Electric Baseboard Heaters
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?