With a little bit of tender love and care your baseboard heater should last you a long time.
This means regular cleaning and maintenance of the unit. Although the same can be said of any kind of heating system – this is certainly not something unique to the baseboard heater.
There are of course different types of baseboard heaters, which will require a somewhat different approach to maintenance. In this article we’ll look at the different types of baseboard heaters and their unique maintenance requirements.
How Baseboard Heaters Work
In order to understand how to properly maintain your baseboard heater it’s a good idea to understand how they work.
Baseboard heaters have a very basic construction. There are no moving parts. If you were to take the outside cover off the unit, inside you would find a heating element running along the full length of the shaft.
- • The heating element is heated by an electrical current which heats up the cold air that enters the unit from the floor causing the hot air to rise into the room.
- • This constant cycling of hot and cold air is referred to as a convection current.
- • As there is no fan blowing the air into the room it is a great choice for people trying to avoid dust and other allergens.
The heater is called a baseboard heater because it is located close to the baseboards around your floor.
By placing these heaters close to the floor we can be sure of a constant intake of cold air, as the coldest air in the room will always fall to the lowest point. The hot air, in turn, will always tend to rise.
Maintenance of Electric Baseboard Heaters
The electric baseboard heater is probably the most familiar type of baseboard heater for most of us. They’re also probably the simplest to clean and maintain.
Dust and Debris
The easiest thing you can do to keep your baseboard heater working efficiently is to keep the outside cover clean and free of dust and debris.
You’d be surprised how easy it is for foreign objects to get lodged in the units – especially if you have kids or small pets. Kids love to find new hiding places and explore new things, and pets are no different. So if you have kids or pets in your home you’ll probably want to check for debris pretty much every day.
Dust won’t necessarily harm the normal function of the unit, but when you first turn it on after an extended period you will experience an unpleasant burning odor if you don’t keep it clear of dust.
It’s also a bit of an eye sore when it’s covered in excessive amounts of dust.
- • To reduce the build-up of dust and debris make sure your heating unit is flush against the wall.
- • The smaller the space between the wall and the baseboard heater, the less chance there is of something getting wedged in there.
One of the best ways to ensure that your unit continues to work safely is to make sure nothing can dangle over it.
Not only can curtains draped over a baseboard heater pose a fire hazard, they can also prevent the normal functioning of the unit. It’s hard to distribute hot air into the room if you have a curtain covering the unit preventing proper air flow.
End of Season Maintenance
Chances are you won’t be using your baseboard heater year long. In most areas of North America you will likely start using the heater in mid fall and finish up early spring. This doesn’t mean you can just turn the unit off and forget about it.
Your baseboard heater requires proper maintenance year round to ensure it continues to offer you the heat and comfort your family is looking for.
- • Make sure you clean and vacuum the unit at the end of each heating season, and repeat the process before you start using the baseboard heater again in the fall.
- • It’s also a good idea to buy a cover for your heating unit which will protect it from the buildup of dust during the off season.
- • You should still vacuum your baseboard heater at the beginning of the season, but this simple purchase will minimize the dust buildup.
As your heater gets a little older you may want to repaint the unit. While this may seem like a simple aesthetic consideration, it is actually an important part of the maintenance of the baseboard heater.
All paints are not created equal. If you attempt to use normal paint on a baseboard heater you can expect the paint to bubble and crack. Fortunately there are heat-resistant paints which will ensure your unit continues to look and perform as good as new.
Make sure you only use this type of paint when repainting your baseboard heaters and you will extend the life of your baseboard heater.
Maintenance of Hydronic Baseboard Heaters
Before we can understand how to properly maintain a Hydronic Baseboard heater it’s a good idea to understand how they work. They operate quite a bit differently from their electronic cousins.
A Hydronic baseboard heater still works on a similar principle to electric baseboard heaters; the main difference is that they use an encased fluid within the heater to warm the air in the room.
- • The hydronic unit tends to give off a softer heat, a gentle more uniform heat throughout the room.
- • It also takes longer for the unit to cool down after it’s turned off.
- • This may sound like a better choice than the electric baseboard heater, but these types of heaters are arguably more difficult to maintain.
- • If you don’t consider yourself somewhat handy, you may want to stay away from hydronic baseboard heaters.
Why are hydronic heaters more difficult to maintain? Well, as you might have guessed it has a lot to do with the liquid inside of the unit. It’s really quite intuitive when you think about it.
You’re electric baseboard heater has a very simple construction, no moving parts just a metal shaft heated electrically.
The hydronic unit on the other hand is heated by a liquid that runs through the center of the heater.
- • Typically the liquid used in these systems is water, but there are systems that use a combination of water and antifreeze and there are also oil based systems that offer a similar level of comfort.
- • As the liquid goes through several cycles of heating and cooling, air has a tendency to build up in the unit, requiring periodic bleeding of air out of the system and the replacement of fluid to ensure the unit continues to operate as it’s supposed to.
The Bleed Valve
By bleeding of air we’re referring to the removal of air that has built up in the lines. Normally there is a bleed valve on the unit for this purpose.
- • When you open up the valve you’ll likely hear a hissing noise and the water tends to sputter out.
- • Leave the valve open until you see a steady stream of water and the hissing dissipates. Replace the flushed liquid.
- • How do you know when to do this? If you notice the heater is not giving off the same consistent heat you’re used to, or it’s cold to the touch it’s time to bleed the unit.
- • Remember, the bleeding process is not the only maintenance you will have to perform on a hydronic system. Typically, you will have to perform the same steps outlined under electric systems as well.
All this may sound a little complicated and for good reason. If you are not comfortable with any kind of consistent maintenance you should probably stay away from hydronic baseboard units.
This is especially true for the elderly and for renters who aren’t comfortable performing standard maintenance on behalf of their landlords.
As illustrated above hydronic heaters will have higher average maintenance costs if you are unable to do the extra maintenance required in the bleeding process yourself.
In such a scenario you will have to hire someone else to do the work for you. Depending on who you hire this may cost you as little as $20 or as much as $100, so it’s a good idea to try and learn how to do this yourself.
When you consider this against their higher initial cost, it’s clearly a good idea to think long and hard before investing in this type of heating unit.
They do offer a softer heat that lasts longer after shut off, but you should not consider this kind of unit if you aren’t up to some consistent maintenance. They’re a higher end product, but they are without a doubt more labor intensive.
Regardless of whether or not you have installed an electronic system or a hydronic system, maintenance is important for the proper function of the unit. Both systems need to be kept clear of dust and debris, but regular maintenance of the heating system is a little more complicated if you’ve chosen to go with the hydronic baseboard heating system.
The electronic baseboard heater consists of a metal shaft, which is heated via electrical power, with no moving parts. By contrast the hydronic system relies on liquid transferred through the unit during the heating process.
As we’ve mentioned as long as you keep the electric baseboard heater free of dust and debris, and you make sure to use heat resistant paint when painting the unit you can feel comfortable that your heater will continue to work worry free for years to come. The hydronic system on the other hand requires regular bleeding of the system making it a less than ideal choice for inexperienced home owners, renters, or the elderly.
Does this make the electric baseboard heater a better choice when it comes to maintenance issues? It may be easier to maintain than the hydronic units, but there is a strong argument that the type of heat given off by the hydronic unit creates a more comfortable living environment.
If properly maintained either type of unit can offer your family a comfortable heating alternative. It really depends on how much maintenance you are willing to perform on the heating system.
Like any major purchase decision, it’s not something you should enter into lightly. Weigh all your options, and make your decision based on what suits your needs, your budget, and your own personal capabilities.
Learn More: NewAir AH-600 Low Profile Baseboard Heater