Should I convert to baseboard heating?

32 Replies

I have a duplex that has two really old gas furnaces that are about to die on me. Instead of dropping $6000 on two new ones, I have contemplated replacing the heating with baseboard electric heat throughout. 

This place seems harder to rent with it being gas, so converting to electric would help keep it rented. I already have multiple houses with baseboard heating and I love not having to change filters and not having to worry about replacing an expensive furnace. The AC is window units. I'm looking to hold these very long term as rentals. Any info would be appreciated. Thank you.

@Zac P.   what is the cost for the conversion to electric baseboard heat? Seems like that would result in much higher utility bills for the tenant?

Originally posted by @Travis Sperr :

@Zac P.  what is the cost for the conversion to electric baseboard heat? Seems like that would result in much higher utility bills for the tenant?

 I do not know. I had not gotten that quoted out yet. I need to. However, I was thinking that electric heat from the baseboard heaters would heat cheaper than a gas furnace. Maybe that's incorrect, but that's the opinion of most of my tenants and potential tenants as well. 

Pros and cons to both - I am not as familiar with the winters as I am the bourbon in KY. With the baseboard heat there is a strong argument for only heating what you need rather than the whole house. The cost of electricity is more than gas.

There is also typically a value adjustment for electric baseboard vs gas forced air- less of concern if you plan to hold for long term.

You might find that when you start pricing the install, with an electrician, potentially more circuits, dry wall repair, etc that the furnace isn't so bad after all. The furnace can likely be replaced in one day in the event it goes out during the winter.

I am curious as to what you find.

@Zac P.  

Convection electric resistance heating {aka: electric baseboard, EBB} while theoretically approaching 100% efficiency in converting electricity to heat suffers from the convection part of its name, which makes it more difficult to disperse and regulate heat in an even and timely manner. {The are especially affected by drafts}

Material wise, EBB, is inexpensive:  $25 - $75 for a classic style heater; about 50% more for a modern heater with zigbee/Z-wave capability to tie into a house/unit-wide programmable thermostat or management system.   Installation can also be inexpensive if installation is carried out before drywall is up ... a little more if you need to chase wires.

The big downside of EBB is its operating costs ... you won't be doing your tenants any favours (other than independent control of individual rooms) unless you take measures to air seal and improve the insulation of the envelope.

We've begun installing ductless mini-splits in our units during renovation (we are using Mitsubishi Mr. Slim line as they are the most efficient product line presently on the market).  The acquisition cost is little more, but installation should be easier and cheaper.  In places with real winter, you will likely be required to have an auxiliary heating source such as EBB (but not as many of them).

If you are determined look into electric baseboards, have a look at thermal storage heaters.  These are essentially larger baseboards filled with a thermal mass (brick/stone/etc) and a control unit which can be configured to take advantage of off-peak hydro rates and charge the thermal mass when electricity prices are lower.

Originally posted by @Zac P. :
Originally posted by @Travis Sperr:

@Zac P.  what is the cost for the conversion to electric baseboard heat? Seems like that would result in much higher utility bills for the tenant?

 I do not know. I had not gotten that quoted out yet. I need to. However, I was thinking that electric heat from the baseboard heaters would heat cheaper than a gas furnace. Maybe that's incorrect, but that's the opinion of most of my tenants and potential tenants as well. 

 Zac,

Maybe cheaper for you (to install), but more costly for your tenants to operate ... unless you live in a place with abundant hydro-electric generation and have a low cost per kW.

I like electric baseboard heaters. I am in the process of building passive solar duplexes (www.emmasacresllc.com) that will use EBH as a back up heating source. Tenants will pay their own utilities however I will also be installing solar hot water and solar electric systems to the electric costs will be minimized. 

We have electric heat on one place and all I get is complaints on cost. I wish we could do gas but it isn't available. When we rebuild this place as we will one day I look to get out of electric baseboard. A key point is you need sufficient electricity to get the baseboard in each room to the level of heat you need. If you don't have enough amps you will not be able to do it. Also the length of the baseboard figures into how much heat you produce in a given room so we found undersized baseboards in some rooms when we bought the house.  

I haven't found any electric heater that gives more heat for less money but if someone know of something please post.  Are the mini-splits cheaper to run? 

I would never convert to electric baseboard heating. The costs are much higher than an natural gas furnace. You should be able to get a pretty darn efficient natural gas furnace for $2,200 installed with direct vent which is probably an upgrade from your current set up. Look for a smaller HVAC company as they will be cheaper and probably have better techs than the bigger companies which market a ton. As Roy said it is l so a good idea to tighten up the house envelope. I always go with energy efficient windows when I replace. Then educate your tenants on the cost savings on your particular furnace. I have had success with this strategy. I do very in wisconsin which has colder winters than Kentucky I imagine. 

If your tenants prefer electric heat, your tenants are very, very ignorant of the operating costs.

It does seem very strange that tenants would prefer electric over gas - especially in a climate where it can get pretty cold.  Gas is cheaper and usually provides better heat.

Is the range/oven gas - that one is more of preference and I can see hat one being more of turn-off.

In my experience, the tenants complain either way when it comes to gas vs. electric. 

The biggest complaint about gas may center around the crazy deposits they can charge here in KY, as there is basically a monopoly on gas.  It's not unheard of for a tenant with bad credit to have to pay a $500-$600+ gas deposit, which they are NOT happy about.  On top of that, they will see a $400+ gas bill a few times a year. The gas company also keeps very good track of non-payers :)  

The people that complain about electric are griping about the seemingly constant increases we are seeing in KY in per Kwh charegs, and if they have a heat pump, the crazy high electric bill that comes with it running on EMER heat when the weather is really cold. See last year's polar vortex complaints with lots people VERY unhappy about heat pumps :)  We had some tenants with electric bills over $700.

It's also been my experience when a tenant sees an ad for an all electric home, they expect it to be central HVAC, not baseboard\window units.  We had one unit with BBH and window units, and the first time we showed it, a few people mentioned it. We have since put in central HVAC.

Just my 2 cents...

I recommend using a vent free gas fireplace. 

Lowes: Pleasant Hearth 45.7-in Dual-Burner Vent-Free Mink Natural Gas or Liquid Propane Fireplace with Thermostat $799

You will want the $99 blower attachment with it.

This is an easy alternative and attractive feature. Reasonably priced, it can be done quickly and with little experience.

@Roy N.    That mitisbushi split line sounds interesting - just for the fact that its ductless. Can you give us an idea of how much those things cost and what kind of square footage one might cover?

Also, is that a heating and cooling unit?

I'm interested because I just started working with an assisted living type company that wants to rent homes from me to provide their services. They're a very large company so I'm giving it on a try one of the houses I just finished the rehab on. 

But the catch with them is that they require 4 bedroom ranch homes. Not many of those around. So I've been considering houses with garage conversions and the gotcha I'm running into there is getting heat/air in there. Had seen these mitsibushi units on tv and while I was in the ukraine a few years ago and thought they might work.

They seemed kind of pricey to me though..... I think I saw something like 1,500? Is that right?

Originally posted by @Colleen F. :

I haven't found any electric heater that gives more heat for less money but if someone know of something please post.  Are the mini-splits cheaper to run? 

Colleen:

Less money as in acquisition costs or operating costs?

Acquisition cost wise, low-end electric baseboards are probably the cheapest.  However there are many which deliver better heat at a lower cost.  Leading the list would be a ductless heat pump.   After there are electric thermal storage units, fan-drive convection and {some} fan assisted heaters which will operate at lower costs.

The Mitsubishi mini-split we are using has an HSPF factor of 13 (highest we've found) for a 3/4 tonne unit and 12.5 for a 1-tonne unit.   They operate down to ~-25C (-13 to -15F), however below -5F -15C they nearing the efficiency of a electric baseboard (COPS of 1).  At freezing, the are almost 3 times more efficient than an electric baseboard.

@Caden Properties ... I cannot imagine it ever getting cold enough in Kentucky that you would loose the advantage of a high-efficiency heat pump.   We typically have a month a winter with highs between 0F and 15F and lows down to -30F.  Even in these harsh conditions, a heat pump will provide savings over electric resistance heating alone.  That said, no method of heating will be overly efficient if you have poor insulation (<R24 - 36 in walls; R50 - R60 in the attic) and draughts due to poor air sealing.

Originally posted by @Mike H. :

@Roy N.   That mitisbushi split line sounds interesting - just for the fact that its ductless. Can you give us an idea of how much those things cost and what kind of square footage one might cover?

Also, is that a heating and cooling unit?

I'm interested because I just started working with an assisted living type company that wants to rent homes from me to provide their services. They're a very large company so I'm giving it on a try one of the houses I just finished the rehab on. 

But the catch with them is that they require 4 bedroom ranch homes. Not many of those around. So I've been considering houses with garage conversions and the gotcha I'm running into there is getting heat/air in there. Had seen these mitsibushi units on tv and while I was in the ukraine a few years ago and thought they might work.

They seemed kind of pricey to me though..... I think I saw something like 1,500? Is that right?

 Mike,

There are three models in the family: 3/4 tonne, 1 tonne, 1.5 tonne.   The one you select will depend on the size of the area, the air tightness and insulation of your envelope, and your environment.   Up here they are run between $2100 and $2600 ... but that's after the slide in the Loonie these past few weeks.   In the U.S.A, they can be found between $1500 and $2K. 

We're using the 3/4 tonne model in an 1100 - 1300 ft^2 unit ... with the exception of the end-unit in the building, there we used a 1-tonne due to the extra external walls (though I think it was overkill since we insulate the walls to ~R24 an air sealed the envelope).

The 3/4 tonne unit has a Heating Season Performance Factor (HSPF) of 13.5, the one tonne 12.5 and the 1.5 tonne 12.  On the cooling side {not as important here, so my recollection may be off}, the 3/4 tonne is 30.5; the 1-tonne is 26 and the 1.5 tonne 22.

As a comparison, the better ducted heat-pumps have an HSPF of 10 and an SEER of 18.

$1500.  may be expensive up-front, but operationally, it will pay for itself in 3-4 winters.

Originally posted by @James Klafehn :

I like electric baseboard heaters. I am in the process of building passive solar duplexes (www.emmasacresllc.com) that will use EBH as a back up heating source. Tenants will pay their own utilities however I will also be installing solar hot water and solar electric systems to the electric costs will be minimized. 

 James,

We have one property with solar thermal for DHW.  We use the solar to preheat into a large (100usg) storage tank, then each unit has an in-line water heater to raise the temperature (if needed) on the way to the unit.   Tenants love it.

Yup me too. I lucked out and found a solar hot water company that was going out of business. I bought all of their remaining inventory for pennies on the dollar. I installed the equipment on all of my properties. I have pretty huge systems. 

Originally posted by @James Klafehn :

Yup me too. I lucked out and found a solar hot water company that was going out of business. I bought all of their remaining inventory for pennies on the dollar. I installed the equipment on all of my properties. I have pretty huge systems. 

 Me, three.  We have a relatively small solar hot water system that preheats water in an 80 gal tank. The water goes from there into two standard 40 gal gas hot water heaters, which only come on when the roof is covered with snow.  I just ordered a data logger so I can monitor the temperature of the 80 gal storage tank - came in the mail today so it'll be fun to see what the actual temperatures are (instead of just feeling the pipe with my hand to see that it's warm)

Originally posted by @Tanya F. :
Originally posted by @James Klafehn:

Yup me too. I lucked out and found a solar hot water company that was going out of business. I bought all of their remaining inventory for pennies on the dollar. I installed the equipment on all of my properties. I have pretty huge systems. 

 Me, three.  We have a relatively small solar hot water system that preheats water in an 80 gal tank. The water goes from there into two standard 40 gal gas hot water heaters, which only come on when the roof is covered with snow.  I just ordered a data logger so I can monitor the temperature of the 80 gal storage tank - came in the mail today so it'll be fun to see what the actual temperatures are (instead of just feeling the pipe with my hand to see that it's warm)

 Tanya,

If you are using downstream, gas fired storage tanks, you will incur the standby losses of those tanks and the cost to fire them to keep temperature.  This was the reason we opted for in-line heaters after the solar thermal storage.   What would be interesting is to convert one unit to in-line and compare the operating costs.

Originally posted by @Roy N.   N.:
Originally posted by @Tanya F.:
Originally posted by @James Klafehn:

Yup me too. I lucked out and found a solar hot water company that was going out of business. I bought all of their remaining inventory for pennies on the dollar. I installed the equipment on all of my properties. I have pretty huge systems. 

 Me, three.  We have a relatively small solar hot water system that preheats water in an 80 gal tank. The water goes from there into two standard 40 gal gas hot water heaters, which only come on when the roof is covered with snow.  I just ordered a data logger so I can monitor the temperature of the 80 gal storage tank - came in the mail today so it'll be fun to see what the actual temperatures are (instead of just feeling the pipe with my hand to see that it's warm)

 Tanya,

If you are using downstream, gas fired storage tanks, you will incur the standby losses of those tanks and the cost to fire them to keep temperature.  This was the reason we opted for in-line heaters after the solar thermal storage.   What would be interesting is to convert one unit to in-line and compare the operating costs.

Hi Roy,

@Roy (not getting the mention to work)

Yes, it'd be really interesting to compare the operating costs for inline heaters and for this gas/solar system. If I was going to be revamping the whole hot water system, it would make a lot of sense to use inline water heaters together with the solar hot water system as you describe, especially if was an area where the storage tank temperature was often over 120 degrees.

The *hope* is that at least some of the time the preheated water from the storage tank will be over 120 degrees, so this hotter water feeding the gas fired tanks would mostly remove the need for firing up to keep temperature.  We'll get an accurate indicator of operating costs in the summer for one apartment, because the water heater is the only gas appliance for that unit- and the furnace will be off. The other unit also has a gas range in the kitchen.

This system is a retrofit of sorts because of the order of events during installation and the unknown expectations for the solar system (re installation date and performance).  I imagine it's fairly common to install solar hot water as a retrofit.  Our backstory:

2011- new roof, remove chimney that was in need of repair. Update old gas water heaters to direct vent- out the side of the house so that chimney was no longer needed. These are relatively high efficiency water heaters. I'm under the impression that the cost to maintain temperature is minimal. Again, we'll see what the tenants' summer gas bills look like.

2014 - solar hot water system becomes operational, 80gal storage tank feeding the two existing 40gal gas fired heaters. The collectors are a vacuum tube system my dad designed. Test installations with a few collectors on a smaller scale (with the storage tank 5 feet away) works great, and a home installation with a huge number of collectors on a huge house with a swimming pool works great (with expensive controllers and sensors- out of our price range, even with family discount!), but our system is the first installation where a small number of collectors (8ftx 7ft area- the third photo from the top on the above web link) are preheating water in a storage tank 4 stories away. There is no controller- the antifreeze is recirculated by a  pump driven by a tiny dedicated PV panel, so the DC pump just runs whenever the sun is out.  It's a test for a minimalist, low-cost system. This is certainly warming the water significantly, but still in need of optimization (with respect to flow rates for the recirculation system to optimize heat exchange) - hence the data logging.   So our tenants have been mostly using gas fired hot water.  We're lucky that both of the units are currently occupied by engineers (!).  

Anyway, sorry to hijack, OP.  :-)

With respect to the topic of the thread - 

The upstairs apartment  has a Mitsubishi mini-split ductless system that works great for heating and AC. It ALSO has an electric baseboard heater for the bathroom because of air flow consideration. The system is in its first season of operation now, so we don't know how much (or little) it will all cost to run, solar hot water, ductless split, and baseboard combined. More to report next year!  We pay the electric bill. It hasn't been a very cold winter so far.

On my flips, if the furnace is questionable, I convert to electric baseboard. I have not had any buyers complain about electric baseboard in the past two years (5 flips).

Originally posted by @Kevin McGinnis :

On my flips, if the furnace is questionable, I convert to electric baseboard. I have not had any buyers complain about electric baseboard in the past two years (5 flips).

 Kevin,

If the furnace (implying forced air) is questionable, why not leverage the existing ductwork and install a heat pump?   You'll add more value and your buyers will have lower heating & cooling costs.

Is the gas propane,or natural gas ?

  I have 3 units with electric baseboard , no complaints .  These properties were heating oil or propane .  Tenants would complain that furnaces used too much oil , or they didnt have money for oil or propane .  With the electric they get on budget billing with the electric company .  Little or no maintenance , for summer tenants supply their own window units for A/C . 

I would stick with gas forced air. It may be a little more up front but you already have all of that ductwork run throughout, so why waste it.

You might want to consider adding central A/C. It will cost you more but could potentially be a selling point and reason to get higher rents depending on your market.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

Lock We hate spam just as much as you

Join the Largest Real Estate Investing Community

Basic membership is free, forever.