Base Board Heating: Reducing Energy Costs and Saving the Planet

Cameron Douglas Craig, Geographer/Climatologist
December 10, 2011

The winter season is upon us and as the winter chill cuts through our skin giving us a harsh feeling of winter's return we look to ways to save money while heating our homes. When I feel the winter wind across my exposed skin as I walk across Eastern's campus, I cannot wait until I reach my office knowing that in just a few moments I will be comforted by the warmth that surrounds my body. I also feel the same way when I head home. It is a great feeling that I can feel cozy in these two locations. However, what is on my mind is the cost of warmth at my residence. It is true that my office is controlled by a department that controls the environmental temperature of my office and building on campus but what concerns me the most is my electric bill throughout the winter season.

I am unaware of the demographics of those who have base board heating versus heat pumps in Charleston, Illinois but what I want to discuss is what I have found to be true in my own apartment's environment that can provide you with an experiement that could save you money.

In my apartment here in Charleston, I have base board heating elements controlled by a thermostat that is on the wall approximately three and a half feet above the floor. I am located on the top floor of a two story apartment building with apartments to the left and right of me. Concerned with the monthly cost of my electric bill, I have determined that if people in England in the mid 1700s can cope with cold homes, I can too. However, in this case I am doing it to reduce my monthly heating costs. Ever since our average temperature dropped to the upper 30s, I have kept my thermostate set in a range between 45F and 50F. To monitor the environmental temperature of my apartment, I have a weather station console that monitors the indoor temperature.

What I found to be true for my particular dwelling is that the indoor temperature hovered around 70F with the thermostat kept between 45F and 50F. I never once dialed the thermostat to 65F or 70F. You might think to yourself, "No Way!" As a climatologist, I am telling you this was the result. I, too, was amazed!

Back home in Noblesville, Indiana, I stayed in a room during the Thanksgiving holiday that I grew up in that has base board heating. My father had the thermostat set to 68F. I was sweating throughout the night. It was definitely too hot in my old bedroom! Unfortunately, I did not have my analog thermometer with me to read the actual temperature of the room but all I can pass on is that I was totally uncomfortable. My father discussed with me the heating bill over the last several winters and recently had an electrician come to the house to analyze the situation. The outcome of that analysis was that there must be a problem with the thermostats on the base board heaters. I told my father what I found to be true in my apartment and he has set his thermostats between 45F and 50F to determine the comfort level. Once a period of time has passed, I will update you on those results.

After this experiment in my apartment, I strongly urge you, the reader, to give it a whirl. If you have base board heaters throughout your dwelling, set the thermostat to 50F and see what happens with your comfort. If you feel comfortable, keep the thermostat at 50F. If you feel a chill, slightly adjust the thermostat to a higher reading but only slightly. Not all dwellings are created equal so there will be differences. There will also be differences in the manufacturer of the base board heaters. When you reach a particular comfort level, let me know via email at I am very much interested in your particular results so that I can pass on important energy saving information.

There are many ways we all can further conserve energy during the winter such as keeping the south or west facing window shades/blinds open to heat your home. Another way is to wear a little more clothing such as a sweater, hoodie, or thicker socks to keep us warm. When it is bedtime, turn the heating down below your comfort level because when we are in bed we are warm due to the blankets. These methods will definitely save six to eight hours of energy costs overnight. When you get up in the morning, turn up thermostats to the comfort leve you are accustomed to. Moreover, reduce the thermostat when leaving your dwelling for work. This will also save six to eight hours of energy costs.

During these hard economic times, we all search for ways to save a few dimes. I challenge you to try the methods I mentioned above to save money. It would not hurt to give it a whirl. Whatever the outcome, I would enjoy hearing from you so that I can pass on important information to others on how to adequately save energy and save money this winter. I tried it and it has been successful. If we are able to adjust our consumption, together we can save money and ultimately save our planet!


References and Further Information

Cameron Craig, Professor Laureate, 2010-2011,