How to heat attic space

sapphire6917April 4, 2014

Hi Everyone!

I am having part of my attic turned into a closet. I live in a cold climate and I'm trying to figure out the best way to get some heat up there without major structural changes. I had insulation blown in last year but it is still a sauna in the summer and a freezer in the winter. I am having the very drafty window replaced but I'm certain I will need some auxiliary heat up there come November.

I have looked at wall mounted electric heaters with slim profiles that don't look like they will put out enough heat. Ideally, I would like something that I can control from downstairs or with a timer so that the heater can be set to warm the space ahead of time.

Any ideas would be appreciated!


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No wish to be unkind, but heating an entire attic to keep a closet warm?? Not exactly a wise use of energy, electric or otherwise. Why not move those things that can't deal with low temperatures somewhere already heated and use the attic space for the rest.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 5:23AM
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I am the thing that can't deal with low temperatures!! LOL!

I probably wasn't very clear about the set up. It was an unfinished attic so part of it is being finished and will be a large walk in closet. This is one of those old houses that lack closets. One of the reasons I was specifically looking at electric heating is exactly the reason you brought up - I only want to heat the finished part of the attic and only when I'm going to be in it.

I hope that explains it better!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 6:55AM
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"and only when I'm going to be in it."

And the implication is; 10min a week, or hours a day?

Infrequent short term-A jacket in the winter, a swim suit in the summer.

Long term frequent=Have a switched exhaust fan installed that pulls heated and cooled air from the dwellings system.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:31AM
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Probably not hours every day but could end up being a couple of hours every day during the week. It is going to contain virtually all of my clothing, shoes and jewelry and I will do ironing, hanging and arranging in there. When it is five or ten degrees outside, it's near impossible to spend minutes up there without something going numb.

I will definitely ask my contractor about the switched exhaust fan. Thanks for the suggestion!!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 3:07PM
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A 110 volt electric heater, no matter the brand or advertising hype, can produce a maximum of 5000 btus per hour. A 220 volt heater twice as much, but would require a separate 220 volt line. Either would require a long run time to warm a large space.

There are kerosene and propane wall mount heaters, but they are expensive, require fuel lines, etc.

Hard to see how it wold be worth it. Use the space in the cooler/warmer months and ignore it in the depths of winter and hottest part of summer.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 6:07AM
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Thanks, Akamainegrower! I've pretty much decided on an electric space heater with a remote control. Because it is my primary closet space, there's no ignoring it during any time of the year but I think the space heater will suffice.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:26AM
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How about a ceiling mounted heater like in the bathroom. With a fan in it, of course. It'd be out of the way and less of a fire hazard than a floor or wall mounted heater.

If desired you can enhance that with a small desk fan aimed to circulate the hot air better which is what I do in one of our BR's.

They usually come in combination with a separate xost fan which might pull in cool air during summer.

Radiant heaters are worthless unless you stand exactly in front of em.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 11:22AM
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I looked at a similar requirement for one of my houses, but never actually built anything.

What I was planning was to first put a duct from the closet to my cold air return (which was accessible from the attic). Then put another duct into ceiling of the heated part of the house, and install a small HVAC fan in that opening to force air into the attic closet.

If I wanted to heat or cool the closet I would turn on the fan in the input duct and it would pull ambient house air into the closet and exhaust it into my cold air return.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:08PM
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Hi Mxyplx, what kind of ceiling heater do you mean? Are they typically made for bathrooms?

Bruce, I will share this post with my contractor to see what he thinks about your suggestion!


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 8:34PM
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I Googled > bathroom heating ceiling There are 2 fan systems in it cause both can be turned on same time.which is, of course, ridiculous. Obviously 2 switches. It vents to the attic.

This one works. We had some other brand in tuther BR and the fan was so bad you had to reach up to feel the hot which never got to the floor. It got gone. So if you decide on this route don't go cheap.

Here is a link that might be useful: BR Heater

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:49PM
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Thanks for the link, Mxyplx! I had seen them before but, for some reason, never considered them for heating without the exhaust! I will run this by my contractor as well!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 1:00AM
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walls that are shared with attic space are called kneewalls.
temps in attics are extreme.
both air movement & heat transfer are the issue with
rooms inside of attic.
in addition to insulating walls into attic, you should
air seal them also. caulk top & bottom plates of walls,
insulate then use foam sheathing boards with reflective
surface (facing into attic space) nailed with roofing or button
cap nails to add both air sealing & additional insulation value to wall.

then the area will be easier to heat/cool.
otherwise you add more heat/cool to an area surrounded
by extreme attic temps.
these areas are achieve comfort with out extra effort..
either in air sealing & insulating a one time charge
vs the cost to add heat/cooling and operate it monthly.

the section on kneewalls is page five at the
bottom. thel kneewalls they show are smaller
than yours..but the same situation.

best of luck

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 2:02PM
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Thank you for the response and the link, Energy_ rater_la! I will pass it along to the contractor to see what he says!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 7:59AM
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I have a wall mounted electric heater in a 6 ft x 8 ft bathroom and it does a good job of keeping the room warm.

It doesn't put out a lot of heat such as a space heater, but it stays on round the clock in the cold months. You have to keep the door closed.

The first time I plugged it in, it didn't seem to be working for the first two days and then I could feel that it was working.

If you are thinking of getting one, read about where to install. It is installed at floor level and the heat rises and circulates in the room. So you couldn't, for example, place on the wall and hang clothes above it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wall heater

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 9:56AM
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Thanks, Graywings! That's actually the one that I originally looked at. I love the design but, after reading the reviews, it didn't seem like it would be adequate to heat the space. I'm not sure I'd want to leave it on around the clock either. We get some long, cold winters and I can only imagine what my electric bill would be!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 6:14AM
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I just now remembered the following story:

My father was 5 in 1895, lived in a house in MPLS. They had a coal stove in the living room and stood beside it to get dressed in winter. Facing the stove your butt froze, facing away your uh other end froze. Upstairs was just like outside but no wind.

One day his brother, a few years older, cut a hole in the cieling above the stove so hot air would go upstairs. Unbeleivable! What an innovation. It was the talk of the neighborhood.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 11:08AM
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I have one of those holes in my living room up to a bedroom in my house built around 1900. There is a grate on both sides.

Sapphire - my envi heater is on all winter and there is not an appreciable rise in my electricity bill. The company puts the cost at about 4 cents per hour using 450 watts of power. That's $30 month. The question for you is whether the room will be insulated sufficiently to retain the heat.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 12:23PM
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Mxyplx, your uncle was a genius! I am actually considering doing that very thing in my library where the fireplace is and, like the one in Graywings' house, have grates on both sides. The upstairs isn't ice cold but it would make it a little more cozy when the furnace is programmed to lower the temperature at night.

Grawywings, that's not very much at all for running a heater all of the time! How cold does it get there? It gets into the single digits and sometimes below during the January/February timeframe. I had insulation blown into the attic and just had the window replaced and sealed around it so I think it can hold the heat pretty well. I just hate being cold!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 7:27PM
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Heat rises, so all you really have to do is cut a hole in the floor and put in a floor grill. Low tech, no electricity needed, works. That's how it used to be done, you'll still see them in old old houses to heat the upstairs if a fireplace downstairs is the main heat source:
If you want to close it off, just install a register instead of an open grill. Getting heat UP is never a problem. Cooling it in the summer, that is the harder part. I suggest an exhaust fan on the ceiling of the closet.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 9:04PM
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Just on a whim I Googled >small one room heat pumpHere was one site. Lots of others. Stand alone and wall mounted. I did not pursue it further than that. I've never had/used a heatpump device. Know nuthin cept the general idea.

Here is a link that might be useful: Possibility?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 11:58PM
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I'm not sure I would get quite enough heat just from rising air, Phaewryn. It's certainly possible but it gets downright frigid up in that attic!

Mxyplx, I looked at one of those mini splits. My concern with those was both figuring out a good spot for the outside piece and finding an effective yet unobtrusive method for draining the inside piece.

But I'll add these to the list of things I bring to my contractor!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 11:29AM
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What about radiant heat / flooring. You warm from below and it warms ambient air. You don't feel as cold. It is more instantaneous and you could set it up with a timer etc. I prefer radiant to heaters that just blast heat.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 1:17AM
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Hi Coolcat1! I'm one of those that will take heat any way that I can get it! But, in this case, the flooring that's in the attic is not compatible with radiant heating. It would be nice, though!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 2:03PM
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Found this interesting, and in some areas I believe holes in the floor are against code, and may possibly be an issue for insuring or obtaining mortgage in some cases, as are laundry chutes in some places - both may be considered raceways for fire. Personally love them both, but important to be aware of local issues. Just looked at a 90 year old house today with *no* upstairs heat, and one grated hole to let up some New England!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 7:10PM
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