By Protégez-Vous and Écohabitation

With the arrival of fall and its colors comes the time to turn on the heating in your house. Before increasing your thermostats’ temperature, take the time to inspect your baseboards and convectors to get the most out of your heating system.

Electric baseboards are the most common heating system in Quebec, because it is inexpensive, easy to install and durable. Its efficiency is 100%, which means that for each 1 kWh of electricity consumed, you obtain 1 kWh of heat. And, in Quebec, because electricity comes from a renewable source, heating with hydroelectric power is therefore also an environmentally-friendly choice.

1. GOOD MAINTENANCE OF ELECTRIC BASEBOARDS
If your baseboards are making cracking noises as they heat up or cool down, here’s what you can do.

  • After turning off the power at the circuit breaker, loosen the screws to allow the metal to expand and retract quietly (the latter is often due to improper installation of the heating element in the electrical baseboard or to improper installation of the baseboard, on a bent or uneven wall). Ensure that the metal fins inside do not rub against each other. They could be bent, twisted or stuck, which can cause noise. Straighten the fins if this is the case.
  • Vacuum and clean the heating elements, inside and outside the baseboards.
  • If your electric baseboards are not working evenly or continue to crack, it may be time to change them. The average price for a baseboard is around $50, for a total of $600 to $1,000 for an average house (2,400 sq. ft.). But consider other options before proceeding.

2. REPLACE THE BASEBOARDS WITH CONVECTORS
When it comes to installation, it’s easy to switch from a baseboard to a convector. Electric convectors are usually quieter than baseboards. Like the latter, they work by natural convection, and even if they distribute the heat better (the hot air comes out more vigorously through the upper grilles of the appliance), they do not ensure the same uniform heat distribution as radiant heating.

Convectors come in many shapes and sizes and are safer (automatic shutdown in the event of overheating, valve to lock the thermostat). However, they are more expensive: $200 to $500 each, for a total of $2,500 to $10,000 for an average house (2,400 sq. ft.). Their coefficient of performance is identical to that of electric baseboards, e.g. 1 kWh of electricity gives 1 kWh of heat.

3. OCCASIONAL NEED: OPT FOR AUXILIARY HEATING
Auxiliary heating is used to meet an increased demand for heat, for example during a period of extreme cold, or to heat a particular room even more, such as a bathroom.

Electric radiant heaters are ideal: operating by radiation, they release enveloping heat. The radiant heater can be set to a lower temperature than the convection heater, for a uniform heat diffused little by little. However, it does not provide a rapid influx of heat.

Radiant heating can be provided by a radiator or a baseboard (the easiest to install) or by a floor system, with coils (this option is only interesting if you are redoing the kitchen or bathroom floor). Its coefficient of performance, like all electric systems, is 1. As it is relatively expensive, it is chosen for the comfort it provides rather than for savings.

4. INSTALL A FAN
To optimize heat distribution in the main room, a ceiling fan can be installed. This will create a slight movement of air and prevent the hot air from staying too high. The fan can also have a cooling effect if its flow is directed towards people in summer.

5. ADD THERMOSTATS
Add programmable electronic thermostats to your electric heating system. More precise than those with a dial, they allow increased comfort and additional savings, which can reach $100 per year or 10% of heating bills, according to Hydro-Quebec (for an average-sized house). Depending on the chosen thermostats and the location of the home, purchasing these devices can pay off in less than two years.

Beware of compatibility problems between certain baseboards and certain electronic thermostats: to avoid returning to the hardware store, it is advisable to check with the manufacturer.

Smart thermostats are connected to Wi-Fi, so they can monitor consumption in real time and optimize temperature settings. Some operating systems that combine thermostats and CO detectors can even send you alerts: detection of carbon monoxide leaks, of smoke, of problems in heating systems or appliances, etc. A smart thermostat costs $150 to $250 and must be installed by a professional.

You can also use a smart monitor. Depending on the model, it shows real-time energy consumption, phantom load share, consumption history, carbon footprint or even a list of the most energy-consuming devices. They can also help you set budgets and monthly goals. Monitors contribute even more to total savings when paired with smart thermostats. They cost from $250 to $600 and must be installed by a professional.