Electric baseboard heat

10 Replies

Dear Esteemed BP Community,

I have recently purchased several buildings in Massachusetts that are very poorly insulated and use electric baseboard heat.  I am working with a program called Mass Save to improve the insulation, and I intend to help the residents put plastic on the windows and use door insulators.  

A major overhaul of the heating system is not feasible this week.  Until I can implement some long-term solutions, what quick and simple measures could be taken to reduce the residents' electric cost?

Insulation, new windows even if it is a staged project where you do some at a time.  Clean the darn heaters, you will find they are full of stuff and cleaning them will help with efficiency.  Weatherstrips on the door.  If the biggest loss is the old front door having a draft replace it.  Thermostats,  many of the baseboard heaters have the thermostats on them and you will find the tenants won't use them so hooking up a thermostat on the wall helps. I don't go with the plastic sealing of windows but if they are old you certainly can.  If you don't plan to replace them storms (good ones ) are an option.  For a big picture window an interior storm may also be a good option.

All that being said electric heat while efficient will not be liked by many tenants. they don't understand that in winter the cost can double or triple due to heat. I have to help my tenants understand that they have an electric bill and a heat bill.  The electric bill is what they spend every month, the heat bill is the amount they pay over that in winter and that is the amount they should compare to their friends oil bill.

Break the electric heaters or wire the meter to steal the electric

There are window units that produce heat for under $500:



The one from global industrial will require a dedicated 30 amp breaker and 10 gauge wire but will also produce more btu for the price.  The Lowes one will not require extra wiring so will probably be the best option unless you can use the wires from the base heaters for window units instead.

There's also kerosene heaters sold at Walmart and Northern Tool for around $100 which is less expensive than electric heat but more of a hassle

Kerosene and tenants don' t  really mix  in my opinion.

Here's a simpler natural gas option:  


I'm not sure if you're supposed to use it indoors though but it is vented which leads me to think that it's no different than your standard gas furnace.

It looks like there's a more expensive version for use indoors:


There's also natural gas vent-free for less but I'm not sure if I would trust that any more than kerosene heaters

@Rich Merlino  

As far as electric heat goes, your baseboard heater is 100% efficient.  Insulation is by far your best bet to reduce heating cost.  Next best probably switch to a cheaper energy source (in many places that's natural gas, but that may not be available where you are).

Also, you can try to better use the heat you generate by installing ceiling fans.  This allows you to re-mix the hot air that raises to the ceiling and likely let's you lower the setting on the heater somewhat. 

If you are working through the mass saves program, you will get all of the answers you need. If you get a full energy audit, your auditor will be building performance institute (BPI) certified. They will do a full diagnostic test, using blower doors, thermal imaging and more. They should provide you with a comprehensive improvement report at the end, as well as with info on what rebates and incentives you can get for energy saving upgrades. I'd recommend you participate in the audit and ask all the questions you can.

In the meantime, outside of window plastic, and weather stripping the doors, there's not much you can do.

Good luck. It's great to see a landlord/investor using an energy efficiency program to upgrade your rentals.

@Rich Merlino Mass Save is the best way with existing electric.

But the gas company will usually offer a free boiler or piping to the house, however they're shutting down those programs for the Winter... Any gas in the house already?

Maybe some ceiling fans so the warm air isn't stratified near the ceiling.

You can also get in-line programmable thermostats for electric resistance heaters - this will allow you or you tenants to roll the heat back at night and when the tenant is out during the day.

We have been using ones manufactured by Aubé Technologies (TH303) as they fit in/on a switch box with the same footprint as the old resistor dial thermostats.   This unit we are using is independent  - as opposed to being connected back to a central controller which allows you to programme/manage all baseboards from a single location  (these capabilities are available with fancier {read: more expensive}  thermostats).

We have acquired several old buildings (Second Empire, Victorian, Edwardian, Georgian, etc) with electric resistance heating.    Far too many landlords improve their bottom line by removing central boilers/furnaces and push the cost of heating onto the tenant using electric resistance heating w/o taking any steps to improve the efficiency of the building envelop.   Most of these old house have no insulation and are very draughty - we have had energy audits as high as 15 air changes per hour (an R2000 house is 1.5, a Passivhaus is 0.3).   Your biggest bang-for-your-tenants-buck  ... and, ultimately, yours .... is to insulate and air seal the envelop.

I have 2 houses with electric baseboard heat ,  I get no calls about the furnace not working ,  the odds of 8 units breaking at once are slim , tenants are on budget billing from the utility company so their bills are the same each month .  Now the houses are insulated well  which makes a difference.

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