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  by Bob Matheson  
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Heat the basement

Yes the project is heat in the basement, but what are the goals?  Obviously a warm basement!  But in addition, for the first time, I would like the first floor of the house to have  comfortable even heat, even in bare feet!  In the winter with no heat in the basement, the first floor (the actual floor) of the home is very cold, ( no heat ).  But normally you do not heat the first floor from underneath unless you use some form of radiant heating, either hydronic heat, or electric heat.  I have looked into both for basement heat, and both are expensive.  So the question became; how can I heat the basement at low cost and still have the upstairs flooring be comfortable.  I am guessing a wood stove wood be a great solution, but at low cost?  Not really, a wood stove in the basement requires an insulated smoke stack or chimney (two stories worth) of some kind.  Between a nice wood stove and the chimney it will cost at least, at least, $3000.  Also starting the stove with a two story chimney, even a good one, could be problematic.  There could (or should be) a cold column of air that will have to be pushed out.  On extremely cold days the chimney might not have enough draft.  Insulated chimneys I am sure would work but the cost is high!  So what form of basement heat should I go with?

Basement heat, pellet stove, or corn stove?

Another possible alternative is a pellet stove or perhaps even a corn stove (yes corn stove!).  Both of these stoves are also, expensive, complex, but they do have one tremendous advantage, the exhaust system, or chimney is vastly cheaper.  You run a simple small, relatively low cost, insulated pipe outdoors, just two feet.  You do not have to run it above your roof line.  You also need a fresh air intake.  The pellet stove concerns me though, the fuel used to be "recycled" but now the amount consumed is so great, it is just another commercial fuel to be manufactured and profited from.  The corn stove, although somewhat rare, certainly has a readily available, locally sourced, fuel from your local farmer, or even your own backyard!  Corn will make a lot of heat, and is clean burning, smells good too!  But you then have to store quite a bit of fuel and keep it dry.  It is definitely cleaner than a wood or coal stove.  (Here in PA a coal stove is a strong consideration, anthracite coal is cheap).

But what about the KISS principle of cellar heating?

In the future I have a dream.  I am going to make my own relatively low cost electricity!  Electricity is versatile, it can be used to do so many things and is very clean, at least at the customer end.  So I did think about radiant electric floor heat for the ground floor of the home with the hope that it would radiate downward as well as upward.  Still it was expensive, complex, somewhat unsafe, weaving wires under the floor, and I was concerned I might not get the basement warm enough.

On a relative basis electric is slowly heading toward being the most economic source of heating.  Fuel oil, and natural gas availability are always in question, and their prices are quite volatile.

So what about baseboard electric heat?

Please see my article regarding the installation of baseboard setback thermostats, lots of detail!

I did install one 700 watt baseboard unit temporarily, but it did not do much for our basement.  My wife used another 1500 watt heater in her sewing area.  These two sources were not sufficient wattage to heat our basement.  Baseboard ties up a lot of wall space, and wiring, as well.  It is great for zoning though.

Our basement needs quite a bit of heat.

Our house is a 56' by 27' modular home with a full unfinished basement.  I have just about completed insulating the walls with 2 inch foam insulation.  I will   The concrete slab is still bare and unfortunately un-insulated.  Certainly for now we will have to live with this.

The full basement is a large open area, and we have decided we like it like that.  I have a workshop area, Carol has a sewing and exercise area, and if we ever get the basement organized we will have a nice area for a "family room" or entertainment room.  Also there will be a small bathroom and washer area.  The basement does have a walk out sliding door which is great.  It will be much nicer with the ceiling below the deck keeping the footing outside dry.

If you are going with baseboard, please review these  thermostats. Please also review my article on installing baseboard setback thermostats.
For Lux I suggest the wallplate.
 

Using several small electric heaters

I think this basement, given the leakage of heat to the first floor, a desired leakage, may require 5000 watts of heat on the coldest days.  With the proviso the basement is well insulated with no leaky drafts, like we have now around the sill plate!  Just 3 small 1500 watt heaters comes close to this!  BUT and it is a big BUT, this would tie up 3 complete electric outlet circuits!  What a waste of wiring!  Plus I would say it is a fire hazard as well.

Taking advantage of the basement layout to facilitate all the heating goals.

Since for now we are leaving the basement open and we want to heat the upstairs flooring for comfort, and we do not want to tie up all our electric circuits, what should we do?  The answer is simple, one large 5000 watt, fan forced air 220 volt heater.

  • This will require only one new circuit and breaker.
  • It can heat the entire first floor from underneath (literally the flooring), and the basement as well.
  • It is very low cost.
  • It is easy to implement.
  • It is easy to reuse elsewhere should we decide to put up walls in the basement.

One nice feature is the fan in this unit does not start until the element is hot, and it continues to run until the heating element cools down, eliminating cool blasts of air chilling the basement on each heating cycle.  The picture shows the unit, already roughly installed in my basement.

This unit draws 21 amps at 240 volts.  (It is quite configurable and and can be "downsized" in wattage by changing the appropriate jumpers.  I used 10 gauge wire with ground and the breaker is a 30 amp two pole, appropriate for a circuit with 10 gauge wire.  The heater is rated at 17065 BTU, conceivably enough to heat my whole house if the basement was extremely well insulated.

The National Electrical Code documents may be purchased through the National Fire Protection Association.  See codes NFPA 70.  If you do your own work please make sure you review and meet all local, regional, state, and national codes!

National Electrical codes NFPA 70.

This basement heater is very nice

It puts out a gentle heat that flows in a circle around our basement.  I have installed two small fans, one just upstream of the stairwell, to facilitate a good but subtle flow of air around the circumference of the basement.  The stairwell is almost an insoluble heat loss.  The fan is there to take the warm circulating air and make it bypass drifting up the stairwell.  The second small fan makes sure cooler basement air circulates back to the heater, facilitating its normal cycling.

It is important to keep the basement door closed!

It always was, but mostly because of leaks around our foundation allowing cold drafts to move upstairs.  I think I will add some seals and a sweep around the door to tighten it up more.  The heat flow can be substantial between the basement and first floor.

Our first floor flooring is now comfortable!

It is not as warm as if we had radiant hot water heat under the floor, but the floor is not freezing cold.  It is comfortable even in bare feet, which is great!  I believe our upstairs baseboard heat is cycling a little less frequently as well.  I still do not know what the impact will be overall on the electric bill.  I will let you know in the future.

12/16/2007

The 5000 watt unit has done an excellent job of heating our basement, but very recently we made a big investment and retrofitted a heat pump into our home giving us central air in the summer and 400% efficient electric heat in the winter, YES, 400% efficient.  An article about our heat pump retrofitSo far the 5000 watt basement unit was doing a better job of heating our basement than the heat pump is now, but we will get that fixed up.

(And we did in 2008 by adding more ducts and returns in the basement.  Now in the summer I cap all of the returns and sources/ ducts, so no AC reaches the basement.)

2/10/2006 Basement Heat review.

The electric bill has gone up some, I would say 5% which I can certainly tolerate.  The 5000 watt heater cycles periodically but not excessively and the basement is still very comfortable, remember I do have two inches of foam on all the walls, but do still have some significant infiltration, air leaks, to fix.

4/9/2006

Well the 5000 watt unit easily heats the basement.  It has kept it comfortable all winter.  This is a quick low cost way to heat an open basement.  We do like it open with just work and relaxation zones.

I hope this helps with your basement heat project!
Bob

 

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BHT Revised: 05 Mar 2014
BHT Created: 10 Nov 2005

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