I’m terrified of the baseboard heating units: How do I live with them?

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Baseboarders® 5' Length Basic Baseboard Heater Cover
Baseboarders® 5′ Length Basic Baseboard Heater Cover
My husband and I just locked down a totally sweet rental! It’s exactly the size and space we need, in our dream neighborhood, with all sorts of cool 1960s period details that we can’t wait to love.

The only problem? There are baseboard heating units EVERYWHERE, and as lifelong book hoarders (we’re both English teachers) with small children, we have no idea how to fit all our bookshelves, furniture, and kid’s toys and playthings safely up against the walls.

What are your creative work-arounds for rooms filled with baseboard heating units? -SarahKat

When it comes to safety and little kids hands, maybe some baseboard covers could help? But as far as pushing up furniture against the wall… I’m not sure about that. So let’s ask the Homies.

Baseboard-having Homies, how do you tackle safety and furniture arrangement with baseboard heating units?

Comments on I’m terrified of the baseboard heating units: How do I live with them?

  1. Just a thought about the furniture aspect; if you have cheaper bookshelves the back panel tends to be a thin ply. You could cut that out to open up the bottom shelf if you have to push the furniture up to the wall there. Not a perfect solution but a small work around

  2. build bookshelves Onto the wall instead of having the big bulky shelves that rest on the floor?

  3. I’m guessing these aren’t normal hot water heat baseboard heaters? Because those are in my childhood home and current apartment and they’re so much better than forced air (in my opinion) and never get overly hot and don’t dry out the air like forced air. In fact, in one room of my parents’ house, their couch backs up against it (not ideal, but they didn’t have anywhere else to put it) and in another, curtains rest against another and there’s never been a problem as far as heaters getting too hot. You do kind of have to reserve the parts of walls without the heaters as the bookshelf/other tall pieces of furniture walls, though.

  4. In my experience, baseboard heaters never get hot to the touch (warm, maybe but no where near hot enough to hurt little hands). I’ve pressed all kinds of furniture up against it. I would secure the bookshelves to the wall with a tether though. You could also go the route of wall shelves rather than bookcases.

  5. First you need to figure out what kind of baseboard hear you have. If they’re water heat they’re pretty safe, you can place furniture over/in front of them without a large risk of fire (although doing it to too many will compromise their ability to work and raise your heat costs considerably). If they’re electric you’ve got more issues, they usually need 18″ clearance in front and 24″ above to not start fires. However, you’re more likely to be able to disable/turn off an individual electric than you are a water (water is usually a loop system, shut one off and you shut off the whole loop).

    Also figure out how long you’re going to be there and how much effort you want to go to. There are places you can google that can show you how to build short platforms on pipes to raise your bookshelves up above the heaters without taking away tons of their airflow.

  6. You could use different types of book shelves! Maybe get a coffee table with book storage, put lower book shelves on the back of furniture that stands in the middle of the room (couch, storage dresser, etc.) to help divide a room.

  7. Where I am from, electric and steam heat are both relatively common, but would result in VERY different ways you would need to work around them, like someone stated above.

    Hopefully they are not on every wall, as I don’t think that conforms to most codes (and would look pretty weird, honestly). Mounted shelves are always a good bet when dealing with baseboarded walls as it keeps air flow. A small one on the ground here or there will not do too much damage to the air flow, and thus ability to heat, in your space.

    For furniture, the best thing I’ve been able to figure out is to go through part of cold season and see how good the heat is. If you find your rooms are inconsistent, plant your furniture placements around the needs of the room. I’ve found that some rooms will heat better than others with baseboards — in one room, you’ll want to cover them a little to prevent a sauna and in others you’ll want to keep them open because being freezing is just no fun, either.

    Worst case scenario is you go to your local hardware store and get some wood cut to put on the floor in front. It will literally stop you from pushing all the way to the wall, and, if you’re a “move it til it stops” kind of person, will still get that hard stop at the legs on the furniture meet the planking. If you are concerned about fire hazard, you could use any hard substance that lays flat and gives you the gap.

    You can cut them to size of the particular piece of furniture to keep it less noticeable, if you’re self-conscious about the look of it, as well. And, in later incarnations, you could turn them into shelving if/when your housing situation changes.

  8. We have electric baseboard heaters in our bedrooms. They are hot and they are sharp. We own but won’t be in this place for much longer, so it’s not worth replacing to us. When our kiddo started getting mobile and we moved him into his own room, we pushed a twin bed up against the dangerheater and just don’t use it (it’s under the window). Instead we got a sweet infrared heater , cool to the touch, and put it in a corner. It offends our small-space sensibilities but avoids the issues with the sharp/hot heater and I don’t care if our baby gets near it.

  9. We have electric baseboard heaters in our rental apartment, and they all seem to be exactly where we wanted furniture to go. So we just put the furniture there anyway. Granted, it’s all cheap Ikea stuff so we’re not worried about damaging anything expensive. So far nothing bad has happened. Dumb luck, maybe.

  10. My parents hardly ever use their furnace, they use portable oil heaters instead. Just set one in the corner of the room and turn it on 10 minutes before you go into the room and its nice and toasty. Apparently, this is cheaper on their utility bills also. They do get pretty hot, so it doesn’t solve that problem for you. But I can tell you, as a child that grew up in a house full of oil heaters, that if they touch it once they won’t do it again. We never got actual burns, but it is very uncomfortable. (Also, be careful and not have too many running on the same circuit, or you will trip the breaker.)

  11. If your baseboard heaters are original to your 60’s place they are probably pretty inefficient anyway. Put your furniture where you’d like and get space heaters, just make sure you get the kind that shut off when tipped. Or better yet infared as mentioned above.

    • Not true. I have 1969 water baseboard heaters and they are so amazing! I never thought I’d love them! We have furniture in front of them and in a bi-level house too!!!
      Efficient, AND doesn’t dry out the air like forced heat.

  12. We had the same issue in our last apartment. We took a narrow entryway table and centered it in front of the heater so the heat flowed under it, if that makes sense. Ikea sells those stacky cube bookcases for not too much, and it turns out they fit nicely on narrow entryway tables. 🙂

  13. In my studio apartment, I can’t push anything up against my baseboard heater without violating my lease because it is a fire hazard. I had an older style heater, probably from the early ’80s. It was terribly inefficient. Only one side of my apartment was ever really warm in the winter and my electric bill was $90 for my tiny studio.

    When it came time to renew my lease, I mentioned how expensive it was to heat my apartment and the manager suggested replacing the heater. I have a brand spanking new one now and I never use it even though it’s much more efficient. Around the time that I was going to be getting a new heater, the maintenance guy told me that he uses a little electric heater in his place and his electric bill is pretty minimal and he can more easily control the inside temperature. So I got a $40 heater at Costco and it worked like a champ all winter long! That one little unit warms my apartment evenly and my electric bill dropped at least $20 from what it had been with the baseboard heater alone.

    But that’s not even the best part! The best part is, unlike my old unit that you could never truly shut off unless you flipped the breaker (it sucked up a lot of electricity even when it wasn’t on because it would turn on if the apartment got cold enough…like 40 degrees or so), the new unit will turn off….completely off…at the temp control panel. Because it won’t turn on under any circumstances unless I do it myself, I’ve gotten the go-ahead to push my furniture up against it. Now if only I could figure out how I’d like to rearrange things!

  14. As a kid, I lived in a multitude of places that had electric baseboard heaters, most of which had been in place since somewhere between the 1960s-1980s.
    They always SUCKED. No matter how well we weatherized our home it always felt drafty along the floors, and inevitably the heaters never did much of a good job at actually warming the room, just the one wall they were on.
    Or course, we had the misfortune of living in apartments and houses that typically placed the heaters underneath poorly-insulated windows, so the majority of the heat ended up going RIGHT out the window.
    For the last 8 years, I’ve lived in an old 1970s-era single-wide mobile home, that we renovated a fair bit by adding drywall to all the walls, and wall-to-wall carpeting with thick padding beneath it. The old furnace was a dreadful power-sucking fire hazard, so we never used it beyond the first couple months we were here. Instead, we hear our entire 840sq.ft. 2-bedroom home with three radiant oil (electric) heaters. We have one high-wattage one in the living room, and it heats all the common areas of the house. Then we have a lower-wattage one in the adults’ bedroom, and by keeping our bedroom door open most of the time, that room, the adjacent hallway and bathroom stay comfortable. We have a third, very small and low-wattage one for my son’s bedroom, to keep the chill out of there because although his room has the best insulation and nicest window it still gets nippy in winter.
    It’s a system that’s served us well for the past 7 winters. I’ll never use space heaters again, because they’re noisy and dry out the air in the area like nobody’s business, whereas our radiators help our home stay comfortably humid and cozy for the 7-8 months a year we use them here in Oregon.

  15. every bleeding apartment I’ve lived in in Montreal (15-ish years) has had electric baseboard heaters. I don’t know how or why they became the norm here, but they are.

    I’ve got nothing really – they basically just suck giant donkey bollocks – but definitely get a humidifier (or several) or at least try putting (oven safe) cups of water on top of the heaters when they’re on so they don’t dry the air out too badly.

    I’ve always managed to find *some* wall-space for my (many) bookshelves. Putting up shelves with brackets would totally be a good option as well. The fire hazard – YMMV but if the system is relatively new and well maintained you should be fine – maybe ask an electrician you trust to do a walk-through so you have a heads-up on any issues you may be looking forward to.

    • I don’t have much advice beyond what was already given, but as to the *WHY* electric baseboard heaters became popular in much of Québec & Ontario, you can blame the spike in oil prices that happened in the 1970s. I can’t remember if it was the feds or the provincial governments, but someone subsidized for people to switch to electric heat on the theory that it would *stay* cheaper than oil.

  16. If you’re looking to place furniture against the walls with heaters, I recommend NOT putting them directly against. If you can keep 4 or more inches between the heater and the furniture, that’s probably best. Not only from an air flow and heating standpoint, but a cleaning standpoint.
    Dust bunnies, hair, and little kids toys get so easily stuck in baseboard heaters. You’ll want room to maneuver a vacuum attachment. If you have small pets, you will want space to pull them out of the tight crevices they inevitably find themselves getting into.
    And in my own experience, if you ever get any sort of bugs, you won’t want to pull all your furniture away from the walls to get rid of them. I live in a basement apartment that has steam heat. I have gotten ants and spiders that crawl in on the water line. Both of which are infestations that need to be gone Right Away. Having that extra space allows me to clean up messes, capture bugs, sweep away nests, and put down ant traps or other pesticides.

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