Not all heating options are the same. This is especially true when heating areas such as a garage workshop, your attic, or your recently renovated basement. One practical solution for spaces of these types is baseboard heating, as a heating solution that is low to ground can get the air circulated where you need it and when conventional heating is not quite up to the task.
So, how do you get started?
In today’s article, we’ll explore baseboard heating options in-depth, with some simple calculations that can help you to know exactly how much heat you’ll need, recommended wattage, and even the optimal length of your baseboard heater. With these tips, you’ll have all that you need to ensure that those difficult-to-heat areas will be toasty-warm this winter!
Let’s look at what you need to know to implement a baseboard heating solution in your home or business workspace!
How much baseboard heat do I need?
The simplest answer is that you will need to determine the square footage, then take this number and multiply it by 10 to find out how many watts you will require. So, if you have a 15 x 15-foot room, then this comes out to 225 square feet. 225 multiplied by 10 means that you will need 2250 watts of power from your heater to heat this room.
There are a few other variables to factor in, but this calculation gets you started, and we’ll detail the additional variables later in this article so that you can make an accurate assessment of your building’s exact requirements.
Baseboard Heater Basics
While the math can you to your specific requirements, a basic understanding of how standard baseboard heating works will help to make the task much less daunting. Baseboard heaters are not all that complicated, and if you’ve seen them before, then you’ve probably noticed that they are placed, whenever possible, below windows.
There is a practical reason for this. When it comes to household insulation, windows are the traditional ‘weak spot’ where heat seeps out, and the cold enters your home. This cold air is pulled into the vent with a baseboard heater under the window, where an array of heated metal fins warms it.
The warm air is circulated back out, and the process keeps repeating so that now instead of feeling cold air around your windows, you have a convection current of that heated air that quickly warms the room. All this, of course, by courtesy of your baseboard heater.
Hydronic Electric Baseboard Heaters vs. Standard
Now that you know how standard baseboard heaters work, you should be aware of another kind of baseboard heater. A hydronic electric baseboard heater is a more energy-efficient version of the standard baseboard heater.
So, how does it work? Why is a newer design needed?
Well, the problem with most standard baseboard heaters is the electrical draw. If they are not installed strategically, then those windows and other cold spots in your house mean that the heater needs to keep running, raising electricity consumption and your costs.
A hydronic electric baseboard heater solves this problem by only using electricity as a PART of the heating process. The way they work is quite clever, with electricity being drawn in lesser amounts to generate heat and warm liquid inside the heating unit – typically water or oil – so that this heated fluid radiates the heat of its own.
So, by comparison, a standard heater uses a constant electric supply to create a convection current of heating, while a hydronic system heats with 2 methods. The hydronic heater gives you the convection current to supplement the heat radiated from the heated fluids inside.
Smart, simple, and very efficient!
Calculating Heater Wattage: A Quick and Easy Method
Now that we’ve established the two choices of standard and hydronic baseboard heats and you know how they work, it’s time for the math that you will need to ensure that your area is sufficiently heated. We mentioned that you need to calculate the room’s square footage and multiply this by 10 to determine the required watts.
In our first example, a 15 x 15-foot room comes out to 225 square feet and requires 2250 watts of power from the heater for ideal heating. Now we need to factor in some important variables to get the most accurate numbers:
Modern or maximized insulation – Modern insulating materials make a huge difference, especially if you have invested in additional insulation strategies to maximize your energy efficiency. For homes where insulation is above the norm, instead of multiplying by 10 to get your wattage, multiply your square footage by 7.5. 225 square feet x 7.5 means it would require approximately 1688 (1687.6) watts in this home.
Ceiling height – Heat rises, so we need to account for ceiling size. The average ceiling height is 8 feet, but if your ceiling is closer to 10 feet, this adds 25% to your wattage requirement. If your ceiling is closer to 12 feet, then you’ll need to add 50% to your heating requirement. So, with our example requirement of 2250 watts for a standard home, a 10-foot or a 12-foot ceiling would require an additional 562.5 or 1125 watts, respectively.
Older homes/low insulation scenarios – Older homes tend to be cold, as insulation strategies are unlikely to approach modern standards, so we must adjust accordingly. To get a rough estimate, multiply your square footage by 12.5 instead of 10, and you’ll get a ‘ballpark figure’ of what you will need. So, 225 square feet multiplied by 12.5 give us a wattage requirement of 2812 (2812.5) watts.
This is one method that you may use to determine your requirements. Another way to go about it that is preferred by some is by calculating the length of the baseboard heater.
You may, of course, use whichever method you prefer, and we include this second method so that you have the option to use this instead if you prefer.
We’ll also list Manufacturer recommendations shortly, just in case you don’t want to go with either of the calculation methods, so don’t worry if the math seems like a lot of work. We’re just giving you all of the options so that you can choose the best solution for you!
Calculating by Length of Baseboard Heater
Your average 240-volt baseboard heater is going to produce roughly 250 watts, on average, per linear foot of length. With this assumption, we start by multiplying your square footage by 9.
So, if we have 225 square feet multiplied by 9, that gives us a base wattage requirement of 2025 watts. Now, we need to add 10%/202.5 watts for each of the following instances:
- Each opening from the room that leads directly outside (meaning every window and every exterior door)
- Every ceiling over 8 feet
- Every exterior wall
- Overall poor wall insulation
- A space under the room that is uninsulated
Once you have added 10% for the applicable items from this list, take your total and divide it by 250, and you will have the length in feet of the baseboard heater you will require.
With a base calculation of 2025 watts, we have 2 exterior walls (+20% / 405-watt adjustment) and 2 windows (+20%/405-watt percent adjustment). Our wattage requirement is now a base of 2025 watts, plus 810 watts, for a total of 2835 watts.
Divide this by 250 watts per linear foot, and you need a baseboard heater approximately 11.34 feet wide.
Manufacturer’s Recommended Heating Needs
When you are heater shopping, you can go with the manufacturer’s recommended minimums. Still, we highly recommend that you keep factors such as high ceilings in mind and consider ‘rounding up’ to ensure proper coverage.
That said, while you can get these minimums quoted at the hardware store, let’s look at some Manufacturer recommended minimums just so that you can see how much they differ from the more exact calculation methods we’ve provided. Here are some examples, including amperage with a 240-volt unit:
100 square feet – A minimum of 900 watts and 15-amp circuit required
500 square feet – A minimum of 4500 watts and 30-amp circuit required
1000 square feet – A minimum of 9000 watts and 50-amp circuit required
Sizing baseboard heater
While the Manufacturer minimums can give you a good baseline, you’ll best determine proper heater sizing by taking your square footage and multiplying by 10, then adjusting to factor in high ceilings and superior or poor insulation for the building.
Once you’ve got your approximation, play it safe by ‘rounding up’ and getting a little more than what your calculations show that you need.
Example: So, for a room that is 10 x 10, give us 100 square feet to heat, requiring 1000 watts.
Say this room has 10-foot ceilings and one window. This means we need to add 100 watts for each, for a total of 1200 watts required. To play it safe, 1300 watts should meet your requirements.
How to Make Baseboard Heaters More Efficient
Now that you know how to calculate your requirements, there are a few quick tips that we can share which will help you to get the most out of your baseboard heating solution:
- Fall cleaning – Dust impedes airflow and reduces performance. So it would be best if you did a good wipe-down of baseboard units and some spot vacuuming with a hand vacuum every fall. Professional inspections can also head off trouble before winter comes and should be considered.
- Get a programmable thermostat – Calculating optimal heat generally requires factoring in 5% thermostat adjustment for every degree above 68 Fahrenheit… or you can let a computer do it. Programmable thermostats can be set or, in some cases, even adjust to optimal settings and take the work out of keeping warm.
- Decrease drafts – Window films and blinds are examples of ways to reduce the drafts produced by your windows. You might be surprised how much difference this makes, so consider shoring up these weak spots in your heating strategy, and you can reap the rewards in warmth and utility-bill savings.
In Conclusion: Get out the Calculator now, and you’ll need it Less Later
Calculating your exact baseboard heating requirements sounds daunting at first, but as you can see, it is not quite as complicated as all that. In most cases, multiply your square footage by 10 and factor in exterior walls, windows, and high ceilings.
After that, round up so that you’ve got a little more than you need and take advantage of our tips to get even more mileage out of your new baseboard heaters. When the winter comes, you’ll be happy that you did!