As winter approaches, baseboard heaters will be back on the job. Now is the time to re-evaluate them in terms of comfort, energy efficiency, design and safety… Sometimes it’s worth looking at replacing them with another type of appliance such as a convection heater, a radiant system or a forced convection heater.

 

This article will take a look at various systems designed to keep you warm—and the different ways they produce and distribute heat. But first, let’s talk baseboards.

 

Why replace your baseboard heaters?

Electric baseboard heaters can be found all over Quebec, and not by chance: they are inexpensive both to buy and to install, and easy to use.

 

  • They have their downsides, however:
  • They take up a lot of floor space along the base of walls.
  • They produce uneven heat.
  • They creak and make noise as they heat up and cool down.
  • If someone or something comes in contact with the element, baseboards can cause burns.

Good to know

A baseboard heater works by natural convection: air coming into contact with it is heated. That heated air rises, as it is lighter than the colder ambient air. Generalized air circulation then takes place in the room.

 

Convectors

Like baseboards, convection heaters work by natural convection. These appliances distribute heat more evenly, however: their housings, which are taller than those of a baseboard heater, create a chimney effect. This produces a stronger flow of heated air exiting the upper grilles.

 

Convectors can be installed just as easily along an outside wall as on a partition wall. Some other advantages:

  • They come in different shapes and sizes, which makes it easier to find an installation location.
  • They are quieter than baseboards.
  • They are safer in many ways, with features like automatic overheat shutoff, thermostat covers, etc.

 

On the other hand, convectors are three to five times more expensive than baseboard units. They move heated air faster and more powerfully than baseboards, but without the even heat distribution provided by a radiant system.

 

Forced convector—the versatile heater

Also known as blowers or fan heaters, forced convectors are best suited to areas that are exposed to the cold (garages, for example) or spaces too small to accommodate a true convection heater: under counters, in bathrooms, etc.

 

These appliances work by forced convection: hot air is propelled by mechanical means using a fan (blower).

 

Good to know

  • Forced convectors with built-in timers and thermostats can warm a room slowly, or, temporarily, very quickly.
  • Some models can be quite noisy; be sure to take this into account when comparison shopping.
  • Garage models range in power from 2,000 to 10,000 watts. They should be installed in the centre of the ceiling: they will blow air from all sides toward the floor, allowing hot air to be redistributed throughout the space.

 

Electric radiant heating systems

Radiant heating systems work by radiation: the transfer of heat from a warm body to a colder one, without any contact between the two. The transfer is by infrared waves.

 

In other words, instead of heating the ambient air, the radiating device, once activated, becomes a heated mass that heats other masses around it (walls or furniture).

 

On the Quebec market, standalone electric radiant systems (i.e., that heat rooms individually) may come in one of the following formats:

  • Radiant gypsum ceiling;
  • Electric cables strung under ceramic tile;
  • Radiant baseboard heaters or “convectors”; they look like wall-mounted baseboards or convectors without any grilles, but they really are radiators. They have one thing in common: a core of material—e.g., cast aluminum—that accumulates heat and radiates it.

 

There are many advantages to radiant heating systems:

  • They emit an enveloping heat, uniformly distributed between the floor and ceiling.
  • They don’t circulate air, so they don’t raise any dust.
  • Radiant heat can be set to a lower temperature than convective heat, without compromising comfort.
  • They are ideally suited for well-ventilated areas such as entryways: when a door opens and cold air is let in, the heat stays stored in the heater’s core.

 

On the other hand:

  • Radiant systems are usually more expensive than convection systems.
  • You can’t count of them for a rapid rise in heat: they warm a space a little at a time.
  • Their use is not recommended under certain types of flooring such as hardwood.
  • Radiant systems installed in a floor or ceiling can limit renovation options.

 

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which type of appliance will best suit each of your rooms. You can also mix and match, as is often seen in bathrooms. As always, your needs and your budget will lead you to the solution that is right for you.