How Energy Efficient is Electric Baseboard Heat?
by Reader Contributors
Our frugal readers help us explore the energy efficiency of electric baseboard heat and alternatives and solutions that could help you keep your home warm for less if you do have this type of heating system.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
My husband and I are considering buying a home that has electric baseboard heat. The electric bill for this home averages $260- $300 per month, for a 2200 sq ft home. It has no AC or existing duct work. We really love this house but do not want to go broke heating it. I work at home and have a small child so can’t let it get too cold.
Can anyone give me some guidance as to what would be the best course of action? What type of system do you suggest we put in if we buy it? We live in Westminster MD. Gets pretty cold in the winter. Any help would be appreciated.
How Energy Efficient Is Electric Baseboard Heat?
And what are some cheaper heating alternatives? We asked our frugal readers to provide any advice and solutions they had regarding electric baseboard heat and we got quite a few helpful responses. Here is what they advise based on their own experiences with this type of heat.
We Cut Our Electric Baseboard Heating Bills With These Easy Tips
I lived in a 1900 square foot home in State College, PA, also with electric baseboard heat. Our heating bills 1st ran about $225 per month when we bought it (built new in 1982). Here are some things we did that helped us drastically reduce heating costs:
We bought cheap roll fiberglass insulation and rolled out a new layer of insulation in the attic, right over the existing fiberglass insulation. Then we sealed every electric outlet and switch plate with cheap foam insulation gaskets. Then we bought a disposable bottle of insulation foam. It oozes out of the can with a nozzle just like canned shaving cream, and then expands dramatically. We plugged every hole we could find (plumbing, wiring, etc.). We wrapped our electric hot water heater with paper-faced insulation. Finally we made insulating panels out of foil-faced rigid insulation board, cut to fit into our windows at night. (See Keeping Cold Winter Air Outside and Heating Bills Low.)
All of these improvements were very inexpensive, very low-tech, could be done by anyone in one weekend or two with almost no tools — and the end result is we reduced our heating bill by over 50%!
Electric Baseboards and Wood Heat
Our house has electric baseboard heat and we supplement with a woodstove. We use the electric heat mostly in the fall and spring when we “just want to take the chill off” or when we go out of town and turn it on low to keep the pipes from freezing. We use the woodstove nearly every day during the winter months.
This works for us because 1.) the back half of our land is woods so we have a cheap source of fuel, 2.) we already have a truck and chain saw, and 3.) my husband enjoys this type of activity. The disadvantages of heating with wood are that it is somewhat messy and involves effort on your part bringing in the wood, making a fire and tending it. We live in North Carolina and have frequent ice storms in the winter with the resulting power outages. It is nice to be cozy and warm even when the electricity is out.
Another thing I liked about having the baseboard heat is that when my daughter was a baby, I could keep her room at a warmer temperature than the rest of the house. Or I could boost up the heat just in the bathroom at bath time. It is very flexible.
All in all, I would say we have been very happy with our combination of baseboard heat and woodstove.
Wind Power and Insulated Shields
Don’t know how much wind you have out there in MD, but you might look into a windmill to generate electricity. I understand there are some that are much more efficient than solar cells of the same price. Besides, I bet you have more wind that you do sun there in the winter. Do your research!
Also, when we lived in a much colder climate, I sewed insulated roman shades for all our windows – with magnetic strips to get an airtight seal. They were actually not all that difficult, and although they require an initial investment of several hundred, they proved worthwhile in the long run. I took a class at a local fabric store (I have seen these courses offered all over the state) and then purchased the materials and sewed away. A bit of a project, but it completely cut out the draft and heat leakage from my windows Kept the house much more comfortable and the heat bills much lower.
Supplement Baseboard Heat with a Wood Stove
Since you are going to be home all the time, you might consider a wood stove. If you can purchase wood locally, it usually runs a lot cheaper than electric or oil. Also, if you are home during the day you can keep an eye on the stove.
Barry from PA
Don’t Buy the House
In response to “Cheap Heat”, I don’t know how much a normal electric bill is for a 2200 square foot house is in Maryland, but I have lived in Texas, Colorado, and Nebraska and I have never had electric bills that averaged that high on a per square foot basis.
Getting right to the point, I would seriously reconsider purchasing this house. This heating (and cooling) problem is a serious hindrance to the value of the real estate. Converting from baseboard heat to any other kind of heat system is very expensive to say the least. My experience with baseboard heating is that it is not very efficient and it seems that there are cold spots in the room.
As hard as it is, try not to let your emotions affect your house buying decision. You have to set your emotions aside and ask yourself if the positives of the house outweigh the negatives. Try this little exercise. Write 12 positive things about the house. Then write 12 negative things about the house. Note: It will be harder to find 12 negatives, but force yourself to find them. This exercise is designed to look fairly at both the positives and the negatives so that you can make a rational decision.
There is one good thing about the timeliness of your letter, at least it’s the cold time of the year, so I would go look at the house on a cold day to see how well it heats (and while you’re there, picture yourself opening up the December electric bill.)
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Try a Wood Stove with Catalytic Burner
We haven’t experienced it ourselves yet but my wife’s sister and her husband just installed a wood burning stove with a catalytic burner. Never have I seen anything more efficient! With just a little bit of wood the stove/flue heated the whole house (1800 sq. ft.) for 24 hrs. If our house didn’t already have a regular fireplace and chimney we would be considering installing one in our house.
At first I was skeptical and had my doubts as to the sensibility of it all but after seeing just how cheaply they were able to heat the house (they cut their own wood from their property), I have no doubt that this will pay for itself in a matter of only a year or two. I don’t know if this is an option for you but at least it’s something to consider.
Luis, Peggy and Michael
Add an Oil Stove
My suggestion is to obtain an oil stove. They use #1 heating oil, are inexpensive and clean to operate, can run continuously and they really put out the heat. Some units have cooking surfaces. Many styles and price ranges are available. Oil delivers 140,000 BTU/gal. vs. propane which delivers 90,000 BTU/gal. for the same cost per gallon, so don’t even consider propane. Use a small fan to circulate the heat and use your existing electric to moderate the heat in the back areas of the home. Good luck!
Consider Flexible Heat
This will not necessarily be cheap heat, but it should be cheaper, more effective heat. Check out Vornado heaters. The one we use was less than $100, including shipping & handling.
It’s main advantage is that it has a very effective built-in fan to circulate the heat. It’s second advantage is that it can be moved from one room or location to another, which is something you can’t do with a ceiling fan (which is another alternative). I believe that the Vornado’s fan does a really great, and very quiet, job of evening the temperature out between the floor and ceiling levels. I recommend getting the one with the thermostatic control on it. Although a bit more expensive, the thermostat should pay for itself by giving you control.
I, too, have a house with electric baseboard heat, only my electric rates are no so high. Why not put in an unvented gas heater or unvented gas logs in the fireplace (close off the flue)? You could use natural gas if its available and you want to put in a gas line or propane.
Try Cadet Heaters
We solved the problem by installing Cadet heaters in the wall (we purchased them from A-Boy, but you should be able to get them from any plumbing/heating supply shop). They are about twice the size of a gas register and can be integrated into an existing thermostat. It cost us $200 per heater and about $400 for an electrician to install them. They heated up our main living area very well and they were sure a lot more aesthetically pleasing than baseboard heaters.
Ask the Electric Company
Check with your electric company about programs they may offer for you. As a homeowner, you may qualify for anything from an energy audit (they come out and seal any leaks, caulk the windows, put in new thermostats, check for leaks, etc. for free or a nominal charge) to rebates on any energy saving measures you might take.
If it’s a 2-story house, don’t put the heat on upstairs. The heat from the first floor will rise and heat the 2nd floor. Be sure to have enough insulation, especially if you have an attic.
We Added a Gas Furnace
We bought a house last year that had electric baseboards and we put in a central heating and cooling unit that has a gas furnace for the heating unit. This is very efficient, especially for cooling. Our house is smaller than yours (1400 sq. ft.) but all summer we kept it very cool and only had one bill over $100. You didn’t mention if the house had a fireplace but ours did and we bought a fireplace insert out of the local newspaper it is great when it’s really cold. I don’t know the price differences between where you are and we are, but our house did not have duct work either. And our total cost for a central unit for duct work, a/c and gas furnace was around $6000, maybe a little more but definitely worth it if you have large heating/cooling bills because they will be cut probably in half.
Forced Air, Coal Fired
We recently bought a home with the same problem – electric baseboard heat which is far too expensive to run. The previous owner had installed a King Coal 100 Automatic Coal-Stoker Forced Air Furnace. He installed only one vent through the hall of the first floor and ran the second vent right off the top of the unit itself, which heats the basement area. We are totally amazed at how much heat this furnace puts out, and with just two vents!
Best of all, coal is a very inexpensive heating fuel. We live in Billings, MT and it gets VERY cold here, and we have kept the thermostat on 65 degrees and have been very comfortable. The only drawback is that it is somewhat dirty to deal with when loading the coal into the hopper and when we empty the ash drawer. But, it holds a good bit of coal and so far we only have to fill it about every 6 days and we empty the ash drawer every other time we fill it. I am sure when we get more into winter, the maintenance will increase a bit. So, if you don’t mind a little dirty work, check out this option. We have called the company several times with questions and they have been very helpful.
Cathy & Erin
Reviewed November 2021
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