Baseboard Heating vs. Forced Hot Air Systems – Which is Better?

baseboard heatWhen choosing the system to heat your home, many options are available, which can be confusing. Depending on where you live, some help may narrow down your options based on resource availability (i.e., natural gas vs. oil heat), but that doesn’t mean that you are forced into a choice that doesn’t suit your home’s needs. Let’s look at two popular options in the Northeast – baseboard heating and forced hot air systems.

Baseboard Heating 101

So, what is baseboard heating? As its name indicates, baseboard heating provides warm air through a series of floor-level heating elements. Most baseboard heating systems run directly off of electricity, although some homes utilize a hydronic or liquid-based system.

A baseboard heating system operates through a similar process as your oven does – circulating convection air currents. As cool air enters your home through windows, it sinks into the heating unit. The cold air is warmed using a series of heated fins and then circulated throughout the room as it rises. A hydronic baseboard system circulates air that is warmed using water or oil channeled through the unit after being heated by an external boiler.

Pros and Cons of Baseboard Heating

Baseboard heating provides some advantages as a home heating solution and some disadvantages. Let’s take a look at both categories.

Pros – Baseboard Heating

Before switching to baseboard heating or if you already have a baseboard heating system, there are some advantages you should know.

  1. Since baseboard heating runs off of electricity, it runs silently. No fans are turning on and off to blow air around.
  2. Inexpensive installation means that this is an affordable option for homeowners on a budget. In some cases, if a homeowner needs a supplemental heating source in a particularly cold room, baseboard heating’s low cost makes it an attractive option.
  3. Baseboard heating doesn’t require ductwork to heat a room, so it is an option for older homes that lack ducts, homeowners who cannot afford to install ductwork, or houses with additions built on slabs.

Cons – Baseboard Heating

Before you rush out to replace your existing heating system with baseboard heating, you should be aware of some disadvantages to the system.

  1. Heating is limited to the room that the system is installed. Baseboard units are installed in rooms underneath windows so cool air can enter the unit. Hallways and other areas without baseboard heaters installed will be colder than other spaces.
  2. Baseboard units can restrict room layouts and décor options. Because of the size of the unit itself and the required minimum clearance space around the unit, you may not be able to put your couch or other furniture where you want it. Floor-length draperies are no longer an option as they can restrict airflow to the unit, reducing heating efficiency.
  3. Maintenance is another concern for baseboard heating. Electric units need to be cleaned regularly as dirt and dust can severely limit the unit’s efficiency. Whole house hydronic units need to have their water lines bled on occasion as air intrudes into the system, reducing the unit’s efficacy. Additionally, a whole-house unit may not heat rooms further away as warmly as rooms closer to the boiler.
  4. A hydronic system will result in higher water costs. What is saved by using electricity may be negated by a higher water bill. Baseboard systems can be inefficient and end up costing a significant amount to run, so although the system may be inexpensive to install, it may end up costing more in the long term.

Forced Hot Air Systems 101

gas furnace
Most of us are familiar with forced hot air systems but not with how they work. Cool air is pulled into the furnace via ducts while a flame fueled by gas or oil is ignited in the burner. It warms up the heat exchanger, the heat exchanger then warms up the cool air, and finally, warm air is blown or pushed through a different set of ducts into the house’s rooms.

As with baseboard heating systems, forced air systems have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the homeowner, the home in question, and their energy needs.

Pros – Forced Hot Air Systems

  1. Forced hot air systems use furnaces powered by oil, propane, natural gas, or electricity, so homeowners have options when choosing how to power their heating systems. The only other restrictions that they might encounter would be the energy source available in their area. There are hybrid furnaces available, such as the Energy Kinetics System 2000, which a homeowner can later convert to utilize a different energy source with a simple component swap.
  2. A modern, well-maintained furnace heating system can be highly efficient at heating your home. A homeowner who upgrades old equipment can save hundreds of dollars in a single year. Breakthroughs in technology and manufacturing have led to advances in heating technology. Older furnaces operate at peak efficiency in the lower 80s. Today’s units operate at 90% or above. Improvements and advances in oil refining techniques also help improve system efficiency as well.
  3. A forced-air system will heat your home faster than any other method. Baseboard and radiant heating both rely on elements to heat up, whether they are electrical or fluidic. Forced air units can warm air up and push it through the house in almost no time at all.

Cons – Forced Hot Air Systems

  1. Forced air heat systems have one major flaw in their efficiency, ironically because of another part of the system – the ductwork. Ducts are responsible for up to 30% of heated air loss. This is why it’s vital to maintain your ductwork by regularly inspecting the seals and insulation around it, particularly where the ductwork curves.
  2. Concerns over clean air ducts came into very clear focus during the last year and a half. Filters do need to be checked and changed regularly. If your home has pets and other sources of allergens, it’s essential to change the filters more often. Even homes without animals can accrue mold, mildew, and other allergens in the filters, so changing them regularly is critical.
  3. You still may need a secondary heating method for your home. A common complaint about forced air systems is that the heating is inconsistent throughout the house. Since cold air sinks and hot air rises, efficient second-floor climate control can be tricky. Some rooms may not be capable of having forced air, particularly in older homes or homes on slabs. In this case, baseboard heating or ductless heating may need to be installed.

Which is Better – Baseboard or Forced Air?

As always, we will say that the answer to this question depends on your situation and your needs. Baseboard heating does provide homeowners will older homes or no ductwork with a way to heat the rooms in their home, although some spaces will take a long time to heat up. The initial lower installation cost could also be an attractive factor to those homeowners.

As for forced-air heating options, we tend to lean more toward these systems due to their energy efficiency, reliability, and rapid start-up time. New heating systems can save homeowners money from the day that they’re turned on. Forced air units offer homeowners more options in general, from the energy source to décor options.

Trust Tragar for Heating Maintenance, Repairs, and Upgrades

When it’s time for you to get your heating system checked, cleaned, or upgraded, call the experts at Tragar Home Services. We offer professional repair services for oil heat and gas heat systems and can diagnose, repair, or upgrade your system. Our parent company, Tragar, has served Nassau County and Suffolk County residents for over 60 years with guaranteed 5-star customer service. For information about heating system upgrades or to schedule a COD oil delivery, call Tragar Express today at (516) 206-3805