What is a Hydronic Baseboard Heater – Everything You Need to Know

Baseboard Heater_Hydronic

What is a Hydronic Baseboard Heater – Everything You Need to Know

Don’t know how hydronic baseboard heaters work?

The concept is easy to understand. A hydronic baseboard heater warms a space by heating a non-toxic liquid in a boiler. The fluid, mainly oil or water, generates radiant heat to warm one or multiple rooms.

Hydronic baseboard heaters are 40% more efficient than forced-air heating systems, more compact, and lack moving parts too. This allows them to require less maintenance, take up less space and keep going for decades.

And the best thing about them? They operate quietly.

In this article, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about hydronic baseboard heaters. We’ll explore how these heaters work, the benefits that they offer and the differences between hydronic and convection baseboard heaters. Read on to know more. 

What is a hydronic baseboard heater?

Hydronic baseboard heaters warm a non-toxic liquid to offer heat. The fluid, such as oil or water, is sealed within the boiler.

After being heated, it is transferred to wall-mounted radiators using a pump and a network of pipes. The hot liquid then provides radiant heat to warm your rooms.

Hydronic baseboard heaters work similarly to radiators. But that’s where the similarities end.

While radiators consume a lot of space, these units are incredibly compact. You can thus hide them along baseboards. They also require less maintenance than radiators and are more energy-efficient.

Components of hydronic baseboard heaters

Here are the parts that make up a hydronic baseboard heating system:

  • Boiler: Located in the basement, the boiler burns oil or gas to heat the non-toxic fluid. It’s sealed from inside and outside to prevent energy leakages and is connected to over-ground radiators with a network of pipes.
  • Pump and Piping: The pump uses a turbine to produce a partial vacuum that would draw water out of the boiler and inside the pump. It then increases its pressure to force the fluid into the pipes, which then carry it to your rooms.
  • Radiator: Once the boiler has sufficiently warmed the liquid, the pump will transfer it to the radiator via pipes. The radiator will then emit pockets of heat into your room, warming it up and making it comfortable.  
  • Thermostat: The wall-mounted thermostat lets you set the heater at a temperature at which you want your home to be. Thermostats are available in manual, programmable and smart versions. Check out this guide about the benefits of hydronic baseboard heaters to know more about them.

Hydronic Baseboard Heater Benefits

Following are the main benefits of hydronic baseboard heaters:

1)   Better for Allergies

Hydronic baseboard heaters are better for allergies because they do not circulate air. They have no vents, ducts or fans that could suck in and spread allergens or pollens throughout your rooms.

This allows you to say goodbye to sore throats, dry eyes and coughs. It’s for this reason that the Australian Asthma Foundation recommends radiant heaters for allergy and asthma sufferers.

2)   Highly Energy Efficient

Home Energy Magazine claims that hydronic heaters are 40% more efficient than forced-air heating systems. They consume 35% less energy than central ducted heated systems too.

The reason why hydronic baseboard heaters are so energy efficient is that they have no ducts. This saves them from heat losses that hurt the efficiency of other heaters.

3)   Safer for Children

Hydronic baseboard heaters are safer for children due to their low surface temperature. In contrast to other heaters, which may get too hot to the touch when you set their temperature too high, these units always stay cooler to the touch.

That’s what makes them a must-have for daycare facilities, playrooms, vet clinics or any other spaces where children (or pets) often spend their time.

4)   Offer Zoned Heating

Homeowners with hydronic baseboard heaters can easily create multiple zones. All they need is a zone valve, which regulates the flow rate of water inside the pipes. The valve has an actuator that opens/closes the valve based on your thermostat setting for that zone (or room).

Zoned heating systems let you adjust their temperature based on room usage, environmental conditions, and personal preferences. This makes them more efficient than whole-home heating systems.

5)   Provide Longer-Lasting Heat

In contrast to convection heaters, which stop producing heat when you turn them off, hydronic heaters continue emitting heat long after you’ve disconnected their power supply.

That’s because warm liquid takes some time to cool down once it’s heated to a certain temperature, thereby offering balanced heat for more extended periods.

6)   Operate Quietly

Hydronic baseboard heaters operate without making noise because there’s no air moving through their ducts and blowing out into your rooms.

This gives them a heads-up over forced-air heating systems that cannot be installed in living rooms or bedrooms because of the noise their built-in makes during operation.

Hydronic Baseboard Heater Maintenance and Installation

Hydronic baseboard heaters are easier to maintain and install than most other types of heaters. But that doesn’t mean that their upkeep and setup is easy. There are a few things you’d need to keep in mind to correctly install and maintain them.

Hydronic Baseboard Heater Maintenance

Here’s how you can ensure optimal operation of your hydronic baseboard heater:

Clean metal heating fins once every year

This is required to ensure proper air flow. All you need to do to clean heating fins is to remove the heater’s front cover and vacuum its fins.

You can then use a damp rag or a small brush for a more thorough cleaning. Make sure that you clean the fins at the beginning of each heating season.

Bleed the plumbing lines once every year

Bleeding the plumbing lines is necessary to maintain the optimum level of heat production and keep noisy operation at bay. Turn off the boiler and wait for the baseboard radiator to cool down before bleeding the plumbing lines. Open the “bleed valve” with a radiator key or screwdriver to let out excess air.

Have the furnace serviced by a heating specialist

Having the boiler serviced by a heating specialist before the beginning of the heating season could decrease your fuel bills by as much as 10 per cent. It will also save you the expense and discomfort of equipment breakdown during the colder months.

Hydronic Baseboard Heater Installation

Here’s how you can hook up a hydronic baseboard heater:

Step 1: Double-check all parts

Read the installation instructions and create a checklist of parts needed for installation. Take out the parts and make sure everything on the list is present. Here are a few parts almost all hydronic baseboard heaters need for their installation:

  1. Copper pipes with elbows on both ends
  2. Metal’ fins’ or slats
  3. Vent, dust cover, screws and brackets

Step 2: Dry fit the setup

Don’t screw in the baseboard or solder any copper pipe before dry fitting the entire setup, even if you’re confident about what you’re doing.

If you’re going to install new flooring or carpet, make sure that you’re accounting for the space the new flooring will consume. Otherwise, the baseboard heater may not have enough clearance underneath it.

Step 3: Run the pipes

After dry fitting the baseboard, mark the point where the hot water lines will be attached. Use a paddle-bit to drill holes the sizes of the hot water lines. Then dry-fit the copper lines on the floor to make sure everything goes seamless when you begin soldering.

Step 4: Mount and solder

Follow the instructions given in the instructions manual to mount the baseboard heater. You’d need the mounting hardware to screw (or nail) the equipment in place. The next thing you’d need to do is to solder all the joints in place.

Lubricate each piece of pipe and the coupler with a coating of flux. Next use a propane or acetylene torch to heat the pipe, and the lead-free solder, before connecting the joints. Those of you who don’t like the idea of soldering would do well to hire an expert.

Hydronic Baseboard Heater FAQ

Are hydronic heaters worth it?

Hydronic heaters are worth it because they are more energy efficient than convection heaters, their main competitors in the baseboard heating market. These heaters provide a more even heat, thereby preventing the thermostat from cycling on/off as often. This brings down their energy consumption.

What is the lifespan of a hydronic baseboard heater?

The majority of hydronic baseboard heaters last between 10 and 20 years, provided they undergo yearly maintenance to keep rust and corrosion at bay.

However, the modern units could last longer due to superior construction materials and with the help of expert-handled annual maintenance.

How much do hydronic baseboard heaters cost?

When you factor in their upfront and installation cost, installing a hydronic baseboard heater might cost you between $500 and $600.

This cost includes the asking price of the heater (between $300 and $350) and the installation cost (about $200) depending on supplies needed for installation. 

How much do hydronic baseboard heaters cost?

When you factor in their upfront and installation cost, installing a hydronic baseboard heater might cost you between $500 and $600.

What are the differences between convection and hydronic baseboard heater?

Convection baseboard heaters operate by drawing in air from their surroundings, passing it over electrically heated metal fins and then sending the heated air out to raise the room’s temperature. This method of transferring heat is called convection.

Hydronic baseboard heaters, as mentioned above, warm a fluid, such as oil or water, in a boiler. After being heated, it is transferred to wall-mounted radiators using a pump and a network of pipes. The hot liquid then provides radiant heat to warm your rooms.

Here are major differences between convection and hydronic baseboard heaters:

Sizes and Cost

Convection baseboard heaters offer a greater range of sizes. Their sizes start from a small 20-inch length and end up at a substantial 96-inch length (with every length in between). That isn’t the case with hydronic heaters. They’re available in limited lengths between 35 inches and 94 inches.

Hydronic heaters also cost more. You may have to fork out about four times as much amount for them as for the same size convection baseboard heater. Though hydronic heating systems repay their high asking price with a greater energy efficiency.

Energy Use

A convection heater will take less time than hydronic heaters to warm the same size room. That’s because its heating element takes less time to heat up and reach the set temperature than the fuel in the hydronic heating systems, whose energy density determines its heating time.

However, since the fuel will remain warm for a longer period after the thermostat is switched off, hydronic systems provide more long-lasting heat. This makes them more energy-efficient than convection heaters, whose heating element goes cold within minutes of the thermostat going off.

Noise and Lifespan

Their operating noise is one area where you cannot find any differences between convection and hydronic heaters. Both lack any moving parts that could stop them from operating in silence.

The only sound you’d hear from either is the “ticking” sound that goes off when the thermostat switches the heater off.

As far as their lifespan is concerned, convection heaters can keep going for decades with minimal maintenance. That might not be the case with hydronic heating systems, most of whom give up after about 10 to 20 years, even with yearly maintenance.

Repair and maintenance

A DIYer can fix most problems with a convection heater. They contain no ducts that would need cleaning, no fan motor that could burn out and no liquid that may leak. However, you may need to call in a heating expert for the annual maintenance of a hydronic heater’s boiler or furnace.


Do you need a hydronic baseboard heater? Only you can answer this question.

However, if you or someone in your family suffers from allergies or asthma, you might want to consider hydronic baseboard heaters. In addition, if you want to reduce your monthly heating bills and get a heating system that is safe for children or pets, hydronic baseboard heaters might be right for you.

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