One of the top complaints about basements and why we never use them is they’re cold. Which is great for 2 months during the summer but the rest of the year it sucks. You have all this great space, but your feet are cold, and if you are cold it’s just not enjoyable. You don’t want to be down there, in that cold, dark hole. Then, in comes E3 Construction with basement ideas to help make your basement comfortable. There are many things that can help with comfort, let’s talk about how insulation, heating, and separation can improve your basement experience.
Insulation: It Makes a Big Difference
If you have an older home with an “already” developed basement chances are the exterior walls are not insulated or poorly insulated at best. In the past, insulation just didn’t get enough respect. If it was put in, it was not the current standard of R-12 insulation which saves up to 28% on heating costs in our cold Alberta winters.
Insulation’s purpose is to trap air, which slows down the transfer of cold air. Old insulation is often dirty, sometimes moist and just doesn’t do its job of trapping air as new insulation does. When you install new insulation, E3 installs 6-millimeter poly to create an air/vapour barrier, instead of the thinner 2-millimeter or less which we often find in older homes. It seems insignificant but I have had many people comment how much warmer the basement feels once the new poly is installed. It often is the little things that make a big difference.
Joist cavities are also a cold spot. How can you trap the air in small little spaces? A joist cavity may seem small, but they wrap around your entire house. So if the insulation and poly are not tucked up into the joist cavity, it’s like leaving a window open. Yes, the curtains can be closed but it is still letting in the cold. Sometimes it’s worth having all the joist cavities sprayed with expanding foam, with an insulation installer such as Beyond Foam. The foam does exactly what its names says, it goes into all the little spaces you can’t properly insulate and poly which expands, insulates and seals them off. Often if you decide that it’s worth it, you should place expand-a-foam along your frost walls along with the joist cavities. In construction, setup is a sizable cost, so if the trucks are already set up to do the work, save yourself the money and do the full job. To enable residents to benefit from higher quality insulation, the Government of Alberta has created a rebate program to offset the cost of new insulation.
Heating: Beating Back Old Man Winter
Once your basement is sufficiently insulated, you will need an appropriate source for heat. The minimum building code in Alberta is every room greater than 25 square feet needs a heat source. If you have forced air or central heat, the simplest way to meet this standard is installing a hot air boot in every room. However, forced air only works if it has a place to go. This is why it is helpful that every room has both a hot air duct and a return air, which allows the hot air to blow in while the cold air is being pulled out. I love it when a team works together.
There are 2 popular camps in regards to where the heat duct should be located. One is down by the floor, while the other camp holds that it should be in the ceiling. E3 Construction is of the ceiling camp. This feels counter-intuitive because common knowledge states that heat rises but we have a number of reasons for why we believe the ceiling is the best place for a heat duct.
- The heat source needs to be placed in front of your window. Regardless of how well your windows are insulated, they are the coldest spot in the room. We need to warm the cold air at its source. You can only locate the heat boot in front of the window if it’s in the ceiling.
- Forced air heating follows the path of least resistance. The hot air will always flow into the rooms which are easiest to get to. This is why we all enjoy driving on Stoney Trail over Macleod Trail, it just takes less work to drive. To bring it down the wall you need to add elbows, which in HVAC math is the equivalent of 5’. You need at least 3 elbows to get the heat to the floor, which is 15’ extra plus the 8’ down the wall. You have now made the heat travel almost the width of your house needlessly. The hot air will find a much easier place for it to go. It will just avoid your basement room, the one that needs the heat the most.
- But won’t the warm air just stay up in the ceiling? This is why we direct the air down from the ceiling in front of the window and place the return air on an interior wall at floor height. This then pulls the warm air down into the room, circulating its warmth. This creates an invisible curtain of warmth along the exterior wall. Well placed air vents make a big difference to basement enjoyment.
If you still feel the room may not have sufficient heat in the dead of winter, another option is supplementary heat in the form of a baseboard heater. A baseboard heater will allow you to add heat to each individual room. The problem with central heat, is it assumes incorrectly, that the entire house is the same temperature. HVAC design tries to account for this with differently sized ducts but the truth of the matter is the furnace only turns on when the central thermostat tells it to. Higher efficient furnaces help by circulating air regularly, but it still only adds heat when the thermostat on the main floor requires it. So if you have an older furnace, a baseboard heater may help to increase comfort by adding heat in the bedroom long before the upstairs requires heat. More personalized controls equal individual comfort.
Separation: Not Always a Bad Thing!
Sometimes comfort is just a matter of separation but only when we are talking about basements! Unless you have in-floor heating, the cold hard fact is that concrete is cold. That’s just what it is, cold, and cold concrete makes for cold feet. I love sitting by the window and watching the snow fall, it’s beautiful! But I don’t enjoy it in my boots. Why? Because of separation. It’s fine that the snow is cold, as long as I am not touching it. The same is true with your cold concrete floors. Sometimes you just need the separation from the cold concrete provided by Dricore. It puts a thin layer of air between you and the cold concrete. Then you can both live at peace with each other, the concrete can be cold and your feet can be comfy and warm. I love harmony!
There we have it, insulation, heating and separation, the three things E3 Construction would love to apply to your basement to improve your enjoyment. Basements don’t have to be cold, they can be comfortable.