Forced air vs. Baseboard


Old 04-01-08, 12:42 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 8
Forced air vs. Baseboard

Hello all,

Well I have a heating Q.
Bought a house in January and am looking at improving the heating (among other things).

Currently the house is heated with baseboard electric... which as everybody knows is a rather expensive thing to do.

Gas isn't available in my area, so right now I'm looking at a used Forced Air Electric(money is a bit of an issue).
Now I know electric is all 100% efficient regardless of source...
But I'm still under the impression that the forced air would create a warmer feeling home vs. the baseboard and thus save energy by having to run less and so forth.

Just looking for other opinions on making this swap.

The house is a bungalow and would be incredibly easy to run the duct work needed.


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Old 04-01-08, 02:19 PM
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But I'm still under the impression that the forced air would create a warmer feeling home vs. the baseboard and thus save energy by having to run less and so forth.
Not necessarily.

The baseboards heat by a combination of convection (mostly) and radiation. The radiation will heat objects and the convection will heat the air. A central system heats only by convection.

You "feel cold" when your body is radiating too much of its internal heat to the surrounding area. Of course if you cannot radiate enough of the internal heat then you feel too warm so it is a delicate balance.

There are several things that MAY contribute to lesser performance from baseboard heaters (this includes hydronic systems) and they include less-than-optimal insulation in the wall on which the baseboard is mounted, dust and dirt in the finned element, carpets or other obstructions to the airflow into the bottom of the baseboard, curtains or other obstructions to the airflow out the top of the baseboard and furniture blocking the radiant heat (less of a problem) or the airflow in and out of the baseboard.

The airflow from baseboard convectors is slow and gentle and is barely perceptible. The airflow from a central electric furnace can be quite noticeable and in poorly designed systems objectionably drafty.

Baseboard convectors are usually very quiet in operation whereas a central furnace blower can be quite noisy, especially in systems that have undersized ductwork.

Ductwork that runs through unconditioned spaces (attics and crawlspaces) needs to be sufficiently insulated. Ductwork usually leaks unless it was properly installed with sealing mastic and metal tape.

Central furnace systems do not lend themselves to "zoning" without sophisticated control systems where baseboard systems are easily zoned with just an additional thermostat.

Central systems do have the advantage of allowing the installation of various filters and humidifiers which a baseboard system cannot incorporate. Central systems, if properly designed and installed, can also be used to provide cooling and dehumidification with the addition of a cooling coil and condenser unit.

Central systems are usually considered to be safer since there is no high-temperature heating element in the living space that could under adverse conditions (a pillow falling across the top of a baseboard unit) cause a fire. Baseboards can also be a burn hazard to small children.

Central systems are ALWAYS more expensive to install, especially in a retrofit application.

The FIRST thing to do is an energy audit. Find out where your house is "leaking" heat and do the quick, simple and inexpensive things first to tighten those leaks. This mostly means to stop air infiltration with weatherstripping and caulk. Find the holes around any wiring and pipes between heated and non-heated areas and close them. Expanding foam insulation is a great way to seal around pipes and wires.

Insulate the ceilings, walls and floors to the maximum that your house and wallet allows. Windows are usually the last item on the list as long as you do not have any actual holes.
Old 04-01-08, 03:09 PM
Ed Imeduc's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Mountain Williams Missouri
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Might go to and compare fuel cost for where you are.

furd has about covered it all there. But with one last thing . With the heatpump there you also get AC in the home. Then when you are on heat in the winter. A heat pump will give you about 3 times more heat for a $1.00 than the baseboard will down to say 25F to 30F outside.
Old 04-01-08, 06:37 PM
airman.1994's Avatar
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Agree with these guys!!!
Old 04-02-08, 06:33 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 8
Ok thanks.

What I'm really looking for I guess is the efficiency of the one system vs the efficiency of the other system.

The insulation and air leaks is being taken care of as I worked in the home energy efficiency/home auditing for about a year so I'm fairly well versed in filling holes and adding insulation, caulk etc. and still have access to the blower door equipment and so forth.

What I don't know, because honestly never really looked into it as all my work was in the city where gas was available is, in a properly designed system would I be better off going with the forced air system and then later adding on parts like air conditioning, humidity control and heat pump as I can afford to do so (actually heat pump would likely come first).

Anyways in terms of system, won't be any duct work in crawl space or attic, basement is in process of being finished.

The safety conditions with living with the baseboard is one thing that does inspire me to change regardless if I don't get any efficiency gains right from the start... because we have 3 dogs in the house who shed and hair even with daily cleaning and keeping them well groomed, does ocassionally get into the baseboards.

Ed... already know my fuel costs... for the space I have and the cost of Oil, Propane or Electric, electric wins out for efficiency and cost.
I also work for a power generating company so I know how electric prices are expected to change for my area in the next 5 years.
Electric is less expensive with a properly installed efficient system right now.

I think I'm going to go with this conversion as it gives me more options for additions like central air, improves home value and takes away the worry of fires due to dog hair lodged in radiators.


Should also mention... to leave the baseboards in, I'd want to put a programmable electronic thermostat on each one, where possible (isn't always the case... some have built in that are older bimetallic and waste in the worst way).
So I'd be spending hundreds on those anyways and probably trying to replace the units with the integral bi metallic for something that either doesn't have built in and can add a line or low volt electronic or has the option of adding in an electronic stat.
So I'm looking at spending some change regardless of what I do.
Old 04-02-08, 09:01 AM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 49
Like Ed said a heat pump is about 3 times as efficient as baseboard heaters. The only problem is heat pump's efficiency generally falls off around 30 degrees so you need some sort of backup. Unless is gets really cold where you are or electricity is expensive when compared to the cost of fossil fuels I would just go with heat strips to back up the heat pump.
Old 04-02-08, 05:52 PM
Join Date: Mar 2006
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Efficiency is nothing more than energy output divided by energy input. Since both electric baseboards and central forced air electric furnaces use resistance elements to convert electrical energy to heat energy the efficiency is the same.

Where the two systems differ is HOW they deliver that heat to the living spaces. The biggest loss with a central furnace is the heat lost through the ductwork and the casing of the furnace itself. If the furnace and ductwork are all within the conditioned space then there is no measurable efficiency difference.
Old 04-03-08, 05:49 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 8

Going to save my pennies (and get an incentive application) and get a ground source heat pump.

I'm owed a favour by a contractor that, that's all he does so after a chat with him and a few others, going to go this route.


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