baseboard heaters noisy and what you can do about it.
Reasons Hydronic Baseboard Heaters Are Noisy
Hydronic baseboard heat, or hot water baseboard heat, is a popular (and efficient) method of heating in cold weather climates.
Cold air comes in from the room at the bottom of the baseboard heater. Hot water circulating through copper pipes and heating fins warms the air, which then rises out the top of the baseboard heater and into the room. This process creates a sort of air current in a room that warms the air and keeps it nice and toasty.
According to HVAC contractor, Sean Damm, it’s not abnormal to hear some noise as pipes and other metal components warm up and cool down in a hydronic (or electric) baseboard heat system. Keep reading to find out when you shouldn't be concerned, when you should be concerned, and what you can do about it.
Expansion & ContractionAll the temperature change in a hydronic baseboard heat system causes expansion and contraction of the materials, especially metal, around the pipe. Sometimes this causes noises. Some quiet clicking is expected and isn’t a cause for worry.
Usually, the louder noises mean that something in your system isn’t quite right and most of the time, it’s a fairly easy fix to address.
Pipes Are Too LongAccording to Richard Trethewey of This Old House, 50 feet of copper piping can expand as much as ½ to 1 inch when heated to 100 degrees. It isn’t uncommon for copper pipes to fit well when at room temperature, then be crowded when the heat comes on.
Crowding that may cause noisy baseboard heaters. When a too-long pipe expands, it might bump into a wall causing noises and even damage to the wall.
What To DoTurn the heat up and listen to where sounds are coming from to identify where the issue is. You may find areas where pipes are touching walls or other items that cause noise. The easiest fix is to shorten the pipe. Cut the pipe and pull it gently away from the wall until it has 1 inch clearance.
From there you’ll be able to see how much needs to be trimmed from the pipe in order to give your pipes plenty of room for expansion. We recommend you get a plumber to help you through this process so you can properly drain pipes, cut, and sauter your pipes at the right length.
Pipes Are Too Close TogetherSince hydronic baseboard heating systems are closed loops, that means that they either go in one big circle, or they go out through the house then return along the same path (in a separate pipe). You can remove your baseboard heater covers to find out how your system is set up. If you see only one pipe coming in and out of the room, you are set up on a circular loop. If you see two pipes, you have an out and back set up.
If you have the out and back set up, you’re probably thinking “that’s a lot of pipes in close quarters.” And you’re right. It’s often those return pipes that cause the trouble. They don’t need to have room around them to circulate heat so they often get squeezed into small spaces against the walls to give room to the pipes with heated water. And we know what happens when you have pipes against walls.
On the other hand, pipes might be so close together that they touch each other. That too causes noises. Loud ones.
What To DoOnce again, the solution is to get pipes away from walls and each other. Consult your plumber about shortening pipes that bump into walls. For pipes that touch each other, try pipe insulation to create a buffer between and stop the noise.
While You’ve Got Your Covers Off . . .
As long as you’ve got your covers off, consider replacing them. You’ve already done half the job by taking them off. Baseboarders® covers can give you a quick refresh by simply adding new slip-on covers.
Pipes Run Into Other SurfacesYour copper pipes may be free standing or attached to the wall. As you pinpoint where noises are coming from, inspect whether pipes are touching other surfaces. This may be the source of noises as the pipes expand and contract.
Sometimes pipes run through floor joists or other structural components of your home. If the pipe touches another solid surface, you may experience noise.
What To Do
When you find pipes that bump into other structures, simply insulate them to create a cushion and stop noise. Use a pipe wrap, a foam wrap (looks like a pool noodle) that slides right around the pipe and creates the buffer you need. Another option is to use pipe spray foam. You spray it where you need it and it expands slightly to fill in space and keep the pipe away from other stuff.
Pipes or Fins Are Dirty or Bent
When hot water pipes or the fins surrounding them get dirty, it decreases the air flow and further compounds any problems your unit might be having.
You should also inspect the fins to ensure they are not bent or touching each other as this can also be a potential source of noise as the metal expands and contracts.
What You Should Do
A thorough vacuuming will keep your pipes and fins clean and proper air flowing. Do at least once per year or more if you have pets.
To repair bent fins, use needle nose pliers to gently bend them back into place.
Baseboard heaters keeping you up at night? End all the clicks, clanks, and clunks associated with hydronic baseboard heating. When you understand the ins and outs of how your heating works, it’s simple to make a few changes and end sleepless nights.