Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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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.

Drapes

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

        

Comment balloon 12 commentsReuben Saltzman • March 09 2010 04:57AM

Comments

Thank you for the post.  These are good tips to know about electric baseboard heaters. 

Posted by Cherry Wings Realty, Your Traverse City Michigan Realtor (Cherry Wings Realty) over 8 years ago

Good post on baseboard heaters, in this area they have been fazing out over the last few years.  They are costly to operate like you said I think is the biggest reason.

Posted by Clason Whitney, "Your Proactive, Trusted Real Estate Advisor" (Coldwell Banker Pro West Real Estate) over 8 years ago

Very good information.  There are may potential hazards with electric baseboard heat that most people are not aware of.  The potential for fire is huge.  

I have inspected numerous homes with electrical outlets installed above the electric baseboard heat units that have apparently been given the green light by the AHJ inspector. 

Posted by Glen Fisher (National Property Inspections of Southern New Jersey, LLC) over 8 years ago

Interesting in our area in a few neighborhoods that are flipper favorites they are pulling out the electric baseboard heaters and putting in central heat.  When I go into one of the homes and see the baseboard heat I know the house hasn't been upgraded in years. 

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) over 8 years ago

Christine - thanks for reading.

Clason - and you can't have central AC with them.

Glen - you gotta be kidding me.  If the AHJ isn't looking for outlets above the heaters, what are they looking for?

Cindy - good for the flippers!  Or maybe since they're doing a good job, they should be called "Re-habbers."

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Great post Reuben,  I just love to hear the, "oh, its been totally remodeled,"  that phrase almost makes me cringe.

Posted by Jim Allhiser, Salem, Oregon Home Inspector (Perfection Inspection, Inc.) over 8 years ago

Reuben---it is common to see these heaters above 200 degrees F----over time they will burn lots of things.  We see a lot of electric baseboard houses around here that were built that way from the get-go----they almost always have receptacles installed over them----even though it was never "allowed."  They are especially prevalent in condos----so if your unit is wrong so are the other 50 :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 8 years ago

Jim - boy do I hear you.  I'm thinking I should start charging more when I hear "totally remodeled."

Charles - No kidding?  When electric baseboard heaters are used for the original installations, I typically don't find installation defects.  What do you say when you inspect a condo with an improper baseboard heater installation?  The same as anything else?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Reuben, I typically recommend relocation of the heater, re-location of the receptacle, or installation of a heater that would not impact the receptacle.  I also bring to their attention that if they fix theirs that will not repair the neighbors and that the information should be brought to the attention of the Condo Association.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 8 years ago

Very few baseboard heaters down here. About the only place I see them is out in the mountains where they get snow once or twice a year.

The favorite electric heaters here are the little wall heaters like this:

 Electric wall heater

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Posted by Not a real person over 8 years ago

Great post Reuben.  You'd think that once people see burn marks on fabric things they would wise up!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 8 years ago

Russell - I see those up here every now and then too - mostly in bathrooms for some reason.

Jay - No kidding!  Burnt drapes... move 'em!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

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