Heating a basement: how to do it right

Arne Schätzle

Does it make sense to heat a basement? Yes, because no matter whether you’re using it just for storage or as a living area, moderate heating is always necessary to counteract moisture and mold. Find out here what type of heating is suitable and what options are available.

A large black couch takes center stage in a basement designed as a living area.
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In this article

The optimal temperature for a basement

Cool air sinks, while warm air rises. For this reason alone, the temperature in a basement is usually several degrees below that of the living rooms above. And if the basement ceiling isn’t insulated you’re bound to have cooler rooms and cold floors. The cold enters the living area above through cracks, and heat is lost.

To compensate for this effect, you will need above-average heating energy in the living area. Consequently, it’s advisable to make sure that the basement temperature is no more than three degrees Celsius below that of the main part of the building.

Heating a basement – always useful

Regardless of how you use your basement, whether for storage or as living space: heating it offers advantages, especially in winter. This not only prevents water and heating pipes from freezing, but also avoids damage to the structure of the building. In addition, heating stops the spread of cold on walls and ceilings.

What’s more, permanent areas of damp that form on the masonry represent optimal conditions for mold growth. An unpleasant and musty smell often develops at the same time. Constant heating keeps the walls dry and reduces moisture. It’s possible to counteract adverse basement conditions by ensuring a temperature of at least 15 to 16 degrees Celsius.

It won’t be very comfortable down in the basement without heating – especially if you want to use it as living space, be it as a hobby room, an area for practicing an instrument or for organizing parties. There are several types of ways to heat a basement. We show you what options are available.

Insulation is crucial in a heated basement

However, heating will be ineffective unless you take proper structural precautions. Insulating the floors and walls ensures that less energy is lost through the building shell when you heat the basement. This reduces heating costs, minimizes humidity and increases living comfort.

You should always have interior insulation fitted by a specialist company. The work involves complicated principles of building physics, so any mistakes that are made could result in moisture and mold damage. Prices usually range from 50 to 90 francs per square meter, depending on the type of insulation.

Insulating material is being fitted to the walls of a basement.

An insulated basement ensures that heat is retained in the house more effectively and less energy is lost through the building shell.

What is the right type of heating for your basement?

Technically, there are several ways to heat a basement. Besides connecting the basement to the central heating system, it’s also possible to install electric heating.

Extending a central heating system: a lot of effort and high heating costs

The central heating system is often located in the basement, so the obvious thing to do is to connect the basement to it. However, this type of extension involves installing additional new heating pipes. Although this is usually complex and expensive, it can be a reliable solution. Even if your central heating is in the attic, you can usually find a place in the heating circuit to lay pipes for a new radiator.

Just like in the living room, you can use panel radiators in the basement. The sleek modern look is not the only advantage. They are also very easy to clean – unlike the ridges of conventional radiators. In addition, they give off most of the heat as radiant heat, which moves less air in the room – this means the heating doesn’t keep raising dust, even in somewhat dusty basement rooms.

Underfloor heating: only useful in living areas

Underfloor heating spreads pleasant warmth, dries the air out less, and is comfortable underfoot when walking on it with bare feet. However, it costs a lot if it has to be retrofitted. This is because installation costs are not the only expense. The ground must be specially prepared, and a new floor surface is required once the heating system has been installed. You will also need to consider whether the heating should be powered electrically or – and this is the cheaper option in the long term – if you want to connect it to the central heating system. You will need to check with a specialist company how much all this will cost for your basement.

In addition, it’s important to remember that underfloor heating doesn’t produce heat at the touch of a button. The system takes a while to heat a room – or to come back down to a lower temperature. Underfloor heating should therefore only be used if you want to use your basement as living space and spend long periods of time there on a regular basis. Otherwise, even low heating costs will be a waste of energy and money.

A workshop furnace: an alternative to a wood stove

In general, great care should be taken with stoves or furnaces in a basement because they need a constant supply of fresh air, which is generally sparse in this part of the house. This can rapidly become dangerous, as toxic carbon monoxide is formed if there is a lack of air.

If you still want some sort of furnace, the best solution is to have a workshop furnace installed. It looks a bit more rustic than a fancy stove, but it also heats up the room much faster. A workshop furnace works according to the principle of convection: the furnace sucks up air through several pipes on the main body, which it then heats up. According to this principle, the furnace heats the air relatively quickly, even in large rooms. A workshop furnace is fed with logs, or alternatively with wood and lignite briquettes.

You can get a simple workshop furnace for between 100 and 250 francs in hardware stores. Higher-quality models cost 400 to 600 francs depending on the equipment. There is not really an upper price limit. But just like any wood stove, a workshop furnace needs to be connected to a chimney. The construction or installation of a new furnace, or the modification of an existing furnace, is subject to approval or notification in Switzerland.

Infrared heating: practical and chic

The significant feature of infrared heaters is that they heat up surfaces and people rather than air. Infrared heaters are available as flat heating panels for ceiling or wall mounting. These space-saving radiators are available in different decorative designs, for example as mirror heaters or as plain white heating plates made of metal or glass. To heat a room of about 14 square meters, you will need a model with a capacity of 600 watts. The cost of this type of infrared heating is about 600 francs.

One advantage of infrared heating is that it’s easy to install since it can simply be plugged in to a power outlet. Added to this, its long-wave radiation heats only the area or object it hits. Consequently, infrared heating also requires less electricity than other auxiliary electric heating systems.

However, infrared heating is more economical only in comparison with other electric heaters. Electric heating is always more expensive to operate than a central heating system. In addition, the electricity is generated largely with fossil fuels, and therefore pollutes the environment. This is why electric heaters are subject to strict legislation in Switzerland and are only permitted as auxiliary heating or in annex buildings.

Basically, the same applies to infrared heaters as to all electric heaters: the smaller the room and the less heat required, the more worthwhile they are. In fact, in relation to central heating, they take a lot longer to heat an entire room – and therefore consume much more energy. Consequently, modern radiators often have pre-installed heating programs controlled by a timer that regulate the temperature at selected times.

Electric convectors and radiators: inexpensive electricity guzzlers

While infrared heating heats objects via heat radiation, radiators and convectors heat the room by heating up the air contained in it. They are inexpensive to buy: affordable models exist from around 50 francs.

Like all electric heaters, they are nevertheless expensive to maintain. However, for low heat requirements, electric heaters can prove quite profitable and useful. If only one room in a basement is to be used and heated for a short time, these mobile devices are a good solution – even on a temporary basis. And the larger the room, the more likely it is to be worth using a convection heater instead of an infrared heater.

A fan heater is standing on the floor of a living room.

Fan heaters quickly raise the temperature but consume a lot of electricity. This makes them suitable as a temporary solution at best.

Fan heaters: unsuitable for a basement

Fan heaters contain heating wires inside that heat air that is then blown out into the room by the fan. This method raises a lot of dust and makes the air very dry. In addition, the blower is often very noisy. Since they also result in high heating costs, fan heaters are usually only used for a limited period of time – for example if central heating has not yet been installed in the basement.

Advantages and disadvantages: types of heating at a glance

  • Type of heating
  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages
  • Central heating
  • Low heating costs, uniform system for the whole house, radiant heat raises less dust
  • Elaborate connection, expensive installation, no immediate source of heat in the basement
  • Underfloor heating
  • Low heating costs, pleasant warmth, uniform system for the whole house
  • Elaborate connection, expensive installation, no immediate source of heat in the basement
  • Workshop furnace
  • Fast heat, cheap to maintain, chic rustic look
  • Expensive to purchase, requires a permit, chimney connection required
  • Infrared heating
  • Chic appearance, radiant heat allows targeted heating, more economical than other electric heaters
  • Very hot surface, high initial cost, takes a long time to heat up
  • Convectors/radiators
  • Inexpensive to purchase, suitable for mobile use, ideal for short phases and in small rooms (temporary solution)
  • High heating costs, only permitted in certain conditions (applies to all electric heaters), requires a power source
  • Fan heaters
  • Good transitional solution, cheap to buy, fast heat source
  • High operating costs, swirls up a lot of dust, dries out the air a lot

Ventilate to avoid mold

Heating alone can’t prevent excessive humidity and mold in the basement. To avoid mold, you should not only heat moderately in the winter, but also ensure sufficient ventilation. This will also prevent unpleasant odors. If your basement is well insulated, it’s best to ventilate the basement several times a day.

To avoid moisture in the basement, you should ventilate properly, even in summer: it is warm air in particular that brings additional moisture into the basement. You should therefore avoid leaving windows permanently open, and limit shock ventilation to the early morning and late evening.

If your basement is not equipped with outside windows or doors, you should consider fitting a ventilation system. Ventilation systems extract air from indoor spaces and supply air from outside. Effective ventilation can only be achieved if the amount of stale air taken outside is equal to the quantity of fresh air that can flow in. The larger the ventilation system, the less it costs. You can expect to have to pay heating costs of around 2,500 francs per room. If you equip all the rooms in your house with a ventilation system, you will pay an average of 12,000 to 14,000 francs.

The most important questions and answers at a glance

Does it make sense to heat a basement even if it’s used for storage?

Even if you use the basement mainly for storage, you should supply a minimum amount of heat to the rooms to counteract moisture and mold.

What temperature is advisable in a basement?

A temperature of at least 15 to 16 degrees Celsius counteracts moisture and mold.

Is it necessary to insulate my basement if I want to heat it?

Without insulation, heating a basement is ineffective. Insulating the floors and walls ensures that less energy is lost through the building shell.

What are the options for heating a basement?

You can connect the basement to the central heating system, or you can use electric heating systems such as fan heaters, radiators and infrared heaters.

Which heating system is right for me?

Fan heaters and radiators are known as greedy electricity guzzlers. They aren’t very good permanent solutions. Even infrared heating is more economical only in comparison with other electric heaters. The best option is to connect the basement to the central heating system – but this is quite expensive.

Can I have a furnace in the basement?

Depending on the canton, furnaces are subject to approval or notification in Switzerland. If you opt for a furnace in your basement, a workshop furnace is a practical and efficient solution.

Conclusion: installing basement heating is always a good decision

Whether you want to increase the comfort factor of the rooms above the basement or convert cold and musty basement rooms into new living space, you will have to decide between different methods of basement heating.

Basically, you have the choice between connecting the basement to the central heating system or installing a decentralized electric heating system. The first solution implies higher initial costs, but decentralized electric heaters cost a lot more when left on constantly. However, these heaters can make sense in individual rooms or as an additional or temporary solution. The power of the heating devices must always correspond to the heat requirements in the basement rooms.

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