In terms of environmental impact, electric hydronic baseboard heaters are no worse than other methods of electric heat generation because it relies on electric power which has consequences. When speaking of individual home environments, they are cleaner, quieter and can help to improve air quality inside a home. The answer is double sided, for while the electricity that reaches your home is nearly 100% efficient when turned to heat, especially with hydronic baseboard heaters, producing that same electricity often involves an energy loss. Still, the heaters themselves produce clean electric heat with few, if any environmental consequences.
The Process of Heating with Electricity
It seems so simple to the average homeowner: simply turn up the thermostat and the heater comes on, supplied with an abundant flow of energy. There is, however, more to it than that. The electricity must first be transmitted to the home, and before that it has to be produced. Those two prior stages are what cause electricity to incur a loss and to be more expensive. Most electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels to produce steam to move turbines. As much as 70% of the burned fuel is lost in this manner. Matters are further complicated during the transmission of the produced electricity. The power grid is well equipped to effectively distribute electric power, but some is still lost in the process.
This is primarily what causes electric heat to be more expensive than combustion fuels like natural gas or oil. With those, you burn the fuels directly to produce heat. With electricity, fuel is burned first to generate it then it is used to power heaters.
Environmental Advantages of Electric Hydronic Baseboard Heat
Once the electricity reaches your home, there are few environmental consequences to speak of in a larger sense. What matters then is your home environment. Electric furnaces produce hot air which is then blown through the house with a ventilation system. This type of central heating is notoriously inefficient and dirty. Dust, dirt and other allergens buildup in old vents and are continually blown around. This can wreak havoc on an inhabitant with sensitive lungs or allergies. Not only that, but because so much heat is lost in the air or wasted in unused rooms, you end up spending money on heat you never use. This is both cost inefficient and environmentally wasteful.
With electric hydronic baseboard heat, these problems are avoided. Firstly, because water is heated which in turns heat air in a room, the method of convection is cleaner. There is no dusty air being blown about haphazardly. Air is circulated, true, but it is heated on the spot by steam rather than in a central location. This method of heating is not only friendly to the breathing environment in a room, it is not environmentally wasteful in a larger sense. Each baseboard unit is independent of the next. Consequently, hot air is not circulated around the whole house, only the room(s) you are using.