The question is often asked, ‘Why should I consider spending the extra money for electric hydronic baseboard heaters?  Will they really save me money and make the space more comfortable?’

Rhetorically, the answer is a resounding yes!  Electric hydronic baseboard heaters would make a wonderful choice, in lieu of conventional baseboard heaters.  What invariably follows is a rather wide-ranging conversation about the differences in construction, the heat retention capabilities and, therefore, the cost justification for making this choice.

So, with that in mind, let me differentiate between the conventional and hydronic designs:

Conventional baseboard heaters have a tubular-shaped metal element, with aluminum fins mechanically attached to the sheath.  These fins aid in creating better heat distribution.  When these heaters are turned on or cycled on, they heat-up rather quickly and heat is generated with some dispatch.  In the off cycle, they invariably also cool down fairly quickly and, somewhat dependent on the thermostat used, there can be a temperature 'droop' in the room, the effects of which may vary.  This droop is dependent on heat loss, demand temperature and other variables, such as insulation, ceiling height and thermostat type, etc.

The electric hydronic design, while similar in outward appearance, differ in the way heat is created, transferred and retained.  This design incorporates a tubular-shaped vessel, which is filled with a heat transfer solution.  A heating element is inserted into this vessel and the vessel is then sealed.  This creates a closed-loop system.  When the heater is called upon to heat-up, the heat is transferred to the solution, which in turn transfers the heat to the vessel.  Much like a conventional heater, there are fins along the body of the vessel which then assist in distributing the heat evenly.  The most significant outcome of this design is the fact that heat is retained within the vessel for longer periods of time, thus reducing cycling frequency and reducing the probability of notable temperature drooping.  The net impact of this design is better temperature stability, better heat distribution and better operational efficiency of approximately 3-5%, when compared to conventional designs. 

The heat retention attribute is perhaps that which has the greatest impact on behavior, as it is probable that one would be inclined to lower the actual thermostat setting when temperature stability is present.  Given this stability, there is a tendency for one to lower the set point by 3-5° F, when compared to what may have historically the thermostat setting. This simple action will realize an approximate savings of 9-15%, as every degree of temperature lowering is equivalent to a 3% cost of operation reduction. This savings is attributable to just the lowering of the temperature.  If one then factors-in the operational savings associated with the design of the electric hydronic heater, the collective impact would be between 12% and 20%.  The last notable point is that most people would agree that the appearance is determinably better than standard baseboard heaters.  That plus the fact that they are more robust in their construction, as a heavier gauge of metal is used for the housing. 

The last point worth considering is relative to the thermostats used.  We recommend that people also consider replacing their older mechanical devices with new electronic thermostats, be they programmable or non-programmable.  Electronic thermostat can save one as much as 10%, when compared to mechanical thermostats.  This is attributable to better management of cycle time.  The programmable versions simply take the thermostat babysitting out of the equation, thus insuring the maximum operational efficiency of the system, 24/7. 

So, share your thoughts and observations with us.  We’d love to know your experiences using electric hydronic baseboard heaters.

Jeff Cousins has been employed by F. N. Cuthbert since 1984.  Look for his periodic posts on other products that are available form F. N. Cuthbert.


Mark J.

Date 10/29/2015

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