I’ve turned a blind eye to the baseboard heating systems that live in the kitchen, living room, and dining room. The thing is, I’ve never really liked them. They don’t seem to emit the same cozy warmth as the massive radiators throughout the rest of the house, and they always look dingy.
Mine attracts and retains more dog fur than any carpet. Many throughout the house appear dented and scuffed (even more so than any of my vintage finds). Baseboard heating systems may be efficient, but mine was especially rough. Scuffed. Scratched. Not dented, but pretty gross. And it’ll get grosser, just you wait.
I was determined to make it look better, so I figured out a way to fix it DIY-style for $4.
I considered updating the baseboard instead of replacing it. After estimating multiple alternatives, I learned that finding a new unit could run between $40-100+ depending on the finish and length. As much as I really would love to replace them entirely or reinstall radiators, it’s not practical from a $$$ standpoint. Instead, I upgraded it with enamel spray paint to see how that would work in the short term and the long term. I’ve read that normal spray paint works OK too, and that these heaters don’t get quite hot enough to distress the finish. I felt at ease going with a heavy-duty enamel finish because it’s in a high-traffic zone.
I’m not entirely sure about the order of operations when it comes to installing these heating systems, so uninstalling piece-by-piece was an adventure in its own right. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
Remove the end caps
Easy things first. Those caps on the ends slide right off. Mine slid off with a gentle breeze, which still seems a little too easy.
Pop the front panel off
Once the end caps are off, the main front panel will pop off too (on this short unit, it was only held on by 2 sets of clips). The little flapper flap that vents/conceals hot air flow also slides right off of the clips.
Detach the back panel of the heating unit
The piece of metal that attaches to the wall behind the heating unit is more challenging to remove. It was only attached to the wall with 4 screws, but it was wedged in place behind the heating element and with wooden trim. I’m not a plumber or heating specialist, but I bet that the back panel of the unit is installed before the heating element for ease of installation.
In any case, I was able to slowly remove it. I pulled it away from the wall to reveal lots of dog fur and an inordinate number of popsicle sticks. Side note: The folks that lived here before me were outnumbered by young boys.
It was worth having the opportunity to paint completely behind the baseboard where no paintbrush had ever reached. Saving the 1/4″ of paint in the Behr Venetian Gold paint can finally paid off.
Apply new paint
Once all of the pieces were removed, I cleaned behind the radiator and painted the wall. I also cleaned every piece of metal trim to remove any dust and dog fur. As you can see, there were several areas where existing paint buildup and rush promised to make it difficult to get a smooth surface. I used fine grade sandpaper along those areas to smooth out irregularities.
Then, I loaded all of the pieces of metal baseboard surround outdoors for enamel spraypainting.
I spraypainted the face of each piece with crisp white enamel spray paint in an effort to blend into the rest of the baseboard trim. I did not take pictures of this. Move slowly and steadily as you spray paint. (Side note: I picked up some normal spray paint in light gray initially with hopes to use the lightest of the shades, but I only found medium grays. Does no one make a super-super-light gray paint?)
Three very light coats of spray paint in one day (and overnight drying) left me with a very new-looking system.
Reinstall the baseboard surround
Reinstallation is the opposite of uninstalling the pieces. If you’re trying this at home, I hope you also find that the end results are exceptional.
In my home, it looks really nice against the new kitchen floor with the fresh Venetian Gold paint extending behind it cleanly.
And here’s one of those unfortunate moments where the updated piece looks so new that the rest of the previous white trim looks deplorable.
Easy. And it is less expensive than replacing the unit.
If yours are looking dingy, I’d say you should give it a try, especially with springtime right around the corner, you won’t be needing to use that heater and you’ll be able to paint outside comfortably. Double whammy.