With cooler autumn weather already sneaking snow into North America, some homeowners are preparing their homes for winter. In these colder climes, this includes getting basements ready for freezing temperatures.
Not only do basements provide space for storage, the HVAC system, and possibly a recreation room, but they also help the building store a modicum of heat (as thermal mass). However, letting cold, damp outside air into your basement contributes to higher heating bills, poor air quality, and the potential for health problems.
To help you avoid these problems and live brighter by being more comfortable in your home this winter, here’s a quick guide on how to prepare your home basement for fall and winter.
Let’s start with the basics:
- Check that basement windows and exterior doors close snugly.
- Replace any torn or worn weatherstripping.
- Add weatherstripping and caulk any holes in the frame that may let in drafts.
Onto the deeper stuff – especially if you have a preternaturally wet basement?
- Check your rain gutters and downspouts.
- Clean out overflowing rain gutters to allow water to run down the side of your home. Not only will this damage your siding but this water could ultimately leak into your basement.
- Also be sure that your downspouts move water away from your home’s foundation.
Sealing and Insulation
Outside and inside, locate and seal ANY holes in the foundation – especially around pipes, electrical connections, or cables enter the house. Not only will this reduce the amount of cold air and moisture getting into your home, but it will also help keep out rodents that want to spend the winter with your family.
For an unfinished home basement, cold drafts and condensation can be a problem in winter, especially where the foundation meets the house’s wooden framing, which is called the mudsill.
- Seal this area to the top of the foundation.
- Next insulate the entire banding joist with pieces of 1 or 2 inch thick rigid foam.
- It can be held in place with a little expanding foam and covered with a piece of sheet rock (for fire code).
- Though labor intensive, it will insulate a substantial area of your home for relatively little cost.
DO NOT USE fiberglass insulation because this will allow condensation to form against the banding joists. This encourages mold and mildew growth, and it potentially can begin rotting the wood.
In unheated and under-insulated areas, cover exposed water pipes with inexpensive foam pipe insulation and install a pipe heating cable to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
Insulate the first three feet of the pipe leading into and from your water heater.
If your water heater is under-insulated, add a water heater jacket.
Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) System
This multi-step process is simpler to complete yourself than you think, though we do recommend getting your furnace inspected by HVAC professional as a way to prevent a breakdown before it happens.
Change the air filter.
To keep your HVAC running efficiently, change out the air filter at least every three months (some say monthly) — but this depends upon what the manufacturer of your HVAC system recommends.
Check the HVAC’s humidifier.
Sometimes, the humidifier’s wick will clog up from lime deposits. Depending on the severity, the lime can be dissolved by removing the wick and soaking it in a bucket with vinegar or a strong lime cleaner. If it’s really stubborn, you might need to replace the wick entirely.
Whether or not your home basement is heated, circulate the air before the weather gets cold. Basement floors, walls, and the earth surrounding them act as thermal masses. That means, they will actually store heat and then release it over the winter. Using a fan to circulate air in your basement during the summer will help store some of that warmth. In some homes, using a fan to circulate air may even help reduce summer humidity problems.
Though the effectiveness on the whole tends to be lower (if not negligible) in colder regions, some studies have suggested that insulated basements will store thermal mass heat more efficiently (13%) by adding rigid foam insulation to the exterior foundation wall and also just below ground surface extending about 24 inches from the foundation wall.
Want to dig down deeper? In older homes, your home basement can account for about 20 percent of a home’s total heat loss. Check out Natural Resources Canada’s “Keeping The Heat In” for basements.