regular vs hydronic electric baseboards.

Client just told me today they want the hydronic type baseboards in their house. I am going to talk them out of it. All of the reasons commonly given for why they are better make my BS sensor go haywire and they are 3X the price. Does everyone agree? This is from the Marley website:

[h=2]1. Hydronic baseboard heaters maintain balanced room comfort[/h]

Because of the retention qualities of the hydronic element, gentle heat continues to radiate even after the thermostat turns off. This makes for more balanced heating and keeps the room at a comfortable temperature for extended periods of time. Other types of baseboard heaters can’t provide the same kind of balance. That’s why hydronic baseboard heaters are the ideal choice for rooms in your home where you want ultimate comfort, like the living room, bedrooms and maybe the basement. They can also help keep the chill out of kitchens and bathrooms.

[h=2]2. Hydronic baseboard heaters increase energy efficiency[/h]
With this type of baseboard heater, the thermostat cycles on and off less frequently. This lowers energy usage – and your energy bill. These energy savings make this type of heater great for homes and offices alike.

[h=2]3. Hydronic baseboard heaters are safer for children and/or pets[/h]
From playrooms and daycare facilities to veterinary clinics, hydronic heaters are the best choice for rooms where children or pets often play. These heaters have a low surface temperature, making them cooler to the touch on little hands and paws.

[h=2]4. Hydronic baseboard heaters are better for allergy sufferers[/h]
Heating fluid instead of air means more moisture in the air and less chance of dust circulating. People with allergies may notice that fewer symptoms occur in a room with hydronic baseboard heaters, making these types of heaters ideal for their homes.

I will debunk these one by one.

1. On the contrary it seems like they will result in larger temperature swings since they take longer to heat up once heat is called for, and longer to cool down once the heat setting is satisfied.

2. LOL, whatever bro.

3. They seem to be the same wattage per foot so I dont see how this could be.

4. I understand the difference between convective and radiative heat, but I dont see how a hydronic heater results in less of the former and more of the latter. That moisture argument doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

Does anyone disagree or have any other points?
 

Hv&Lv

Senior Member
Location
-
Occupation
Engineer/Technician
I could see #1 as a valid claim as long as the thermostat is left alone and not turned up and down every day.
Once the liquid is heated and the thermostat goes off I could see the slow release of stored heat as not causing temperature swings like regular baseboard heat.
when it comes back on there needs to be enough power there to reheat the liquid to hold the temperature about cut on temperature.

the last thing I would want is for the thermostat to come on and the temperature fall two more degrees before the liquid heats back up.
 

retirede

Senior Member
Location
Illinois
Thanks. Can you elaborate on the specifics of a situation where hydronic would be better per #1?
I have an example in my own home.
My office is in a corner of our basement with one wall facing outside. The central heat isn’t ducted properly to that room so I use supplemental heat when the outside temps get into single digits.

I had a conventional electric heater that would cycle on and off. As soon as it cycled off, I felt cold even though the room was up to the setting.

I now have an oil-filled electric heater. When it switches off, I don’t feel it at all because the thermal mass of the oil is still radiating heat. The heater still somewhat warm by the time the thermostat kicks back on and starts the cycle again.
In both cases, I was keeping the room at 69F.
 

texie

Senior Member
Location
Fort Collins, Colorado
Occupation
Electrician, Contractor, Inspector
In my view from a comfort stand point, the hydronic will be superior by far due to thermal mass. I also would not want electric baseboard due to the high surface temps.
Also, while the hydronic will have far higher initial cost one needs to consider operating cost. You would have to have power available down around 4 cents a KHW to even come close to natural gas cost (or even propane for that matter) firing a boiler.
 
In my view from a comfort stand point, the hydronic will be superior by far due to thermal mass. I also would not want electric baseboard due to the high surface temps.
Also, while the hydronic will have far higher initial cost one needs to consider operating cost. You would have to have power available down around 4 cents a KHW to even come close to natural gas cost (or even propane for that matter) firing a boiler.
Texie, note both types I am talking about are electric self contained. By hydronic, I dont mean a central system.

I dont see these fluid filled electric baseboards as having anywhere near enough mass to make a significant difference in holding temperature steady.
 

junkhound

Senior Member
Location
Renton, WA
BB Even worse than your list if lifetime cost considered - and comfort. Try to talk client into a mini-split - or 2?
Consider Equipment costs and operating costs
Add edit: mini-splits are also electric only self-contained!

Resistance bb - about $80 kW heat COP = 1
Hydronic bb -- about $250 kW heat COP = 1
Mini split - About $200 kW heat COP = 4+ (e.g 1/4 or less of the operating cost per BTU of heat )

1ea 18000 BTU mini-split install time about the same as installing 5 kW of separate baseboard in my experience.

Here in Seattle area, Mini split is a no-brainer from both initial cost and operating cost. * Try to talk your client into Mini-spit.. Any electrician should have the skill set tio install a mini-split, only extra equipment needed is a vacuum pump and gauge. Sub zero F in upstate NY may be a different story at times.

* and comfort - just finished a replacement for a customer whose mini-split was damaged by lightning in a once in a lifetime (for here) storm we had back in September. The owner's comment was that the couple of kW space heaters he was using in the long interim (it just now got cold here) just did not have the comfort level of the mini-split (This install is in a detached 800 sq ft office)

Only advantage IM experience is that a hydronic bb will not have the 'burnt dust' smell you get from resistance baseboard the first time they come on in the fall.
 

texie

Senior Member
Location
Fort Collins, Colorado
Occupation
Electrician, Contractor, Inspector
Texie, note both types I am talking about are electric self contained. By hydronic, I dont mean a central system.

I dont see these fluid filled electric baseboards as having anywhere near enough mass to make a significant difference in holding temperature steady.
Now I understand. I still think the so called hydronic electric baseboard are better. But I guess only the customer can determine the value.
 

LarryFine

Master Electrician Electric Contractor Richmond VA
Location
Henrico County, VA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
1. I can see this making sense. It's like a faster version of a brick or concrete structure absorbing heat from the sun during the day and emitting it at night.

2. No. I takes a certain amount of energy to replace a given heat loss. Over time, different duty cycles lose their differences.

3. If they're cooler, they have to run longer, so, as in #2, it's a wash.

4. Unless they're leaking, how could their internal fluid add humidity to the room?


As I once told a friend who asked about adding hydronic heaters to a poorly-heated condo, you're better off spending the money on improving insulation and sealing.
 
BB Even worse than your list if lifetime cost considered - and comfort. Try to talk client into a mini-split - or 2?
Consider Equipment costs and operating costs
Add edit: mini-splits are also electric only self-contained!

Resistance bb - about $80 kW heat COP = 1
Hydronic bb -- about $250 kW heat COP = 1
Mini split - About $200 kW heat COP = 4+ (e.g 1/4 or less of the operating cost per BTU of heat )

1ea 18000 BTU mini-split install time about the same as installing 5 kW of separate baseboard in my experience.

Here in Seattle area, Mini split is a no-brainer from both initial cost and operating cost. * Try to talk your client into Mini-spit.. Any electrician should have the skill set tio install a mini-split, only extra equipment needed is a vacuum pump and gauge. Sub zero F in upstate NY may be a different story at times.

* and comfort - just finished a replacement for a customer whose mini-split was damaged by lightning in a once in a lifetime (for here) storm we had back in September. The owner's comment was that the couple of kW space heaters he was using in the long interim (it just now got cold here) just did not have the comfort level of the mini-split (This install is in a detached 800 sq ft office)

Only advantage IM experience is that a hydronic bb will not have the 'burnt dust' smell you get from resistance baseboard the first time they come on in the fall.
I hear ya, I tried and the GC tried too. They seem to just be focused on initial cost not long term. Splits work down to -10 or so, so they work great even here in central NY.
 

StarCat

Senior Member
Location
Moab, UT USA
Since I have discovered Electric Cove heaters, I would recommend them to baseboard electric hands down, and the Ceramics are also quite interesting.
The things these people need to get about hydronic, is there is a LOT more to go wrong, and a bad install [which are common these days] can and may haunt them for a long time. The quality of workmanship on hydronics has fallen way down along with the entire craft Hydronic is truly an HVACR territory but is typically installed by plumbers. Doing a very solid reliable install takes savvy, time, and quality of materials. They cannot be thrown together.This should give pause.
The merits of electric individual zones are that your entire system is very unlikely to fail all at once which is not so with hydronic. The complexity of hydronic can make it where repairs are definitely not possible on the same day of the failure.
A good wood stove and come cove heaters go a long way on the reliability and redundancy front. I would make these points right out of the gate and look into the overhead coves and ceramics.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
The bottom line is this. It does not matter much if the BTUs come from an electric heater that heats air directly or one that heats a liquid directly. The same amount of BTUs is required to keep the room at the same temperature.

Having said that, there is some merit to the use of hydronic heaters because they have more thermal mass so they tend to limit the temperature swings better. This might make it more comfortable in the room and might even lead to the occupant lowering the thermostat a degree or two, which will save some energy.

The humidity thing is another sort of true statement. Direct air heaters seem to tend to make the air less humid faster for some reason. I don't know if it is real or not but a house that has forced air and/or typical electric heat will be less humid than the same house that has hot water heat. it is very noticeable,
 

PaulMmn

Senior Member
Location
Union, KY, USA
I have 3 of these along the walls of my living room. They're about 4 or 5 feet long and about 7-8" tall. The stick out from the wall about 2-3".

If you remove the front panel (held on with some springy prongs) there's a heating unit that is stuck into a loop of pipe with fins. The heating element heats the liquid in the pipe, which circulates and heats up the whole length.

They are a nice, even (dry) heat. There'd only be moisture if you placed a skinny bowl of water on top and let the heat evaporate the water.

The temperature is even along the length of the unit. You can touch the top of the radiator and not get burned.

I'd agree that #1 is true-- it's an even heat.

#2 is anyone's guess. Sounds like the marketing department at work.

#3 I'd agree- you're not likely to get burned touching the radiator. It may be uncomfortable to leave your body part touching it, but I don't think you'd get a serious burn.

#4 I think this is more marketing. The only fluid involved is sealed inside copper pipes with fins all over them that live inside the housing.

One use I've found is to help prevent fires-- any of those candles-in-a-jar that smell nice when burned work just fine sitting on top of the radiator. No flame required. Pumpkin spice, Christmas Tree, and Apple Pie are my favorites.
 

LarryFine

Master Electrician Electric Contractor Richmond VA
Location
Henrico County, VA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I think StarCat is envisioning a central circulating hot-water baseboard heat system, and everyone else is thinking about individual oil-filled baseboard units.
 
Having said that, there is some merit to the use of hydronic heaters because they have more thermal mass so they tend to limit the temperature swings better. This might make it more comfortable in the room and might even lead to the occupant lowering the thermostat a degree or two, which will save some energy.
,
I am still not buying that argument. Lets break this thermal mass idea down. I see it on the micro scale, and on the macro scale. On the macro scale thermal mass is good because a large thermal mass will regulate temperature swings and hold heat. Think of a masonry fireplace, or tile floor heated by the sun through windows. These can hold a significant amount of heat potentially for hours. I dont see these oil filled heaters having anywhere near enough mass to make a difference in this. We are talking what half a pound of fluid against all the stuff in a room, drywall, etc. On the micro scale, we have an individual heater taking a few more minutes to warm up and a few more minutes to cool down. I think this is actually a negative - you cant have it both ways - even if you get a noticeable benefit from the unit cooling off more gradually, the unit will take more time to come up to temperature, and I would say then it is more likely someone will feel cold and turn up the tstat.
 

PaulMmn

Senior Member
Location
Union, KY, USA
... I dont see these oil filled heaters having anywhere near enough mass to make a difference in this. We are talking what half a pound of fluid against all the stuff in a room...
More like 2-3 gallons of oil-- we're talking baseboard units; they look much like a plumbed radiator, but they're all-electric. About 4-5 feet long, with a loop of copper tubing (3/4" or so?). Granted, compared to the contents of the room, not a lot. But on a cold night, they'll kick on and keep going until the room is toasty! Or, at least enough to keep the plants alive!
 

LarryFine

Master Electrician Electric Contractor Richmond VA
Location
Henrico County, VA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I keep my HVAC fan on "on" rather than on "auto". A T-stat can only maintain the temperature where it is located, typically in a hallway, so the fan makes sure the T-stat "knows" the temperature in the rooms where the windows are. Otherwise, the room temps could rise or fall by many degrees waiting for the hall temp to rise or fall one or two degrees. This would create a wider temp swing, leading to a cycle of discomfort, and possibly having to set a temp higher lower than that actually desired.

Likewise, a baseboard heater can only attempt to maintain the temp where it is located, whether on the unit itself (portable or hard-wired) or on the wall (hard-wired only). A heater with a slower temp swing (thermal inertia) may vary more slowly, or less often, but may not vary less in temp swing unless the T-stat has a smaller on-off offset (hysteresis (?)). The question is whether this translates to a smaller temp swing on the other side of the room. My guess is that it will not make a difference.

Now, if I was using a typical portable fan-forced heater, I'd rewire it (which I have done) so the fan stays on instead of cycling with the heater. As at home, this definitely translates into a smaller temp swing for the heated parties, and for the same reasons: more consistent conditions and better "sampling" of the heated environment. After all, we are discussing creature comfort in real environments, and not measured experiments under laboratory conditions. As always, your mileage may vary.
 

tom baker

First Chief Moderator
Staff member
I have a portable oil heater for my 25 ft trailer. Its quiet (no fan) and safe. I can set the t-stat to match the heat loss, so there are no temperature swings. There are many fires from electric wall heaters..
 
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