Some situations can compel anyone to leave the baseboard heater running on their way to bed or work.
This sounds like something you could attempt in the winter. You might as well forget to turn the device off before leaving for a one-month vacation!
SO, Is It Safe to Leave Baseboard Heaters On Overnight and Unattended?
It depends on the type of baseboard heater, whether it has a functioning thermostat, among many other factors.
There are three types of baseboard heaters out there – hydronic and convection electric heater. Whether it is safe to leave the active heater unattended for a long time can depend on which of these is installed at home. The condition of the device can have a say as well. For example, if the device has been abandoned to a point of rats gnawing the wires bare and dust settling on the heating element, you probably shouldn’t let it run unattended for extended periods.
1. Yes, if you choose a convection electric baseboard heater with a thermostat
If your baseboard heater is the convection type and has a functioning thermostat, you can safely leave it running unattended for a long time.
Convection (sometimes referred to as “hot air” heaters) electric baseboard heaters are designed to heat the space by drawing in a stream of cool air and ejecting warm air.
To do this, it must be connected to a power source – the power heats the coil directly to dissipate heat.
Conversely, a hydronic baseboard heater (or “hot water” heater), warms the space by heating a viscous non-toxic fluid in a reservoir.
This type of baseboard heater utilizes your central heating to do the job and directs hot water through a series of pipes to several baseboard heating units all over the room.
Hydronic baseboard units are very much the same as their convection “hot air” counterparts except that the role of electricity is indirect.
Rather than heat the radiator directly to produce it, the electricity warms up the enclosed fluid (often water or oil). Then, the fluid radiates this heat into the space where the device is installed.
Convention “hot air” baseboard heaters are the safest of the two types to leave running for longer, unattended. The secret is in the thermostat.
Virtually all convection electric baseboard heaters you will find in the market are equipped with a thermostat.
The job of the thermostat is to shut down the device at a certain temperature (which you set yourself).
This means the device will turn off automatically if the most recently set temperature is attained with or without your presence.
Some devices are intelligent enough to shut down when the radiator starts to overheat in your absence.
The idea of auto-shutdown is not a reserve of convection baseboard heaters but some hydronic devices as well.
The concept of circulating hot water/oil is safe even if it is to be left to circulate for days but you will find products with an auto-off feature complete with a thermostat that shuts down the device at a certain temperature.
The trick, therefore, is to make sure the device is equipped with a thermostat.
2. Yes, if you observe the 6-inch rule
Whether “hot air” or “hot water,” baseboards can get very hot sometimes.
That’s why professional baseboard installers observe the ever-important “6-inch rule” which means clearance of 6” is left between the front of the heater and any closest body.
This “rule” sounds great in theory but isn’t the easiest thing to achieve in real life.
At some point, while making changes to your room or repositioning your furniture, you will unknowingly bring the couch too close to the baseboard heater or forget a pile of toys or any other flammable material close to it.
Just one of these many scenarios needs to occur to start a home fire.
If you leave the baseboard running unattended for a long time, there’s a chance the dry and flammable material close to it will get hot enough to catch fire and set the entire home ablaze.
Risk of Burns
If your baseboard heater has a dysfunctional thermostat and you don’t observe the 6-inch rule, your property may still sustain burns if you rule out the risk of fire.
Unlike ductless mini-split devices which merely transfer radiant heat, wall and baseboard heaters generate heat.
This means the baseboard heater needs to get super-hot to heat the rest of the room. The oven-like heat can be a danger for anything close to the device in the long run.
Because these devices sometimes reach 150 degrees Celsius or more while running and are traditionally installed close to the ground, a child or pet can come too close or step on them, leading to devastating burns.
While hydronic baseboard heaters operate on a similar principle as their “hot air” counterparts, they don’t get as hot.
For that reason, they are preferred for daycare and playrooms, and even veterinary clinics.
The low surface temperatures of this type of heaters also make them ideal for use in overcrowded rooms where flammable materials such as clothes are likely to come too close to the device.
How to Not Cause Burns/Fire with Your Baseboard Heater
If you must leave your baseboard heater running, then at least take the necessary precautions to reduce fire risk.
Here are some basic tips and precautions to make sure your baseboard heater remains even if you forget to turn it off:
1. Install your baseboard heater the right way
By “right way” we mean you must leave a 6-inch clearance between the device and the closest body.
Also, follow all the instructions provided by the manufacturer while installing the device. Hire a qualified professional to do the job.
2. Choose the right location
The baseboard heater won’t fit just anywhere in your room.
Never install the device under electrical outlets – they may melt the plastic parts and start a fire.
3. Be smart while using the baseboard heater
By being “smart” we mean you avoid setting the thermostat unreasonably high.
Instead, set the temperatures low and stay patient for the space to heat up gradually.
Also, be conscious of materials and items near the heater at all times.
This can help avoid placing a flammable item nearby.
4. Wipe and clean the device regularly
Regularly cleaning the heater (and the space around it) helps keep it running at its best. This also helps reduce the fire risk.
5. Keep pets and children away from the device
Many baseboard heaters are starting to come equipped with built-in shrouds designed to keep curious kids and pets at bay.
This can help prevent injuries but some work with covers which you can buy separately.
Also, never leave your device in a state of disrepair or use it inappropriately.
If you let the dust settle on the heating elements of the heater for years, it becomes energy-inefficient and prone to overheating – the latter increases the chances of a fire outbreak.
Is It A Good Practice Energy-wise?
If you dodge the risk of fire/burn successfully, you will face a new challenge – energy use.
Baseboard models use a lot of energy, but hydronic devices are considered to be slightly more energy-efficient than convection types.
Instead of dissipating quick blasts of hot air, hydronic devices create a slow and controlled trickle of heat that helps save energy.
Therefore, if you are looking for a product that can be left alone to heat the home for a long time – with all other safety factors considered – and still use less energy, then it only makes sense you go for a hydronic baseboard heater.
Is it safe to leave baseboard heaters on overnight and unattended?
Yes. But will depend on a few factors.
As long as a clearance of 6” is maintained in front of the device and the thermostat is workings, you may leave the device running unattended for a long time.