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Basement Heating

Find Out Your Options For Heating a Finished Basement

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Q-Mark HBB750 Hydronic Baseboard Heater With 750 Watts

Q-Mark HBB750 Hydronic Baseboard Heater With 750 Watts

Q-Mark Via Amazon.com
When you are finishing your basement, you have lots of things on your mind: what kind of flooring is appropriate for below-grade applications; can you add windows; do you need to install a special wallboard system; etc. Not only that, you are dreaming about what your basement will eventually become. Man-cave. Movie room. Sewing room. Guest room. Rental apartment.

But you probably are not thinking about basement heating. In fact, heating often becomes an afterthought. Considering that basements tend to run about five or ten degrees cooler than the upstairs, it is critical to think about heating beforehand.

Your options dwindle if you are remodeling a basement that has already been finished or partially finished. You have closed walls to contend with, which make it that much harder to run electrical wire.

In general, you have two major options for basement heating: extending your existing HVAC into the basement area or installing electric baseboard heaters. Neither option can be considered especially simple and cheap, but both options are superior to freezing in your newly refinished basement.

1. Extend Existing Ductwork

Unless you live in some unusual climate, your house already has heating. 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. I would urge you to consult an HVAC professional before extending the ductwork. While it seems easy, and in some sense it is easy, there are more important issues at hand that only an HVAC professional can help you with, issues such as calculating heating load and size and configuration of ductwork.

When I installed my latest gas furnace, I purposely bought a more powerful model than I needed for the existing space, thinking ahead towards an eventual refinishing of my basement--a basement which had little existing heating to speak of. Even if you do not have the luxury of doing this, it is possible that your HVAC system might be able to handle the load of increased space to heat.

One major downside to extending the HVAC is that there is no way to send the heat either upstairs or downstairs only, short of physically shutting off each heating register by hand. So, in other words, 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.

2. Install Baseboard Heaters

Let's face it, electric baseboard heaters are not the most elegant solution. 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, with the option of baseboard heating you also need to think about how much heat you need for a given room. At the very least, you will need one baseboard heater per room, as the heat from baseboard heaters does not travel from room to room.

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 for the standpoint of physical beauty, they are perfectly acceptable in the basement.

One thing to keep in mind is that installing electric baseboard heaters is not as simple as screwing them into the baseboard and plugging them into an ordinary outlet. These heaters draw enough power that they require a 20 amp, 240 V circuit. Consult an electrician ahead of time. These heaters will need to be hard-wired into the supply circuits, rather than being plugged into the wall receptacles.

One great thing about baseboard heaters is that they 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.

Plan B: A Combination of the Two

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 awhile.

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, lightening 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.

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

Finally, it is important to remember that simply providing enough wall insulation and 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.

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