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How to Heat Your Finished Basement in Rochester, NY

Five ways to add or retain heat in your finished basement are:
  1. Insulation and Plugging Air Leaks
  2. Electric Baseboard Heating
  3. Pellet Stoves and Electric Fireplaces
  4. Adding Extra Registers From Your Furnace
  5. Installing Ductless Heating and Cooling
Ductless Air Conditioning From Airquip

A finished basement can be a great oasis from the heat in the summer. The winter, however, is a different story. An underground room is always cooler than the upstairs.

That means it’s less comfortable in the cold weather. Fortunately, it doesn’t always have to be this way. Depending on how cold it gets, you can do some work to retain the heat. Or, add permanent or portable heating appliances.

What you’ll need will depend on the size of the room and how cold it gets. In his post, we’ll look at your options for keeping your rec room, home office, or extra living space warm when it’s cold outside.

Get rid of air leaks

First things first: Make sure you’re not losing whatever heat you’re adding to the basement! A basic rule of thermodynamics is that warmth is attracted to cold. In other words, when you open a window in the winter, you’re not letting in the cold air. Instead, you’re letting the warm air out. A room that’s at least partially underground is already colder than the rest of the house.

The heat you add makes its way to the concrete floor, for starters. A thick rug comes in handy here. Next, it will seep out of any opening it can find. That could be an old drafty window.

Or, if your dryer vent isn’t sealed correctly, it’s letting the air out. Start by inspecting these areas yourself. And, it might be a good time for a professional energy audit. With this, a professional will assess your entire house to see how you can improve your energy usage. Part of that is identifying areas that need more insulation.

Baseboard heating

This is a sort of old-fashioned option. Electric baseboard heating for a basement still has some benefits. But, in a lot of ways, it’s been overshadowed by more efficient products. So, why consider baseboard heating? Well, it’s inexpensive to install, for one. There’s no ductwork or tricky connections to make.

So, it’s a straightforward job. It’s also silent, which is an advantage over forced air heat. Down in the basement, you’ve already got the sound of the furnace, plus maybe the washer and dryer. Why add more noise? Finally, it’s pretty easy to customize. You can get a model just big enough for the size of the room it’s treating. There’s no worry about overpaying for a system that’s more powerful than what you need.

So, if you’ve got a small room and are looking for a permanent installation that won’t break the bank, these are worth a look.

Energy Efficiency

Now, the drawbacks: monthly cost and performance. Sure, the units are cheaper than some other options. But, they’re not nearly as efficient. They’ll use a good deal of electricity.

So, you’ll see a hike on your energy bills when it’s cold. Part of the problem is that they take a while to work. The room won’t warm up right away once they click on. Instead, they’re using up electricity while your toes are still cold. And, one problem specific to this part of the house: water damage. If your basement floods easily, an appliance that’s that close to the ground isn’t the best investment.

Electric fireplace

An electric fireplace will work just as well as baseboard heating — maybe better, depending on the model you buy. The big advantage? Aesthetics. With these, you’ve got plenty of options in terms of style.

If you’re going for any sort of ambiance, you’re sure to find something that gives the room a cozy feel while matching the decor you’ve already picked out. Another plus: They’re portable. We mentioned flooding before. In this case, you can pick up the fireplace and move it upstairs if you’re starting to get water. To that point, there’s also no installation cost. You just plug it in and turn it on.

Once again, however, strength and day-to-day costs work against this option. They’re not nearly as powerful or efficient as some permanently-installed heating setups. This is another solution for a room that’s on the small side.

Pellet stove

Now, we’re moving back into permanent installations. A pellet stove is a nice way to heat one room. People enjoy the feel of that natural wood-burning heat. And, many models feature an old-fashioned look that fits well into decorated rooms. These are more expensive than electric fireplaces, however. Most are over $1,000. And, you’ll need to install a vent for exhaust. But, they’ll do the job for larger rooms. Some models can handle 2,000 or even 3,00 square feet.

Adding Registers to Your Forced Air System

We also floated the idea of using your furnace to heat an additional room when we covered sunrooms and a bonus room above the garage. In this case, however, it’s usually more cost-effective. When you do this, you’re getting the power of your central heating system in your basement. No hoping that a smaller unit will slowly but surely do the job. Instead, you’ll get a nice blast of warm air every time the furnace goes through a cycle.

Adding Registers and Ductwork

Usually, the cost of adding ductwork makes this prohibitive. Paying for someone to design the route and then install it can get up over a thousand dollars pretty quickly. In this case, however, there’s usually not much to do because the furnace is already in the basement. Adding another register or two for the extra room doesn’t require a lot of work. You also don’t have to worry about taking up a lot of space when you run a lot of ductwork. A lot of times, the ducts are at least a foot around.

Then, we’d build out soffits around them, so they’re not exposed.

For the basement, you’re not worried about those channels running along the ceilings of various rooms to get where you want them. Two drawbacks here are noise and uneven heating. First, there’s just the sound of forced air. Really, you hear it elsewhere in the house anyway. But, sometimes it’s just more annoying in a small basement room and coupled with the sound coming from the furnace a few feet away.

Getting the Right Temperature

More concerning is the uneven heating. Here’s the problem: There’s a single thermostat governing your central system is governed by one thermostat. Odds are, it’s in the living room, which is warmer than the basement. When the thermostat hits the temp you want, the heat shuts off. But, the basement is always a little colder than the upstairs room. So, the system stops working when the living room is warm — not downstairs.

Unless you invest more in a separate thermostat and duct system, it will take much longer for the cellar to get as warm as you want it — if it ever does.

Add Ductless Heat and Cooling To Your Finished Basement

Ductless heating and cooling gives you the best of both worlds: The power and efficiency of your central system while regulating the temperature, especially for the room it’s in. You’re not relying on a thermostat in another part of the house - you're relying on the thermostat and air handler in the room you're in. And, you’re not spending nearly as much on your monthly bills to get the job done. 

Installing a Ductless System

As far as installation: We run a line set from the air handler to the heat pump outside.

All you need is a line for coolant liquid, plus a power supply and a condensate drain line. All three fit neatly in a casing that’s just a few inches around. Depending on the model, or if you get more than one air handler, the cost starts around at least $1,000 and goes up from there. But, these are high-efficiency systems. They use less energy than any other options, so your monthly bills stay low. And, they qualify for cash incentives from PG&E.

The utility company will actually give you a rebate for installing a system like this. If heat is the missing part of the puzzle for your finished basement, let Airquip help warm up your winter. We’ve been in business in Rochester and Upstate New York for 25 years. We know all about the designs, challenges, and best options for homes in the area. With a free consultation, we’ll help you find the best solution for your home and your budget.
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