Heating options for Finished Basement

jenjen3574August 3, 2009

My husband and I are in the process of getting several bids on finishing our currently unfinished basement. We are in WI, so the winters can get pretty cold. We are getting conflicting advice on how to heat the space once it is finished. Some of the contractors insist that running a few extra heat runs along with cold air returns will heat the basement plenty with our existing forced air heat furnace. Others insist we must install a two-zoned heating system to really have a warm basement in the winter. Anyone have an opinion, or more importantly a good explanation of why one theory is correct?

We are also considering doing electric baseboard heat to supplement the forced air - what are the pitfalls there? We will do that if it is the best option, but honestly I really don't like the look of them.

Thanks for any insight anyone can offer.

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I believe both options provide viable solutions. Absolutely the cold air returns. Cold air settles to the lowest point and remvoing it from the basement floor will go miles toward providing comfort. Also circulating it will enable the air conditioning system to partially dehumidify the space during summer months.

How tight are your basement windows. If you can upgrade from the builders' standard that will help.

Insulation? XPS against the concrete prior to studs will block the heat sink of the concrete.

I cannot comment on a dual-zone forced air system because I have no familiarity with one.

We live in northern Illinois and it gets pretty cold here too. During the coldest part of winter our basement is very comfortable. The radiant from the ducts along with two inlets and the cold-air return do the job. We also close the door leading to the basement to "trap" the heat. Many mornings when I first go down to let our dog up, it is upper 70's.

During the spring/fall when the furnace doesn't run often is when our basement needs help. We installed an electric fireplace with a 10,000 BTU heater. The auxulary heat it provides is sufficient and would be much like a baseboard option.

Here are some photos of our basement including the fireplace and floorplan. The only thing I would do differently is to double-wall the furnace surround to contain the noise. Good luck with yours.

Here is a link that might be useful: Basement Photos

    Bookmark   August 4, 2009 at 8:19AM
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Thanks for the input fnmroberts. We are in the Milwaukee area, so your climate is probably very similiar to ours. I like the idea of using a fireplace as auxiliary heat when needed instead of baseboard heaters - will have to see what the husband thinks about that.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2009 at 2:21PM
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I suspect our climates are very similar. Hopefully he will like the idea.

I went with electric rather than gas because everyone I know with a gas fireplace in their basement can't enjoy it. Too much heat. And, I personally don't believe the ventless ones are safe - don't care what anyone says. No one will mistake our electric one for a real fire but it creates the ambience, with or without heat. For ours, I purchased the insert and made it built-in but free-standing ones are available. Ours is wired 30 amp, 220 - the free standing ones are 110 but offer less heat. I suspect they still require a dedicated circuit so your electrician will need to know your plans. You can visit a quality fireplace shop to see some.

I'll be driving through your fair city tomorrow - I'll wave!

Hope this helps with your decision.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 8:47AM
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jen - Our builder also told us we'd be okay with the draw from forced air system and added a return as part of the work in basement. We didn't want to be sorry later in case it didn't work so we had the electrician wire it for future elec. baseboard and thermostat. We have not had to call the electrician back to install the units and we live in the northeast. We do use an auxiliary source of heat with an electric pot belly stove that works similar to the fireplace mentioned.

FYI--We also added extra insulation around ductwork and the wall abutting the furnace area and in the ceiling...so glad we did. It makes a big difference in the room as well as upstairs when the kids are using the room.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 4:25PM
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I have similar dilema. I,m finishing a room and can't decied on heat source. I have forced hot water in main house and considered a 2nd zone but the estimate was 1700.00 to install. I'm now looking at other options. Some to consider is hydronic wall heaters that use your hot water tank as source and the wall unit has a radiator that a fan blows over the heated fins. Heats a room quick i'm told. NO estimate yet.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 8:40PM
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The combination of efficient insulation, air blocking and a supplementary heat source works well. A direct vent natural gas fireplace or stove does the job nicely while enhancing the decor.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 2:34AM
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I'm in WI and looking at the same dilemma. I see that the original post is a couple years old, but that a few of you are recent. We are considering running additional ductwork from our furnace (natural gas), freestanding electric, and a freestanding natural gas fireplace. I have yet to see the hydronic wall heaters you mentioned. The fireplace is the most aesthetically appealing solution, but also the most expensive. One thing I was warned away from in our area is cost of heating using electric. I'm told electric far exceeds the cost of natural gas in Wisconsin. Will have to run the numbers. I'm also interested in the speed with which they'll each heat a room? Any idea on the hydronic wall heaters?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2011 at 3:03PM
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The idea of using a water heat to provide hot water for a hydronic system isn't new and basically involves adding a circulating pump and a thermostatically controlled valve. Because water heaters aren't designed for this purpose there are a few drawbacks. The water temperature is considerably lower than what would come out of a traditional boiler so the heat output of the baseboard (or wall unit) will be less. You could raise the temperature of the water heater but then you'd have to add a mixing valve to prevent anyone taking a shower from being scalded. At the beginning and end of each heating season you'll need to make adjustments to water temperature and the mixing valve. There's also the, somewhat unknown, question of capacity -- what happens to your basement heat when someone takes a shower or what happens in the shower when the basement heat kicks on?

Assuming you have a forced hot air sytem now, adding a few vents to the basement will probably keep you comfortable and will likely be the cheapest solution. As mentioned you could do a direct vent fireplace or space heater. Electric baseboard tends to be the least expensive to install and the most expensive to use.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2011 at 9:33AM
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Electric baseboard tends to be the least expensive to install and the most expensive to use.

I've put in backup electric baseboards in every basement I've done. But with tight construction and high levels of insulation I've never used them. Next time I won't bother.

The biggest problem with basements is actually the summer. Unless you can positively shut off the supply of conditioned air, they can get too cold and require heating.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2011 at 6:38PM
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We put a gas burning fireplace with a thermostat and you can either direct vent or run it up the chase. Love ours. Put it at 68, set it and forget it!!!!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 5:56PM
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Recently finished our basement in Massachusetts and we found that with the rigid foam insulation and carpet that it never gets below 60 degrees without the heat on. We have 2 windows in the basement as well. We installed an electric system called Hydrosil. This was recommended to us by our electrician. This works beautifully and we barely have seen any additional cost to our electric bill. We do keep it set at 60 when no one is in the basement. We have approx. 600-700 sq feet of living space there and I beleive it cost approx $800 for 2 baseboards and the thermostat. The baseboard heaters look identical to the ones we have on our first and second floors that are fueled by forced hot water via an oil furnace. I would steer clear of anything that uses oil....to expensive now.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 12:04AM
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this hydrosil intrigues me. How does it differ from an oil filled radiator...other than it looks nicer....?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 5:00PM
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I am looking to heat my basemant, but I want either a gas heater or gas stove so when the electricity goes out, i can still have some heat...My question is: should I vent the gas heater from the basement thru the chimney or piping to the basemant wall? thanks...

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 9:25PM
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EPA wood stove and never look back.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 11:43AM
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