More kitchen space by removing baseboard heat

We’ve been rehabbing our kitchen this year slowly*.  Some little things like painting the cabinet faces, changing out the hardware, remove wallpaper, new appliances! Ok maybe not so little things.  As these things things have been in progress, we come to realize what we really need is more space (and more money but that’s a different problem).

The more kitchen space thing really began when we got a fancy new refrigerator which we love and for which we installed a new water line. The new water line was required to move the refrigerator to a new location. There were two problems with the old location, (1) it was adjacent to the dishwasher which gets hot while refrigerator makes cold = energy waste + bad for refrigerator life, and (2) more counter space would be nice. The new location is along a wall with nothing on it, except a baseboard heater.  We can remove the baseboard heat and reclaim the entire wall, thus fixing both energy waste problem and kitchen space problem.

The space reclaimed by removing the baseboard heat effectively doubles the working space in our kitchen!!

Great, but the problem with removing the baseboard heat is that then there is no heat. In Hawaii this isn’t a problem. In New England, no heat is a BIG problem.

* Before diving into the answer to this heat problem, I must put in a plug here for myself :D.  The Mr. in  the “we” situation here, or shall I say Dr., has been at the start disagreeable to all of this.  The Me in our “we” has had to be quite crafty, in addition to leveraging my engineering training, to convince Mr. Dr. to do any of this.  First, why don’t we paint the cabinets it is cheap and not too hard?  Second, changing the hardware only needs a screwdriver surely we can do that.  Next, these appliances are on sale your mom will disapprove of the old ones and love the new ones.  Well, now we have this beautiful new fridge with all your beers we can’t put it next to the dishwasher!  But now it’s in front of the heaters!  Gah!

In our house, we have oil fuel and hydronic baseboard heat. We have an oil tank in the basement, and a boiler that burns the oil to heat water. The heated water is pumped through 3 loops, (1) into the adjacent hot water tank for our household running water, (2) in a loop of pipes that run along the baseboards to heat our first floor, and (3) in a loop of pipes that run along baseboards to heat our second floor. Baseboards are just the hot water pipes surrounded by metal fins that increase heated surface area in contact with air. The problem with baseboards is you can’t really put permanent furniture blocking them because they heat the back of the furniture rather than heating the room. Couches are ok to pull out a couple inches from the baseboards, but kitchen cabinets and refrigerators definitely can’t go in front of baseboards.

Whats to do? Convert the lost baseboard into a toekick heater says the internets. Rather than having a whole wall of hot pipe to heat the room, drop that pipe under the floor and bring just a little loop up into the kitchen to feed a little toekick heater. The toekick fits under just a single cabinet and heats the entire room. Toekicks heat the same room while taking up less space by adding an electric fan to actively blow warm air off the hot metal pipe & fins.

More internets later, there are a handful of toekick manufacturers**. We ended up  buying a Myson Whispa Kickspace III 7000EZ from Houseneeds.com.  Here were my shopping criteria:

  • We went with the Myson because internets says they have access panels that make servicing the unit later easy.  I figured this would be important since someday permanently installed cabinets would be on top of this little guy.
  • We bought from Houseneeds because they were shipping from Vermont, which isn’t too far from New Hampshire.
  • We got the 7000 model based on the length of baseboard we were replacing.  We were at the high end for the 5000 or low end for 7000 model, so we went with 7000.  One could also calculate BTUs needed for room size, but that seemed too difficult (there’s only three sizes of kickspace and our kitchen is not that big (which is why we need the toekick)).
  • We went for the EZ model because it comes with the hookup hoses.  It also says it has plugin electrical, although it isn’t clear from the web descriptions or the product manual whether the non-EZ models have plugin-type or hardwire electrical.

** I wish I could cite some internets sources here for completeness, but my records are quite crap and I can’t really say which forums were actually any good anyways because I am not an expert in this field so I recommend doing ones own research also.

I did call a plumber to get an idea of cost, and he quoted me $800 including the cost of the toekick unit.  We would have to use the toekick manufacturer he provided (don’t recall which), he would need access to run pipes below, and he didn’t do the electrical for the toekick fan which was hardwired.   I figured, since we didn’t exactly have access below (garage ceiling is sheetrocked) if we hired out the entire job we would need 3 professionals, (1) handyman to create access below, (2) plumber to do the heating system, (3) electrician to wire the toekick unit.  My guess is the total price to hire out would be easily over $1000.

Thinking we were so wonderful after doing the refrigerator line ourselves, we decided to do the toekick conversion ourselves.  This was an adventure and is not for the faint of heart.  I will write about this experience in another post…

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