How to heat a basement efficiently in cold winter13 min read

How to heat a basement efficiently in cold winter13 min read

Efficient Basement Heating ( and some cheap options too)

I am sure your family is complaining, for a while, about the cold basement.  You need to figure out why your basement is cold. And explore various options to heat the basement space efficiently.  Here I will try to give all the information that is needed to heat a basement efficiently and easily.

I am glad you landed up here.  I am going to break down the issues, reasons for cold basements and what can you do about it.

Does a finished basement need heat?

How to heat basement efficiently and stay warmIf you’re thinking, “what kind of a question that is”, just reserve your thought for a second.  There are a whole bunch of folks that will ask this question.

Are you one of those who think basement space need no heating?  Keep reading…

There are a few reasons why some wouldn’t think about the basement heating.

We are always told basement is a few degrees warmer than outside, and above grade.  And combined with the fact that the basement gets its heat from the floor above.

And the funniest one is this.  Since a below grade basement is packed by dirt on most of the sides it is insulated naturally, so no need to warm up the air in the basement.

But I am going to rehash all those and come up with several arguments and supporting thoughts to tell why many basements are colder and how to combat it.

Why is my basement so cold?

I must write a separate article just to answer this question, however, it begs an answer here, so we can look at how to heat the basement efficiently when it’s cold.

Ground causes the majority of cold below-grade.  The ground is inherently colder and has moisture in it.  Moisture, as you know, makes the floor colder.

Any portion of the basement that is above ground can and will let the cold air seep in through the cracks, between joists and multiple heat-weak spots.

Another culprit is a poorly ventilated laundry.  The dryer vent that is poorly ventilated or worse not ventilated ends up dumping the water vapor inside the basement.

Basement is anyhow damp which makes the below-grade space cold.  Now the vapor from your laundry increases the relative humidity which makes the basement colder.

Colder weather usually has a very low dew point.  That makes it easy for your walls and floors to sweat quickly.

And there a myriad of other reasons why your basement is colder – such as poor ventilation, solar heat gain on the upper levels, poorly installed heating registers etc.

Heat usually rises which must draw a cold air.  Naturally, the basement heat is drawn into the upper levels, leaving basement even colder.

How to heat a basement efficiently

There are several factors to consider while heating efficiently.

Obviously using an energy efficient heater, rated by the energy-star or one of those certifying bodies is a wise option.

When it comes to efficiency my mind rushes to electric heaters.

Electric resistant heaters are 100% efficient in my opinion.  Let me explain why.

First: There are no chimneys or vents.  So, none of those (ventilated smoke or air) can dissipate heat outside.  That’s a big waste with conventional heating.

Second:  when a vent or chimney is constructed, we are opening up the inside to out, thereby inviting cold air.

Now comes the method that exceeds 100% efficiency.

What more than 100% efficiency? That right.  You can achieve that only when you borrow heat and not when you create them.

You see, with any of the space heaters we are either burning something or converting energy from one form to another.  That is burning gas or wood.  Or we convert electricity to heat.

How do we borrow heat?

Introducing heat pumps. It’s basically A/C reversed.  Heat pumps use the naturally occurring heat underground and channelizing and concentrating the heat for use indoors.

It’s pretty cool, technically, and I love it.  It’s the true go-green method for heating. I am lately installing this in all the rental I manage. And the utility bill is very less too.

Couple of things to consider. There is always a fire hazard with electric heaters, so use caution.

Now here it the thing. Electric resistant heaters are cheap to install but costly on utility bills. And heat pumps are better on the bills but costly to install.  Both are efficient, but the choice is yours.

7 Keys on how to warm up a cold basement

  1. Water is a potential problem – address it first
  2. Insulate the walls – and reduce cold draft
  3. Ventilate dryer and shower – Keep the air in a comfortable RH Zone
  4. Insulate all plumbing and ductwork
  5. Seal the cold floors to reduce moisture seeping through
  6. Use a flooring material that naturally resists cold
  7. Keep the air circulating so you feel the warmth evenly throughout the basement
  8. Make sure you warm the space efficiently using one of the methods listed below

Basement heating options (and Best solutions to make your family feel cozy)

The main idea behind keeping your below-grade space warm is to do the following

  • Insulate the walls so you don’t get the cold air in
  • Keep the warm air inside and not let it dissipate
  • Make sure the cold floors are sealed and are warm to touch
  • And heat the basement space using one of the options listed below

And to get the heat up, we can use one of the following known methods.

  1. Tapping into the Forced-air system

Forced Air System Duct Work extentionI am pretty sure you are having ductwork running in your basement ceiling.  It’s, in fact, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of how to heat your basement.  Figure out a good spot to poke a big hole and add a register.

If you have a room, or an area of the basement that wants heating but no duct around, you might have to do a little more work.  In fact, you have to run a duct line and tap into the trunk.

You must know the math and physics behind airflow.  So, you know how it’s going to help the basement.  More importantly, is it going to bother upstairs room due to lesser air flow?

The biggest issue is this.  You will make it a single-zone heating then if you tap into the existing forced-air system.  So your thermostat is going to get the reading from upstairs and thereby letting the basement suffer at a non-so-optimal temperature.

The best solution is to manually control the duct works, but that’s too much of a hassle.

  1. Baseboard heaters

effective_heating_for_basement_using_baseboard_heaterInstead of extending and creating a single-zone heating problem, why not separate the two.

How?  Using baseboard heaters.

The 3 to 6-feet baseboard units that sits by the baseboard of the room.  There are some challenges to this.

One it’s not very efficient in heating a bigger room, so you might have to place a few of them in a bigger room.

Second is it takes up space and challenges your aesthetics.  You can’t put your couch or other dense furniture by the wall that has the baseboard heater.

But this is a wise and a quicker option.  I have done it on a 1930s building. That’s all I could do there, so never underestimate this solution. It’s wonderful for a tight spot.

If you are in metro NY and in a really old building, you would’ve seen those crazy big cast iron radiators.  Now you get a very small 6 inches by 3 inches, really sleek baseboard heaters that can be retrofitted into the plumbing.

Make sure though, you have a hot water-based radiator and not a steam heater.

  1. Space heaters

Space heater to quickly get small basement space warmed upQuick and easy. No installation. Just plug and play.

While the installation is a breeze, energy consumption to generate the heat is another story.

However, it stands in the way and is unsightly.  But you can’t beat it’s no installation quick heat benefit for any space. All you have to do is just unplug and carry it to another space and voila, your place will be warm in a jiffy.

Biggest issues, however, is it is inefficient in heating a bigger place. And you must be careful with the fire hazards on some of the models.

  1. Fireplaces and stoves

Fireplace and Stove heating the basementI am personally not a fan of stove and fireplaces. I love seeing a fireplace mantle.  So, when I build a house, I am going to create a make-believe fireplace just for the looks of it.

You have 3 major options.  Wood burning, wood-pellet burning and gas burning fireplaces.

The fireplace solution, in general, is an inconvenient one. Although, the look of it is awesome.

All type of fireplaces needs expert installation.  You must also run a chimney which is going to make this a bigger, expensive project.

Carbon monoxide issue and Loss of heat when the toxic gases go up the chimney.

If you use a pellet burning fireplace it takes up a lot of space.  Some like it, but I don’t.  On the positive side, it uses recycled wood.

For both wood-burning and pellet-burning options, you have to first store the firewood or pellet, which is a storage issue for some. Secondly, you must clean up the ashes.

I am a maintenance free kind of a person and look for set it and forget it solutions.

If you give me a choice, I would go with gas-burning fireplace than wood-burning counterparts.  At least I would end up with less mess.

Moving hot air around your basement rooms is an issue. So, one end of the basement is going to be cold and the room where the fireplace is will be really warm.

In my opinion, the fireplace is an expensive space heating solution.  Although, they can heat a very big space easily.

  1. Underfloor heating – using radiant heat

A must for efficiently heating the basement-radiant heatingWhile this is not to be confused with others that heat up space and air, it has its place.  Heating the floor make an excellent option for your basement.  Especially if you have tiles or concrete you are going to have an extremely cold basement floor.

And if you are like me you will love this.  I don’t use shoes or flip-flops inside the house. It just bothers the natural order of things in my house.

I like warm surfaces. If you combine the radiant floor heating solution with any of the other space heating solutions, it’s going to make your basement very comfortable and cozy on a cold winter night.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of options. In my opinion, some are not even considered energy efficient.  I will soon try to do a round-up post on heating options.  Hopefully, I will get all them in then.

Cheap ways to heat a room

Cheap can mean different things to different people.  Some want a quick and cheap way to get the heat.  That is a cheap installation and don’t care much about the cost of generating the heat itself.

Others who think the long-term doesn’t care the expense of the installation but need a cheaper on-going cost.

In any case, I am not going to list all the options here – that’s for a different day.

I am going to give some suggestions to keep the room warm on cheap.

  1. Wear a lot of layers and thick clothes

efficient heating in basement using lot of layers of clothingBelieve it or not, you are looking to warm yourself than space around.  The best way is to capture the heat that’s generated from your body.

The easiest and the cheapest way to capture and use is to take on a lot of layers of your clothing.

In fact, our body is built to maintain a certain temperature.  It has a built-in HVAC that controls it. Sweat, as you know, cools the body.  Which is why we sweat in the summertime.

Similarly, shiver is caused in cold for a reason. You body internally rubs and creates heat from that friction, thereby heating your body.  This is by far the cheapest I can suggest.

  1. Seal up all the potential places for drafts.

Second and the most important thing we ignore is this.  To seal all the leaky spots.  It serves two purposes.  First to stop any cold air to get in and second to stop the escape of already warm interior air.

How do you spot where your basement comfort is being compromised?

Simple! Get a thermal camera and scan every pixel of your house. You can also get a cheaper IR thermometer to find temperature variation spots.

Insulate anything possible, including walls, rims, joists, and sill plates.

  1. Keep all the doors shut – interior and exterior doors

Believe me, this is simple yet often overlooked.

All you have to do is, keep all doors shut all the time.  This will create each room as a separate silo and prevent heat from escaping, at least heat escapes at a slower rate.

It is often cheaper to keep all the doors shut and just heat up the space that you are working.

Assuming you have a home office in the basement, and you are often stuck for a good 8 hours in the den, then this will work like crazy.  You only heat the home office and shut all other basement room doors.

  1. Open the blinds and shutter to let the sun in

You must know the time of the day and where the sun hangs. And so you can open the blinds just there, in the correct direction and spot to let the sun come in.

  1. Use thicker curtains to minimize heat escape

Running a thicker curtain and a liner acts to block any heat escape.  Try to find any leaks in the windows and use an interior Transparent Weather Sealing Tape so it’s airtight

  1. Use cellular shades for windows.

air pockets in cellular shade to stop heat escapeThis is much like the previous suggestion of a thick curtain.  The kind of shade I would suggest is a cellular shade.  It has a honeycomb-like pattern.

Using any thick material for window treatment is generally a good option.  Especially using cellular shades is ideal for reducing the heat loss through windows.

These shades have air pockets and provide insulation.  Air stuck in those gaps act as a natural insulation layer.

You can’t go wrong with the aesthetics too if you choose this option.

  1. Insulate all walls, if not

Basement walls, if unfinished are notorious at absorbing the coldness and passing it indoors. The portion of the basement wall that sits above grade permeates a lot of cold weather.

Getting a nice insulation around the wall is a must to get the basement to stay warm.

  1. Heat only where required. Just hang in where it’s warm

This is a no-brainer, but we don’t think it through.  You may have a single zone heating unit.  Now, because of that, all you know is to crank the heat up and feel warm.

If you’ve decided to stay in one of the basement rooms, then find a way to get a space heater to heat just the space that you are going to use.

Heating the whole basement is pointless and wastes a lot of energy anyhow.

My Final Say on Efficiently Heating Your Basement:

While everyone wants an extra space in the house, we hate that to be cold, instead of being cozy.

To keep the basement warm and providing the necessary heat efficiently take more thought that just turning on the heater.

What we need to remember are just two things before turning the heater of your choice on.

Insulate enough that none of the cold air comes in, and at the same time preserve any air that has already been warmed up.  You need to think and take enough measure to achieve these two before turning on the heat.

That is, in my opinion, is the best way to heat a basement efficiently.

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