Tips on How to Heat and Cool a Finished Basement
Whether it’s a rec room, extra living room, another bedroom, an office or other space, a finished basement can be a great place in the house to work, play or just hang out. However, when it comes to heating and cooling during the various Pittsburgh weather seasons, it can be a bit tricky to identify the best way to control the temperature in your finished basement.
Since basements, in general, tend to be colder than other parts of the house, specific adjustments are often required to make it a comfortable place to spend time. If your basement wasn’t already equipped with the proper setup when it was built, you’ll have to take the time to evaluate and install a system that will help you heat and cool it effectively and efficiently.
Is heating and cooling your finished basement even worth it? The simple answer is YES. For the obvious reason: you and your family will be comfortable, and you’ll make the most of your investment year ‘round.
Let’s not also forget – designing and installing the correct heating and cooling system for your finished basement adds value to your home. Shoddy work, or no heating or cooling at all, doesn’t do a whole lot for your home’s equity and can even cost you in the long run!
Note: According to cost versus value surveys conducted annually by Remodeling magazine, the average return on investment for a basement project is currently around 75 cents on the dollar.
Figure out your needs first
The critical initial step you must take is to figure out exactly what you need in your finished basement. How often will you be using the space? Are there bathrooms and/or bedrooms down there? Will it be used by the kids and/or seniors? Do you have pets? There’s a lot to consider!
Once you have a clear idea of your precise needs, you’ll be better able to choose the heating and cooling options that work best for your home and your family as well as fitting into your remodeling budget.
Best ways to heat a basement
Keep in mind that since they are underground, it can be harder to heat a basement than cool it. Additionally, you might have to be more vigilant of humidity levels because this lowest level of the house tends to retain moisture, putting it at risk for mold and mildew.
Extend your existing HVAC system. This is often the first choice for someone finishing their basement but it’s not always the easiest. There are plenty of factors that go into finding out if you can extend your current system with the chief consideration being does it have the capacity to handle the added space. A qualified HVAC technician can evaluate your current system, accounting for various factors, to determine if your current system can take on the extra exertion to heat and cool your finished basement. Age and size are the main factors. An older unit will most likely be working a full capacity, and an increase in heating and cooling space may just take it over the limit.
If your home’s existing HVAC system doesn’t have the capacity to heat and cool the added space of your finished basement, you have two options: upgrade your existing HVAC system to a larger capacity or add a second heating and cooling system that will condition the space in the basement only.
If it’s determined that the existing HVAC system can be used to heat (and cool) the basement, the only other step is to extend the ductwork into the new living space. This will be the easiest if the basement is unfinished or in the initial stages of remodeling. Extensions and registers can be attached to the main supply and return ducts and the new ductwork can be concealed between the joists of the unfinished ceiling or within as-yet-unbuilt closets.
Understandably, if you choose to add a separate heating and cooling system for your basement, new ductwork will also come into play.
We hope it has become quite clear that a qualified HVAC technician must be involved in making your decision.
Rule of thumb: If your current HVAC system was specifically installed to only heat and cool your existing space, and it’s over 10 years old, you will most likely want to upgrade to a version that will provide the proper amount of heating and cooling to ALL areas of your home.
There are, however, several other options other than upgrading or adding on to your current system.
- If you already have a chimney available, one option is to add a fireplace to your space, be it wood-burning, gas or electric.
- If you’re one for the traditional and/or rustic home themes, a wood pellet stove might be a good option for you. Although it may take up some space, the benefits of the thermal comfort and aesthetics are well worth the space used.
- Baseboard heaters are a popular choice in the Pittsburgh area where heating is a greater priority than cooling, although these heaters do have their limitations. Many, for example, take about 30 minutes to warm up and their range is limited, so there needs to be at least one per room if there are multiple rooms in your finished basement.
Their assets include a relatively low cost and the simplicity with which they be installed – an electrician can hard-wire a 240-volt baseboard heater in short order. Some portable 12-volt baseboard heaters, while less efficient, can be plugged directly into an outlet.
- Other heating devices include wall-mounted units and radiant heat systems that rely on heating cables embedded in the ceiling or, more often, the floor. The warmth provided by these units will feel different from that provided by a forced-air system, but their relative ease, economy and effectiveness in a smaller space like a basement make them perfectly suited to the task.
- Vent-free gas heaters are another great choice. They require only a gas line and are a quick, easy way to add heat to a space. Or, if you’re looking to add a quick, budget-friendly option, space heaters are also an easy way to immediately heat a space without needing to completely remodel, and could also be a stopgap while you work on one of the more complex projects we’ve described.
- Mini-split ductless systems are another solution for both heating and cooling that has grown immensely in popularity. Ductless mini-splits are generally small heat pumps with enough capacity to heat and cool. They are ideal options for basements that aren’t connected to central heating and cooling systems. Due to their sizes, these ductless mini-splits units are incredibly versatile and easy to install. They are also energy efficient since they have no ductwork that act as a medium for energy loss. This option will also give you control over the temperature in the basement.
(For complete information on mini-split ductless systems, see our blog, The Benefits of Ductless Heating and Cooling)
As you can see, heating your basement can be done in a variety of ways so it’s important to explore the various options and find the one that will work the best for your situation and budget. This is where the professionals at J&A South Park come in. They can help you determine what’s best for you and your home.
Best ways to cool a basement
You’ll note that the options for cooling your finished basement are pretty much the same as those just described for heating it.
- Extending your existing in-home HVAC system may make the most sense. However, unless you’re a mechanical engineer or an HVAC technician, as mentioned above, you’re going to need an expert to help determine if your current HVAC system can handle the additional load you’re about to put on the system. If you’re lucky enough, your current system will be able to handle more capacity. If you’re not that fortunate, you again have two options – upgrade your current system or add another system that heats and cools the basement only.
There are also a couple of other solutions to cooling your finished basement.
- Mini-split ductless systems are one common solution, as described above, for both heating and cooling.
- (For complete information on mini-split ductless systems, see our blog, The Benefits of Ductless Heating and Cooling)
- Portable air conditioners are another option for cooling that finished basement. As the name implies, their portability means they can be moved around. If you’re financially conscious of electric bills, this option offers you a way to save some cash. Portable A/C units are generally designed to be lightweight and are a good choice if the basement space is split into rooms so a single unit can be moved from room to room as needed.
You might want to consider adding a humidifier and/or dehumidifier
As mentioned, controlling and maintaining relative humidity in your finished basement is an important factor in achieving total comfort. Relative humidity can impact asthma, allergies, skin conditions and increased incidence of cold and flu. Control of humidity also helps protect against mold growth, smelly odors and damage to the home’s structure. The optimum range for proper relative humidity is between 35 and 45 percent.
Humidifiers (in the heating season) and dehumidifiers (in the A/C season) will help maintain the optimal level of relative humidity by removing and adding moisture to the air as needed. If your budget permits, you might consider a whole-house humidifier system, or you can opt for portable units in your finished basement.
Code and permit considerations for finished basements
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local building codes, even if you’re having a contractor carry out the project.
While such codes vary, the codes that apply to finishing your basement as a living area likely have some heating and cooling considerations, especially when gas furnaces are involved. As an example, if basement windows are not available or existing windows are not adequate for providing the required amount of natural ventilation, you may be required to install a mechanical ventilation system for the health and safety of occupants.
Your municipality may also require a building permit when expanding your existing heating and air conditioning duct system or installing a new furnace, heat pump or air conditioner.
If you should have the work completed without a permit, you could pay for that move later on. Future buyers might compel you to offer them a lower price for work completed without a permit, so you’d suffer a loss from your remodel rather than benefitting from the added value.
The bottom line
If you were initially worried that your solutions to the problem of heating and cooling your finished basement would be limited, you may now have an overabundance of options.
Since every basement is a little bit different, there is no one right way to heat or cool yours.
For whatever solution you might be looking at, J&A South Park has a wide range of both heating and cooling products available to fit your needs, whether you’re aiming to turn the temperature up or down.
In addition to advising you on the type of system that will be best for your particular situation, J&A South Park technicians can also advise on how to address any air quality concerns such as dehumidifying the space and regulating the temperature.