Can You Build Cabinets Over Baseboard Heaters? (Find Out Now!)
Older homes usually have some sort of baseboard heat running around the perimeter of the rooms. These units can be heated by hot water (hydronic) or electricity. When considering whether to cover baseboard heaters, it is important to first understand how they work.
Both types of baseboard heaters work by heating cool air that is near the floor. The molecules in the air move faster as they are heated, causing the warm air to flow upward. As it cools, it circulates back down toward the floor where it can again be heated by the baseboard unit.
Cabinets can be built over baseboard heaters if given air circulation. Mount cabinet several inches above the heater. If possible, leave a space behind that allows air to rise. Use reflective insulation on the bottom of the cabinet to keep warmth off the cabinet and in the air. Install well-vented toe-kicks or add decorative legs for maximum circulation.
When considering if you should install cabinets over the top of baseboard heaters, there are a few options to consider before purchasing and installing cabinets.
Hire a Cabinet Maker
Most people are surprised to discover that buying custom cabinets from a cabinet maker can be cheaper than premade cabinets from the local home improvement store. Mass-market cabinets such as those purchased from Ikea are inexpensive, but they do not hold up very long.
- A cabinet maker will take accurate measurements and design the perfect cabinet for the space.
- Cabinet makers almost always have the wood that they need in stock, making the process quick and less expensive.
- You will receive a quote that will allow you to make a more informed decision. This is valuable information to have, even if you choose to purchase from a home improvement store.
- The cabinet maker will design a cabinet that will leave plenty of space for air circulation around the baseboard heater.
- They can design any style of cabinet to match existing cabinetry or furniture.
If you are set on purchasing premade cabinets or already have a cabinet that you want to use, there are several ways that you can install them so that the heater has enough space to circulate the warm air to heat the room.
Mount the Cabinet Above the Heater
Baseboard heaters will not work well if there is not enough space to allow for convection. As the air is heated, it rises to the ceiling, cools, then drops to the floor where it can be heated again. This process creates a circular flow of warming air in the room.
The main thing to keep in mind no matter how you install the cabinet is that the heater must have enough space to circulate air, and the air must be allowed to escape and circulate. Any type of obstruction will naturally decrease the efficiency of the heater, but it will still work.
- Leave several inches above the top of the heater for air to flow around the heater and escape into the room. Safety clearances for baseboard heaters are 12-inches from the front and top, and 6-inches from each side.
- If possible, offset the cabinet an inch or so from the wall so that air can rise behind the cabinet and into the room. If this offset is not possible, the heater will still work, but air will have to flow out the front or sides of the cabinet.
- A reflective metal flashing or aluminum tape applied under the cabinet will minimize heat absorption into the cabinet. This will encourage the heat to flow into the room instead.
- The toe kick area of the cabinet must have plenty of ventilation. This can be left open for maximum ventilation, or covered with a ventilated toe kick.
- Some people choose to install a small fan at one end of the cabinet to help circulate air sideways across the heater.
If the cabinet is suspended above the heater with wall anchors or brackets, the base can be left open for the best air circulation.
How to Support the Bottom of a Suspended Cabinet
When the cabinet is suspended above the baseboard heater, the heater will likely not be visible. The cabinet may look out of place if it does not appear to be sitting on the floor. Here are a few ways to make the cabinet look like it belongs in the space.
- Cheap, lightweight cabinets can be purchased that mount on metal brackets on the wall. Buy shorter cabinets that can be mounted at working height, leaving space above the heater. Sleek, no-hardware style cabinets look great suspended.
- The new style of “floating” cabinets is space-age looking but perfect for this type of application.
- Heavier, ornate cabinetry can be “anchored” to the flooring by adding decorative legs to the front of the cabinet.
- Shaker-style cabinetry looks good when sections of the raised molding are used to create a box-like structure that supports the ends and center on the floor. This design leaves the middle open for air ventilation. The ends should also have built-in circulation vents.
- Every style of cabinetry can be installed with a toe kick. However, to ensure heating efficiency, the toe kick should have multiple ventilation points.
Keep in mind that any type of covering will decrease the efficiency of the heater. The best solution is one that looks good in the home while allowing the air to circulate as freely as possible.
Can I Build a Bookcase Over a Baseboard Heater?
A bookcase can be built over a baseboard heater if space is left for air circulation. The bottom of the bookcase should be 12-inches above the top of the heater. Use aluminum flashing under the bookcase to reflect heat out from underneath. This will minimize heat absorption into the bookcase. Support the bottom with sides and a center post.
How Much Clearance Do I Need Around a Baseboard Heater?
Home inspectors will call out obstructed baseboard heaters as a safety violation. These are the clearances needed to operate a baseboard heater safely.
- 12-inches from the front of the heater
- 6-inches from the sides of the heater
- 12-inches from the top of the heater
Installation of cabinetry, bookcases, dressers, and other furniture should consider these clearances as part of the intended furniture design. Drapery and bedding are fire hazards when placed inside of these clearances. Special care should be taken to keep fabrics well away from any heat source.
Hannah DeMoss has been a writer for nearly a decade. Her passion for writing began years ago has continued to grow. Her expertise at home involves furniture restoration and other small DIY tasks. When not writing, Hannah enjoys the outdoors with her husband and pups, as well as traveling.
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