Baseboard Heating vs. Forced Air - Comparing Home Heating Systems

Radiator, thermostatic valve, baseboard heatingphoto: Pixabay

Before getting a new heating system, let's first compare baseboard heating vs. forced air and see which type is the most cost-effective, energy-efficient, easier, and cheaper to install, ensuring the most comfortable living.

Here, we will compare the pros and cons of both heating systems, how they work, and what makes one better than another.

Taking time to research the advantages, disadvantages, and options you have, is very important, because buying an HVAC system is not only expensive, but you will live with it for many years. And your comfort depends on it.

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In this article

How to choose a heating system

Since we are comparing baseboard heating vs. forced air, the best system for your home will depend on some of the following factors:

  • Is your house located in a warm or cold climate?
  • Do you need to heat just one room or an entire home?
  • Are you building a new house or modifying an existing one? In addition, does your home has ductwork, piping, and required electrical wiring?
  • What type of fuel or energy source do you want to use?
  • Are you looking for any special features such as advanced electronics and diagnostics, ultra-efficiency, portability, and such?
  • What is your budget?

Baseboard heating: Types and how they work

Baseboard heaters are slim and short heating devices designed to heat mostly one room and provide supplemental heating where needed.

They are typically installed in areas where they can reduce the cold air effect. When installed beneath the windows, they prevent cold air from leaking through the windows and affecting the room temperature. Cold air, which tends to descend to the floor, goes over and through the heaters and rises to the ceiling after picking up the heat.

This is known as convection, and that process repeats as long as heating is running, resulting in air circulation and heat distribution throughout the house.

Depending on the fuel type, baseboard heating systems can be divided into:

  • Electric baseboard heating systems
  • Hydronic baseboard heating systems

Electric baseboard heaters

Electric baseboard heaters use electricity to heat the surrounding air directly, and this process is referred to as convection.

These heaters come with housing, heating coils, and metal fins and are either hardwired into a home's main electrical panel or simply plugged into the wall outlet.

They are usually controlled by the thermostat installed on the unit or mounted on the wall.

Some models also come with a blower for faster heat delivery.

Electric heaters are one of the most expensive ways of heating a home.

Hydronic baseboard heaters

As opposed to electric, hydronic baseboard heaters first heat the heating fluid, and then the heat is transferred to the surrounding air.

These processes are referred to as radiant heating and convection.

This is why it takes longer to heat them, but it continues to heat once the system turns off. Gas and electric furnaces, heat pumps, and hydronic coils are often used to heat water.

Hot water circulates from the heat source through the pipes and baseboard heaters, where it transfers heat to the ambient air.

Such heaters are integrated into a home's central heating system and are often controlled by the thermostat installed on the wall.

The other type, which is much cheaper, is a self-contained unit with an electric heater and heating fluid contained inside the reservoir.

Self-contained baseboard heaters are very silent and simple to install. They don't require an expensive ductwork installation and can be easily installed in places for effective and reliable supplemental heating.

Those heaters that are part of the central heating system are harder to install and usually require professional installation.

Finding the right baseboard heater depends on the size of the space you want to heat and is based on the wattage and amps of the unit.

The output rating of the electric models is specified in watts, while for the hydronic heaters is in British Thermal Units or BTUs.

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Forced air heating: How they work

Forced air heating utilizing gas furnaces is the most popular heating system in North America. Except for the gas furnace, the system also utilizes ductwork to deliver heat from the source to the rest of the house. The system often includes an AC to provide central heating, cooling, and ventilation. Except for the gas-powered furnaces, there are also oil-powered and electrical ones.

Pros and cons of baseboard heating

Pros

  • Electric baseboard heaters are great for heating a room or small spaces (zone heating). Hydronic is also used for whole-house heating.
  • Great for supplemental heating.
  • Baseboard heaters are very silent when they don't use blowers.
  • Cheap to install than the forced air systems.
  • They can be used independently.
  • Easy to clean, maintain, and run.
  • Baseboard heaters do not burn fuel, produce carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases as the furnace, and won't catch fire as long as they are correctly installed.
  • Hydronic baseboard heaters do not stop producing heat due to the heated liquid, even after the system turns off.
  • Radiant heat from the baseboard heaters doesn't affect the humidity.
  • They provide even heat distribution.

Cons

  • It takes longer for baseboard heaters to warm up the room.
  • Electric heaters can be expensive to operate when used longer.
  • No options for cooling.
  • The furniture arrangement might obstruct the air and heat flow.
  • Increasing the temperature on the thermostat doesn't warm up the room any faster.

Pros and cons of forced air heating

Pros

  • Advanced gas furnaces can be very efficient, saving energy and money.
  • With the added AC, forced air systems can be used to heat and cool the whole house, using the same ducts.
  • This is a very responsive system that ensures a fast room temperature increase.
  • Reliable operation due to the proven technology.

Cons

  • While blowing the air throughout the house, forced air systems can easily distribute dust and allergens.
  • A lot of energy can be lost in uninsulated and unsealed ductwork.
  • The system is noisy when using a powerful gas burner and electric blower.
  • The HVAC system that is comprised of the furnace, AC, and ductwork can take up a huge amount of space.
  • It can dry out your home and create unbalanced humidity levels.
  • Blasts of hot air can be irritating.

Comparing costs

Costs to install a baseboard heating system

Electric baseboard heaters are among the cheapest types that can cost you from $50 to a few hundred dollars, depending on the brand, size, quality, and available options.

Hydronic baseboard heaters can cost you more, and the price can go up to $200 or even more.

Installation of the baseboard heaters can cost you between $379 and $1210, whereas the average national cost is $780.

Costs to install a forced-air heating system

Installation of the forced air heating systems in a home of 2,000 sq. ft. can cost you between $7,590 and $9,090, where the greatest expense is the furnace – between $5,000 and $6,000.

Note: The total cost depends on several factors, including the unit, labor, and material costs.

Maintenance

Baseboard heaters do not require any labor-intense maintenance. You just have to clean the dust and debris from the metal fins, ensuring proper airflow and better efficiency. Hydronic type would also need water refill and purging the air occasionally.

Also, there will be fewer failures and repairs due to the absence of the moving parts.

To maintain the good air quality in your house, air forced heaters, and their ductwork needs to be checked and cleaned professionally. This is a complex system and needs to be done correctly.

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Lifespan

With the proper and regular maintenance, gas furnaces can last at least 20 to 30 years, boilers 20-35 years, heat pumps up to 20 years, and baseboard heaters between 10 and 20 years.

Many factors can affect the unit's lifespan, including incorrect unit sizing, poor installation, maintenance, improper usage, etc.

Note that many homeowners decide to replace their old HVAC system earlier.

Baseboard heating vs. forced air - Which one to choose?

Baseboard heaters are small and compact devices that provide quiet, safe, reliable, and efficient heating without sacrificing floor space. They don't blow air as forced-air heating systems, so less allergens and dust fly around.

They are ideal for small houses and places where supplemental heating is often needed. Baseboards are also cheaper and easier to install.

Air forced heating systems are recommended for larger homes and where efficient whole-house heating is required. The most significant advantage is that they can be used for the complete climate control, including heating, ventilation, and cooling.

This robust system is expensive but effective and requires professional installation and service.

Before buying a new HVAC unit, ask your contractor to walk you through the options, help you calculate the heating load, and provide you with the total costs for the unit and installation.

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