Most basements are cold, damp, uncomfortable and difficult and expensive to heat by reasons that many homeowners do not fully understand.
Basement and Attic leakage
In cold climates, in wood-frame homes, attic bypasses - and other sources of air leakage in the upper parts of the house – can be a cause of freezing temperatures in the basement; it sounds strange and counterintuitive, but it is how things work.
In the winter season, if there is gaps in the upper parts of the house, warm air will rise and escape through them; every cubic foot of air that leaks out is replaced by colder air entering through gaps in the basement – making it colder.
People may not be noticing any significant drafts or visible signs of this mechanism, but it is a very powerful one, and it’s useless trying to heat the basement without addressing the air leaks - in the basement and in the upper parts of the house - first.
Ducts, unvented equipment
But that’s not all. Duct returns, fireplaces and non-vented heating equipment can also be a potential cause of low temperatures.
And the explanation is very similar to that involving leaks in the upper parts of the house.
See, for instance, the case of leaky return ducts, running in the basement: they will draw air out of the basement, which in turn will increase the amount of cold air leaking in from the outdoors... Similarly, in the summer, leaky return ducts can drive large amounts of air-conditioned into the basement, instead of delivering it to the living room, making the basement clammy and cold.
Bottom line: seal leaky air return ducts before installing any heating system in your basement; and consider sealed combustion systems for a healthier indoor air quality, energy savings, and... a more comfortable basement
And do not forget that you should also address the many problems that can adversely affect the basement: leaks, condensation, moisture flows, poor foundation wall drainage. Or lack of insulation...
Basement heating & Insulation
Sealing air leaks is important by not enough, namely in cold climates. Basement insulation is also critical. Without high levels of insulation, heat will escape through the basement wall materials and the floor above; in other words: if you want to keep the heat inside the basement, you should install high levels of insulation in its walls (and possibly in its ceiling).
Otherwise you will be wasting energy, and you will need a larger heating system.
Basement Heating Solutions
After considering the factors listed above, and before choosing a heating system for your basement, consider the uses you want for your basement. The type of heating system depends on it.
For occasional uses, consider small electric heating systems. They are inexpensive to buy and easy to install. Though costly to run and a bad option for regular everyday uses, electric heating is a good choice for low and occasional heating requirements.
Be cautions about extending your central heating system to the basement; though possible, it may be a bad idea. The equipment and its distribution system are sized to meet the requirements of your living space, and it may not be feasible, easy or inexpensive to extend them to a basement. Creating a separate heating zone for your basement, and using space heaters, is often the best option for energy savings.