Reuben Saltzman

Electric Baseboard Heaters – The Flipper Favorite

When I inspect a home in Minneapolis or Saint Paul that has electric baseboard heat, it’s usually a dead giveaway that someone did some remodeling, or someone flipped the house.  In fact, the only houses that I run across in the Twin Cities metro area with all electric baseboard heaters are houses that have been ‘flipped’.   Why?  I’ll get there.

The times when electric baseboard heaters make the most sense to install are when someone wants to add heat to a room that won’t be used frequently, and they don’t need air conditioning.  One common place for Minneapolis and Saint Paul houses would be basement bedrooms that get added as guest bedrooms.  Another would be additions that just don’t stay as warm as they should.   I added a couple baseboard heaters to a sun room at my own house that doesn’t get very good air flow from the furnace, and I turn the heaters on when the temperature drops below zero outside.

The nice thing about electric baseboard heaters is that they’re easy to install, they don’t cost much, and there isn’t a lot that can go wrong with them.  The only failure I’ve found during home inspections is that the thermostats have gone bad, and this isn’t a difficult fix.  Most of the problems that I write up during home inspections deal with improper installations.  I’ve listed the two most common offenders below.

Outlets Installed Above The Heater All manufacturers of electric baseboard heaters prohibit the installation of electrical outlets above the heaters.  Electric baseboard heaters work by turning a heating element on and off; it’s either hot or it’s not, nothing in-between.  Because they get so hot, an electric wire draped in front of a baseboard heater could potential melt or start a fire.

No Outlets Above Electric Baseboard Heaters

Improper Clearances Electric baseboard heaters require certain clearances above and in front of the units to anything combustible, such as drapes.  Again, the reason for this is to prevent a potential fire.   The clearance requirements vary – just check out the two diagrams below from two different manufacturers.  One says twelve inches, the other says six.

Cadet Baseboard Heater Clearances Marley Baseboard Heater Clearances

These clearance requirements shouldn’t be taken lightly.  The photo below came from a recent inspection where the drapes looked like they were about to burst in to flames.


So why are baseboard heaters a favorite of the fix-n-flipper? They’re cheap and easy to install.  On the downside, electric baseboard heaters cost far more to operate than a gas fired furnace… but why would the person flipping the house care?  They won’t be paying the heating bills. For homes in rural areas where power companies offer off-peak discount rates for electricity, electric baseboard heaters might make sense as the primary source of heat, but not here in the heart of the Twin Cities.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Home Inspector Twin Cities

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No responses to “Electric Baseboard Heaters – The Flipper Favorite”

  1. Adam
    November 2, 2010, 10:37 am

    Well that’s the thing with baseboard heaters, they were never designed to be the main heating source of the house. I believe that they will remain an easy heating upgrade, and in the form that they are now, probably much easier than anything else currently on the market.

    Electric baseboard heaters

  2. Robin
    September 19, 2013, 11:24 am

    I have an electric baseboard heater in the bathroom, and its appearance was quite beat up, so I recently sanded it and spray-painted it with special spray paint intended for “high heat” surfaces. I stuffed newspapers inside the heater when I painted to prevent paint from getting in the interior & onto the heating element.
    Well today I had the heater going for the first time since painting it and the thing exploded! A loud boom, and then it started smoking!!
    I’m not sure if this was caused by the spray paint, or because I had previously disengaged the heater from the wall to do some tilework and maybe some cords became loosened during the process?
    I guess I will have to replace that heater now…
    Any thoughts? Thanks so much!

  3. Reuben Saltzman
    September 19, 2013, 2:36 pm

    @Robin – wow. I’m guessing a wire shorted out; check your breaker panel. I’ll bet you have a tripped breaker.

  4. Robin
    September 19, 2013, 6:14 pm

    Thanks very much. Breaker in fusebox wasn’t tripped, and when I tore the old heater out I could find no sign of burning or damage. So not sure why it exploded and smoked. lol
    I installed new heater and it seems to be working fine, thank goodness.

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