How Far Away Should Curtains Be From Baseboard Heaters?

Baseboard heaters with an electric element pose a serious fire hazard if curtains or other flammable materials come in contact with the heating element. For maximum safety, keep flammable materials, including curtains, 12 inches away from baseboard heaters.

Baseboard Heaters and Safety

The two types of baseboard heaters are: hydronic and electric. Hydronic heaters use a closed system filled with water or another fluid, while electric baseboard heaters have an electric heating element. Both types operate by allowing the heated air to circulate by convection rather than using a fan or forced air.

Hydronic baseboard heaters generally operate at lower surface temperatures than electric heaters, and, in most cases, they are considered safe enough to be covered by floor-length drapes. However, keeping full-length curtains closed over hydronic baseboard heaters can trap the heat behind the curtain and prevent it from circulating through the room. This defeats the purpose of having the heater, as does placing furniture close to the heater.

Electric baseboard heaters must be kept clear of all flammable material, including material such as wreaths and other decorations that might become detached and fall onto the heating element. Typical safety warnings include the following:

  • Keep bedding, drapes, foam-filled items, and electrical cords away from the heater.
  • Don't hang vinyl blinds or drapes above the heater, and don't use adhesive hangers on the wall above the heater.
  • Don't place the heater beneath a wall covered with paperboard or vinyl wallpaper.
  • Don't install or place the heater beneath an electrical wall outlet.
  • Don't use or store gasoline or other flammable liquids near the heater.

Curtain Styling With Baseboard Heaters

Baseboard heaters are frequently located directly beneath windows, because the downward flow of cold air from the window opening increases the heater's convection of warm air. If this is your situation, you'll need to rethink your approach to dressing the windows. Full-length drapes are a safety hazard, and most people don't like the "chopped-off" look of drapes that stop above the heater. A better option, especially for casual rooms, is to hang curtains that stop 1 to 2 inches below the bottom of the window molding. For a dressier look, hang Roman shades or roll-up blinds within the window frame and add a scarf valance above the top the molding. The ends of the scarf should stop at one-third to one-half of the distance from the top to the bottom of the window.