Should you heat your basement during the winter?

The temperature of a home's basement will usually stay fairly constant through the year. But while this quality can make the space a cool place to retreat during hot summer days, it can also make the basement feel noticeably colder than the rest of the home during the winter.

Homeowners may simply endure this issue, gritting their teeth through the chill when they go to do laundry or get Christmas decorations out of storage. Yet they may also consider whether to heat the basement to make it more comfortable.

Adding heat to the basement can be useful if the space is finished, or if it's set up as a game room or other frequently visited area. However, you can also preserve more heat by improving the insulation in the basement.

Insulation

Adding insulation between the basement and the home can help reduce heat loss from the warmer living areas to the cooler lower level of the home. Scott Gibson, writing for the sustainability site Green Building Advisor, says that while you'll have lower energy bills by keeping your basement unheated, you'll have greater heat loss through the floor of the home.

This heat loss can be even more pronounced if your basement lets in a lot of cold air. Lee Wallender, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says cold air intrusion can occur through points such as the windows, ducts, vents, and the framing between the foundation and the first floor of the home. A thermal camera, or simply feeling for drafts or using a lit stick of incense to detect them, can help you track down where cold air is entering the basement.

Choose appropriate insulation for the space. Emily Huddleston, writing for the real estate site Redfin, says spray foam or frame insulation with an R-value of R-10 to R-19 is good for basement walls. Gibson recommends using R-30 insulation between the floor of a heated home and unheated, uninsulated basement.

However, insulation on the walls of the basement typically doesn't have a significant effect on temperatures in the basement itself. Wallender says the soil against the basement walls already helps to regulate temperatures, and that you should focus on insulating any above-grade areas accessible from the basement to help preserve heat.

Address other sources of heat loss as well. Huddleston says the seals around windows and doors in the basement should be in good condition. You may also want to replace the basement windows and doors with more efficient versions.

Ducts and vents are often uninsulated, and can help conduct cold air into your basement. Wallender says ducts can be wrapped with insulation or replaced with insulated versions. Dryer vents often have flimsy plastic covers that are open to the elements, so you should consider replacing them with a "floating shuttle" model that stays firmly shut when not in use.

Heating sources

While insulation is a crucial factor in keeping your basement warm during the winter, actively heating the space can also be beneficial. Paul Davis, a building cleanup and restoration company, says warm air rising from the basement can make the rest of the home more comfortable. It will also prevent heat loss through ducts and water lines in the basement.

If your furnace is due for replacement, choose a model that's sized appropriately for the home. Gibson says oversized furnaces may quickly raise the heat to the temperature set on the thermostat, but fail to adequately heat rooms at the far end of the ducts. A properly sized furnace will maintain a more consistent temperature and run more efficiently, saving you money on your heating bills.

There are several options available for bringing heat to the basement. Wallender says the best solution is to extend the existing ductwork to pump more heat into the space. Huddleston says this may necessitate opening up the ceiling or walls in some cases, though.

Radiant floor heating systems use wiring or hot water systems to create a pleasantly warm floor, and this heat will radiate upward to help heat the space. However, it can be an expensive project because it will require you to replace the flooring in an existing basement.

Baseboard heaters can be hardwired into the basement's electrical system, or you can get a standalone model that plugs into an outlet. While this option allows you to focus heat only on the more frequently used parts of the space, it can also be inefficient and cut down on usable wall and floor space.

Some basements provide easy access to a chimney, giving you the option of installing a stove or fireplace. Some models, such as wood-burning inserts or pellet stoves, need to be vented to the outside. Huddleston says electric or gas stoves are also good options.

Space heaters are cheap and easy to use, and can be set up wherever you need some extra warmth. Wallender says this isn't necessarily the best choice, though, since it is also the least efficient option.

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