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Electric Baseboard Heaters

  |   baseboard heater covers, burns, child safe, dangerous, electric baseboard heaters, fire, heaters   |   2 Comments
If you heat your home with electric baseboard heaters, you need to read this. Electrically powered baseboard heaters present some serious risks to home owners and their property.

We started in the baseboard heater cover business back in 2008 converting old ugly hot water baseboard heaters into DIY beauties. From day one we’ve experienced a steady trickle of customer inquiries looking to make their electric heaters safer. So what’s up with this? How is it that so many people consider their home heating devices a serious threat to their safety? Is a safer design needed?

There are two types of baseboard heaters. Both have a neat row of thin aluminum “fins” (the heating element) that create a large heated surface area for the passing cool air currents to encounter. Hydronic baseboard heaters use heated water to forward the energy load to the fins. Operating touch temperatures will rarely exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit – a hot, but still relatively safe temperature. Electric heaters use a resistor that converts electrical energy into heat energy which is transferred directly to the fins. This process operates at much higher temperatures, making electric baseboard heaters potentially very dangerous with risks for both burns and starting fires.

Could you imagine heating every room in your home with a naked but properly ventilated flame? The heat coming off the flame would be significant. However the open flame could light up anything that comes near it. This is of course an unrealistic and just plain crazy scenario, but it would seem electric baseboard heaters aren’t much better. The typical resistive electric heater enclosure does little to sufficiently enclose it’s dangerous assets. The big open gaps at the top and bottom present significant dangers in the event a flammable material or human skin were to touch the heating element. With such a hot element so easily accessed from above and below, how do these things even meet building safety codes? In all fairness to the manufacturers of electric baseboard heaters, these big open gaps are required – but not by some regulatory committee or building code. It’s simple thermodynamics. Convection air current heating requires sufficient airflow around the heating element. That means there can only be minimal restrictions on the heater’s enclosure so that the gentle air currents that move in a circular pattern around a room can easily encounter the heating element.

Some manufacturers have recently introduced heaters that operate at lower temperatures. These “soft heat” baseboard heaters do little to address the overall safety risk associated with the massive quantity of electric baseboard heaters that are currently in operation today. However despite the obvious risks, electric baseboard heaters continue to enjoy massive popularity among new construction projects. Consider the recent condo building boom. Developers will heavily favor employing electric baseboard heaters for the economic benefit of zero infrastructure needed, other than the heaters themselves that run off line voltage. Consider public buildings. Why is it that just about every day care center in North America has called us about concerns involving children and their electric baseboard heaters? Public funds were spent to minimize expenditure, not maximize safety. Consider your local hardware store. Why are they always in stock? They’re a retail-friendly robust package that includes everything needed to make heat. Just wire them up or plug them in and you’re in business.

Although Baseboarders are designed for use on hot water baseboard, we hear that in many instances they are installed over electric baseboard heaters. If you have electric baseboard heaters you need to be aware of the potential safety risks. Baseboarders should NEVER be used as a solution to mitigate these risks. The only exception; the single child safety specific feature listed on our site which essentially states that installing Baseboarders is an effective way to block off the gap at the top of the enclosure where heated air exits. This gap is an area that little crawlers are often attracted to. It can also turn into a storage area for their flammable toys. Baseboarders will get just as hot as the original covers.

Tell us about your experiences with electric baseboard heaters. Should we invest in a retrofit solution to minimize the dangers?

2 Comments
  • Jon Buss | Mar 4, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Electric baseboard heaters run at extremely high temperatures. This alone makes them dangerous. On our website (www.baseboarders.com) we suggest the total removal of this type of heating is the only way to make them safer, particularly around children. Using a cover made of non-conducting wood will negatively affect the efficiency of the unit to heat the space, while doing nothing to mitigate against the 200F element. It will greatly reduce the cover's ability to transfer heat to flammable objects, but the hot element will still be there inside and the fire risk remains. For this reason alone, electric baseboard heaters have been banned in some municipalities in Canada. Baseboarders offer a number of ways to make baseboard heaters of any type safer, but they cannot bring down the temperature of the element or the cover itself. Blocking access to the element with a one piece design that has no sharp edges is the real safety feature associated with our product. It is most effective on hydronic baseboard heaters.

  • Anonymous | Mar 4, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Hi Jon – Thanks for all the great information on baseboard heaters. I have ELECTRIC basebaord heaters throughout my rental property in northeast Pennsylvania and am trying to address both the saftey & fire hazard concerns I have read about on the web. Your post here suggests I should NOT use baseboarders to mitigate these risks. Can you suggest any potential solutions? Understanding the efficiency of the baseboard may be reduced, is using a baseboard cover made out of something other than metal a potential solution? Thanks.