For 70 years, hydronic baseboard heat has been an efficient choice for heating homes in northern climates. Unfortunately, for most of hydronic’s history the baseboard heater cover design has not been in sync with thermodynamics.
How could that even be possible? Sometimes engineers get it wrong. Sometimes an engineer isn’t involved when an inventor starts designing. Sometimes a technology isn’t well understood at the time there is a product need. And it would be an easy mistake to make.
Hydronic Baseboard Heater Efficiency
Baseboard heater cover designs that point the heat outward instead of upward were based on assumptions about heat transfer and air flow originating during the early part of the 1900s that we now understand to be misconceptions.
To understand how recent that modern heat technology is, the first patent for central heating was granted in 1919. Before that, inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Albert Marsh, Franz San Galli, and James Watt were working on heating concepts and systems to deliver and control heat efficiently. The average home was largely heated by fireplaces and stoves right up to the early 20th century.
Even though our modern living conditions have benefited from technology, the reality is that advancements and sophisticated understanding of heat are fairly recent. Hydronic baseboard heat started to be installed in homes around the 1940s and it wasn’t until 1965 when United States building codes required new homes to include insulation!
Baseboard Heater Technology
As technology advances and engineers begin asking more questions and test prior assumptions, new discoveries create an opportunity for product improvements. After decades of misconceptions and assumptions about baseboard heat, we now have a greater understanding of convection loops and how to maximize heat transfer using these airflow loops.
Traditional baseboard heater cover designs dating back to the 1940s that we still see sold today didn’t have the advantage of sensitive digital measurement instruments and modern airflow simulations. During the development process engineers couldn’t see exactly where and how warm or cold air flowed throughout a room. Design tweaks were made based on assumptions or aesthetic goals of the era.
Increasing Baseboard Heating Efficiency
Today, we have a very good understanding of thermodynamics and the importance of convection loops in a home. We have thermal tracking to see how cold and warm air circulate, and we can identify accumulation points, thermal bypasses, air leaks, and other stages and features of heat transfer. Where once designers hoped to move warm air directly toward a room’s occupants to warm them like a fire or stove, we now know that heat is more efficient when riding along natural currents and insulating the perimeter of a room.
What does this mean for your heating bill? If you’re still using a baseboard cover that has a vent that points outward instead of upward, you’re losing heat energy and disrupting the convection loop. When a convection loop is unbroken, it efficiently pushes cold air toward the bottom of the baseboard to be recirculated into warm air that naturally flows upward to create an insulating wall of heat. When the convection loop is disrupted, that efficient heat wall isn’t allowed to form, and the room doesn’t heat as efficiently as it could.
A baseboard heater cover design is the most important decision in maximizing your hydronic system’s efficiency and reducing your heating bill. We’re proud to be the company that took the first step toward re-evaluating hydronic baseboard heat from the perspective of modern thermodynamics and created a better baseboard cover.