Best Ways to Heat a Basement

Woman using space heater

 

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When finishing your basement, you may have lots of things on your mind. Heating is often relegated to an afterthought. Yet even the warmest basements run up to 15 degrees cooler than grade-level floors. This is just the inherent nature of below-grade living. In short, you need heating.

Couple that with the fact that your basement may not have originally been built with living in mind. While existing HVAC and ducting is often the best way to go, basements can effectively be heated to keep you toasty and warm, and usually through a combination of methods.

With new-construction homes, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) that service all floors are part of the total plan. But options dwindle if you are remodeling a basement that has already been finished or partially finished. Closed walls and ceilings inhibit your chances of running ductwork and electrical wiring.

No retrofit basement heating will be as sleek and invisible as installing heating before finishing, and none will be as simple or cheap. But it is guaranteed that all retrofit options will be superior to going cold in your newly refinished basement.

Best Option: Continue HVAC and Extend Ductwork

Unless you live in an unusual climate, your house will already have an internal heating system. So it is logical to work off of the existing heating and extend it into the finished basement area.

In many instances, the ductwork is visible and accessible from the basement. Consult an HVAC professional before extending the ductwork. While it seems easy, there are more important issues at hand that only an HVAC professional can help you with, such as calculating the heating load and size and configuration of ductwork.

Tip

You don't always need to run entirely new ductwork. Sometimes, you can tap into existing ductwork and send it down to the basement. For example, ducts that run between the joists of a floor can often be cut into from below.

If you are installing a new furnace for your home with no current intention of finishing the basement, you may want to choose a more powerful model than needed for the existing space, thinking ahead toward an eventual refinishing of the basement.

Even if you do not have the luxury of doing this, your HVAC system might be able to handle a load of increased space to heat.

One downside: when beefing up your entire heating system, changes apply to the whole house. If your family has a movie night in your newly refinished basement and you turn up your forced air heat, it will also heat the upstairs even though there is no one up there.

Pros
  • Best for maintaining home value

  • Invisible appearance: uses existing ductwork

  • Efficient energy source

Cons
  • May require new or improved system

  • Walls might need to be opened up

  • More difficult to separate heating zones

Hardwired Baseboard Heaters

For many homeowners, the best heating solution for the basement is a convection or hydronic electric baseboard heater hardwired into a home electrical system.

Electric baseboard heaters are long and quite prominent metal units that, as the name suggests, run along the baseboard of your walls. Baseboard heaters do not need to run the entire length of the wall, just in certain places.

As with extending your HVAC, baseboard heating requires planning for how much heat you need for a given room. At the least, you will need one baseboard heater per room, as the heat from baseboard heaters does not travel from room to room.

Plug-In Baseboard Heaters: Flexible Spot Heating

One alternative to hardwired baseboard heaters: plug-in electric baseboard heaters Not only are they portable but they disperse heat better than tiny space heaters. But they do take up space just as much as any hard-wired unit.

Many homeowners who choose the option of electric baseboard heaters do so with the understanding that the basement is a basement, and it does not play by the same rules of aesthetics as the upstairs area. So, even though baseboard heaters may not be acceptable upstairs from the standpoint of physical beauty, they are perfectly acceptable in the basement.

Installing electric baseboard heaters is not as simple as screwing them into the baseboard and plugging them into an ordinary outlet. The larger, 96-inch models draw enough power that they require a 20 amp, 240 V circuit. Consult an electrician ahead of time. All of these heaters will need to be hard-wired into the supply circuits, rather than being plugged into the wall receptacles.

Baseboard heaters allow you to sequester the heat into just the areas where you need the heat. These heaters can be individually controlled with separate thermostats or even completely turned on or off, as needed.

Pros
  • Spot heating where you need it

  • Flexible

  • No external venting

Cons
  • Uses a lot of energy

  • Takes up wall space

Wood Pellet Stove

Wood pellet stoves burn wood pellets and push out warm air with a small fan.

An alternative and greener option alternative to using a wood-burning stove is to install a wood pellet stove. These heating sources rely on manufactured pellets as an energy source and burn clean.

Recycled pellets burn at a slow rate of combustion and, fortunately, require only a 110 V plug-in outlet to run the motor that circulates hot air.

Unlike baseboard heaters, pellet stoves are not entirely basement-internal. Because these stoves produce carbon monoxide, you will need to vent directly to the outside.

From a style perspective, wood pellet stoves may not fit in with many contemporary or modern home designs. Even the most basic models of wood pellet stoves impart a classic or traditional look.

Pros
  • Electricity not required

  • Uses clean-burning pellets, not firewood

  • Uses recycled materials to produce the pellets

Cons
  • Must be replenished with fuel regularly

  • Produce carbon monoxide; must be externally vented

Electric Space Heaters

Space heaters are familiar to anyone who has lived in a cold apartment or dorm room. Cheap to purchase (nearly all cost less than $100), they plug directly into an ordinary household outlet and start blowing heat right away. There's no need to wait for HVAC technicians or electricians to do their work.

Fan-driven convection heaters are the least expensive and also the least efficient. Large, flat, micathermic heaters install on the wall like a flat-screen TV and slowly heat the room. Portable radiators roll into the room; their oil-filled cores retain heat even after the heating element has turned off.

Pros
  • Inexpensive

  • Portable

  • No need for installation: just plug it in

Cons
  • Inefficient energy-wise

  • Take up floor space

  • Cords in the way

Combination of Heat Sources

What if your HVAC system cannot supply enough heat to the entire house? It is possible to make do with temporary measures such as shutting off the upstairs registers by hand if you plan to be down in the basement for a while.

You may just have a trickle of heat coming through the downstairs basement registers. Do not discount the value of this low-volume heat. It is possible to run the furnace long enough to take the chill off of the basement room, using the energy draw on the electric baseboard heaters. By having the HVAC work in combination with the baseboard heaters, you should be able to supply enough heat for your basement.

Simply providing enough wall insulation, adequate subfloor, and underlayment may be enough to tip the balance of any HVAC system that is putting out some, but not enough, heat for the basement area.