How much do electric baseboard heaters cost to replace?

This member had electric baseboard heaters installed as part of a basement remodel. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Michael P. of Chicago)

This member had electric baseboard heaters installed as part of a basement remodel. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Michael P. of Chicago)

While forced air heating has become common across the United States thanks to improved efficiency and easy pairing with home cooling systems, electric baseboard heaters remain a popular and economic choice. Although they have fewer moving parts than a forced air counterpart, these heaters still require maintenance and will eventually need replacement. 

A hot commodity

Baseboard heating has remained popular in the United States for several reasons. First is price. A single room usually costs between $100 and $150 for materials and installation, whereas forced air furnace systems are easily $5,000 for a moderately-sized house.

In addition, baseboard options give you room-by-room control, rather than using a "universal" setting that creates both cool and warm spots in your home. It's also worth noting that many of these heaters are 100 percent efficient, meaning all electricity used is converted directly to heat.

If you need to replace a baseboard heater, you have two choices: electric convection heaters or hydronic heaters. Both types fit snugly against baseboards in any room and are ideally suited for placement under windows or near drafty doorways. Keep in mind, however, that you should not place anything less than 12 inches above these heaters as it may catch fire.

Electric heaters use heating coils, much like a toaster, to heat your room. Once connected to your electrical system, you simply turn the heater on, and it draws in cool air from the floor, heats it and pushes it out into the room. Downsides to these heaters include less efficient energy transfer than hydronic options and quick dispersion of heat once they are turned off.

Hydronic or oil-filled heaters have a sealed pipe of either water or oil inside their casings, which is warmed via heating coils. Once the water or oil is hot enough, it begins to heat the surrounding air. Electricity-to-heat ratios are excellent with this type of heater, and they stay warmer much longer after being turned off. Expect longer initial heating times, however, as the sealed fluid warms up.

Replacement: why and how

You'll need to replace your old heaters if the elements inside become corroded or damaged. The first sign will be a lack of heat, or a convection system that takes far too long to warm a room.

It's also worth considering replacement to improve safety because newer models come with temperature limit switches that automatically shut off the heater if too-high temperatures are detected. And in many states, homes with forced air furnaces sell more quickly because they can be easily adapted to include add-on systems like humidifiers or central air conditioning.

To replace a baseboard heater, start by turning off the appropriate breaker in your circuit panel. Next, pull the wires from the panel and cut them, then twist them together and attach a plastic wire cap. Remove the heater's cover and cut the power wire there as well, then unscrew the panel from the wall.

In the case of a hot-water or oil system do the same, but ensure there are no leaks in the pipe. If there are, or if you have a boiler-fed hot water system, make sure the water is cold and drain the heater before removing it.

Costs of removal

Removing baseboard heaters isn't terribly time-consuming, meaning your main concern needs to be safety, not speed.

If you're replacing the system with a forced-air furnace, you'll likely need to do some wall repairs where the heaters used to sit. If you have a leaky hydronic heater, you'll possibly deal with mold or rot.

All told, the cost of a straightforward removal should be less than $100 and take only a few days. If you're replacing old heaters with new versions, however, or if you're hoping to tackle your entire home at the same time, consider hiring an HVAC professional. A reputable pro can safety disconnect — and more importantly, reconnect — your heaters and make sure your panel is properly wired and provides the right kind of electrical service. In addition, contractors can often identify root causes of heating issues, such as improper insulation or cracks around windows that can affect the heat in your home no matter what kind of system you choose.

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