How To Heat A Basement In Winter

how to heat a basement in winter

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Not only are basements are the most logical place to extend your family living space, but your basement is probably the most versatile space in your home. 

So it really comes as no surprise that a full 30% of new homes built in the US in 2013 are built on a full or partial basement. In fact, that figure more than doubles to over 60% in cold-weather states across the country. 

If it snows where you live, then, statistically, you probably have a basement. 

And if you have a basement, then, statistically, you probably need to deal with cold winter temperatures. 

Your basement has the potential to be the coziest room in your home if it’s well-contained, well-insulated and well-heated. 

Many, however, are not.

There’s a good chance your basement is cold, drafty and utterly unappealing. You’re probably wasting valuable living space avoiding problems that can be fixed in literally dozens of ways.

So let’s fix them.

To achieve this and get that extra space you’ve been wanting, you’re going to need to address two fundamental problems:

  1. Firstly, how do you keep the warmth you have (or avoid heat loss) in your basement?
  2. And secondly, what is the most effective way to actually heat your basement?

How To Keep Your Basement Warm In Winter

insulate your basement

Try to heat a poorly insulated basement is like storing your cash in the garbage disposal…

It’s a waste of money. 

Before you even think of effectively heating your basement space, first you need to optimize your basement against unnecessary heat loss, or you’ll be throwing money down the drain. 

Here’s 8 top tips for minimizing heat loss in your basement this winter:

1. Locate Cold Spots

In order to eliminate heat being lost, you first need to be able to locate the cold spots in your basement, where the most heat loss is occurring.

The most effective way to do this is with a thermal camera. A thermal or thermographic camera enables you to scan a room or space for temperature variations. 

It sounds a bit like the sort of fancy device you might need a 4-year science degree to operate, but no. 

They’re so easy to use in fact that a 4-year-old child could probably do it. 

Simply stand in the middle of your basement and slowly turn on the spot, viewing the spaces around the room in the viewfinder. You can sweep up and down as you turn, or do several sweeping circles: floor, walls, roof. 

Color schemes might vary slightly from device to device, but in the standard schema, anything warm shows up red, then changes to orange, yellow and white as it gets warmer, and to purple, blue and black as it gets colder.

heat loss in basement

So as you pinpoint blue and black areas in your basement, you’ll know which sections are costing you the most heat and electricity in your space.

Thermal cameras can be quite cheap, or very expensive – depending on the quality and features you are after, but our best value-for-money recommendation is the PerfectPrime IRO280 available on Amazon and the pricing is quite reasonable.

You might be able to borrow a thermal camera instead of buying, but with the amount of money you’ll save in monthly heating and electricity costs, the real cost here is not getting one. 

And don’t forget, you can always re-sell it on eBay or Craigslist after you’re done!

There are some other cheaper alternatives, like Laser Thermometers and Digital Air Thermometers, which can also be really effective; they just lack the visual accuracy component that is especially helpful in DIY renovations. 

2. Replace Windows

It’s pretty easy to forget just how much heat loss occurs through glass windows. A house with single-glazed windows will lose 48% of its heat through the windows alone.

But if heat was the only consideration, you could install ceramic oven glass or use a 99% tint to block almost all the heat and light and you’d be done.

Having some natural lighting, however, especially in a basement, goes a long way to opening up the space and reducing feelings of claustrophobia. 

You want the maximum amount of light coming through, without losing too much heat. 

So what type of glass is best for stopping heat-loss through your windows, while allowing maximum light?

Well, there are a dozen types of cooking and industrial glass that are incredibly heat-resistant, but most tend to be a little less practical in windows. 

double glazed windows
Double glazed windows save make a huge difference

Double-glazing is one of the most effective methods of window insulation. It involves two separate pieces of parallel glass with air or sometimes Argon in between and can triple the insulative power of windows. 

Also, using a one-way reflective tint on the windows can block up to 91% of solar rays while allowing maximum light penetration.

Using a combination of these techniques, Argon-filled double-glazing with a one-way reflective tint, is the most effective and efficient form of window insulation for heat-retention.

3. Use Heavy Curtains/Cellular Shades

Just as the extra layering in double-glazing prevents heat loss, heavy curtains or cellular shades can add a third moveable layer.

According to energy.gov, insulated cellular shades can reduce unwanted heat transfer (in or out) by up to 80% over non-shaded windows.

Traditional heavy curtains which, while very effective at blocking light and heat, are also heavy to open and close, and add to the cluttered feeling in your house. 

They just don’t have that minimalistic aesthetic that’s on the cutting edge of modern housing. 

Plus, they cost more!

cellular shades
Image source: blinds.com

Heavy curtains need heavier materials, but cellular shades use science and engineering to maximize heat retention while minimizing weight and material costs.

Our top value-for-money pick are these stylish Achim Cordless Cellular Shades, #1 in Window Furnishings on Amazon.

4. Install Carpets/Rugs

Most people don’t realize it, but 13% of heat loss in a home occurs through the floor/foundation. 

More than that, most basements have stone or concrete flooring, which can be incredibly cold on your feet.

A good-quality rug is key in retaining maximum heat in your space. Here are some key characteristics you want to look for in a good rug:

  • Covers as much of the floor as possible to minimize heat-loss
  • Thicker shag/pile to create more distance between feet and floor
  • Higher stitch counts insulate better than low stitch counts
  • Wool is the best long-lasting insulator. Cotton, acrylic and nylon are secondary.

Something like this Safavieh Milan Shag Rug with 2-inch pile (height/thickness) would be ideal for warmth in almost any cooler space. 

5. Insulate Basement Walls

The ground is a pretty good insulator. Heat and cold travel a lot quicker through air and water than through dirt and rocks, right?

However, the internal ground temperature tends to be a consistent 55 degrees in both summer and winter, and despite sensible modern recommendations, many basements still aren’t properly insulated to save on building costs. 

insulating basement wall

Making sure all external basement walls, below-ground or not, AND the first-floor walls directly above them (cold travels downward, remember?) are properly insulated is key to preserving basement heat in winter. 

Extruded foam (ie. Styrofoam) insulation is recommended for concrete walls, whereas fibreglass insulation is recommended for wood.

1-inch thick Styrofoam has an R-value of 6. Doubling the thickness doubles the R-value, halving your heat-loss. So half-inch thick Styrofoam has an R-value of 3. Whereas 2-inch thick Styrofoam has an R-value of 12.

6. Insulate Ducts Leaving The Basement

When insulating a house, we tend to think of properly insulating the external walls and the roof and that’s about it. 

Air ducts are specifically designed to channel air around your house and they’re often nothing more than thin metal sheeting. 

Replacing existing ducts with well-insulated ducts, such as these Dundas Jafine Flexible R6 Ducts, or thoroughly wrapping existing metal ducts in no-gap insulation types, is vital for preventing heat-loss in your basement.

7. Insulate Rim Joists And Headers

Rim joists and headers are the outer planks in the flooring/roofing system that separates your basement and first floor. They usually line up directly against the outer walls, and are sometimes even directly exposed on the outside of your house. 

Image source: finehomebuilding.com

Worst of all, they’re often neglected when it comes to insulating, so both rising warm air from the basement and cool air from the outside can transfer through these uninsulated side panels. 

Cut pieces of extruded foam to fit in between each regular joist against the rim joist and header and seal with a foam sealant like Loctite and you will eliminate a sizable portion of your normal heat-loss. 

8. Seal Air Leaks

Air leaks in a basement are more common than you might think. The edges of doors, windows, rim joists, seams and joins between the floor and walls and ceiling, all can generate air leaks which will lose heat.

What’s more, existing sealant can degrade over time, more than concrete, brick or tempered or pressure-treated wood. So you’ll probably need to reseal windows, doors, etc. every 5 or so years. 

So what type of sealant should you use?

A foam sealant (like Loctite, mentioned above) is more insulative than silicone and can even be painted. Loctite brands itself as a unique formula 4 times denser than other foams and sealants. 

A silicone sealant (like GE Silicone 2+) is more flexible to deal with the shrinking and expanding of the wood around your windows, and will take longer to shrink or degrade over time. 

A more comprehensive list of sealants can be found here and more information on sealing here.

How To Heat A Basement In Winter

Now that we’ve completely minimized all potential heat-loss, we want to make sure we’re heating the basement space in the most effective and cost-efficient way.

1. Heating Vents

man installing a heater vent

Did you know that as many as 84% of American homes have an HVAC system?

Adding a new heating vent directly into the HVAC system is a little more cost upfront than getting a space heater, but the long-term convenience and savings make it the money-smart decision. 

If you already have a central system, adding one more room into the mix won’t change your electric bill all that much. 

However, if you do have a very large basement, compensating for that much extra space may reduce the overall responsiveness of your HVAC system. This is partly why HVAC installers recommend you don’t DIY. 

2. Baseboard Heaters

baseboard heater

Baseboard heaters are small, out-of-the-way, low-to-ground convection space heaters that are perfect for warming single rooms. 

They’re very cost-efficient and are ideal for spaces like basements and garages that might not be connected to the house’s HVAC system, and are easier to DIY.

What’s more, you can pick a high-quality baseboard heater for less than $50, like this recommended model from Cadet

3. Space Heaters

space heater

Besides baseboard heaters, there are several other varieties of space heaters:

  • Ceramic heaters
  • Electric heaters
  • Forced-air heaters
  • Infrared Quartz heaters

You can view a more comprehensive list of top space heaters here.

4. Fireplace/Stoves

pellet stove

The majority of stove fireplaces are now just electric heaters that mimic an authentic wood-burning appearance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still choose a traditional wood-burning cast-iron stove for that warm rustic cabin feel.

They’re perfect for bigger spaces if you have a full basement beneath your house and are built to last for decades. 

Obviously they cost a little more and need good chimney-pipe ventilation in an enclosed space, but for aesthetics, there’s almost nothing that says “holidays” like a warm fireplace on a cold winter’s night. 

Pellet stoves are also a great option with many features superior to traditional wood-burning models.

5. Under-Floor Heating

under floor heating
Under floor heating

Under-floor heating is an amazing technological option that comes in two forms: electric and hydronic. 

Electric under-floor heating involves the use of heating elements in stone, concrete or even under tile flooring that provide a low-level heat to your room. As heat naturally rises, the heat will naturally fill the well-insulated space.

Hydronic heating involves the use of heated water pipes in the stone, concrete or tile flooring as opposed to metal heating elements. Hydronic heating is ideal for bathroom floors especially, but can be used throughout the house. 

The Wrap Up

So yes, keeping your basement warm and cosy this winter is entirely possible and affordable. There are literally dozens of options for every price point. 

You really have no more reason to be avoiding your basement this winter.

Please do comment below if you have any questions and/or helpful advice or personal experience for the other readers. Our community is built on the backs of everyone.

So when it comes to heating your basement, the most important thing to remember is that:

The key to effectively and efficiently heating any space is preventing unnecessary heat-loss first.


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