Teach me about owning a basement

I just bought a house, and for the first time in my life I have a basement. My folks don’t have a basement so they can’t help…

It’s just me in the house and I want to use as little heat as possible this winter to save $$. So I need to know the best “configuration” for the heating vents in the house.

The basement is the full size of the house, and has 3 vents in it. There’s a door from the kitchen to the basement that can completely shut the basement off from the rest of the house. But that door needs to be opened when I enter or exit through the garage.

Since the basement’s icky and empty right now, I don’t see myself going down there much this winter unless I get a new clothes dryer in which case I’ll be down there maybe once week. I do not need it to be toasty.

On the other hand, I suspect if the basement is chilly I’ll get condensation, and my main level’s floors will be cold.

Do I close any or all of the basement vents?
Do I close any of the flues in the basement?
Do I close the kitchen-to-basement door?

Main goal is to keep heating costs down this winter…

Bonus question:
I have mold in my basement. Mold leftover from water damage that was fixed before I moved in - they just didn’t clean up the mold (it’s cool with me…). The basement is therefore a bit smelly, and the smell is wafting up to the main floor. I won’t have time to get into cleaning this mold for a coupla weeks. What can I do to keep the smell from wafting up in the meantime? Does that affect my venting scheme?

I :smiley: would love to have a basement,

but my downstairs neighbors :mad: would object.

If you have pipes running through the basement, you may need to keep some heat on in there or they will freeze.

Definitely get the mold cleaned up. That stuff can kill you. Seriously.

I echo this, both parts. You don’t need to keep the basement at room temperature, but you do need to keep it around 40-50 F to protect pipes and such.

And I have a good friend battling a severe allergic reaction to mold in the basement of the house he rents, to the point it’s nearly disabling him from living his normal lifestyle. Get it out of there before it affects your health!

I know I know i KNOW about the mold!!! I KNOW!!

I’m a single woman with a disabled dad and busy friends and my own 3-man company that happens to be releasing a major new release of our software at the same time I bought a house. I WILL GET TO IT!! Before I move in, even. HONEST.

Gonna double-check where my water pipes are to keep down freezing. I also am gonna invest in some of them pipe insulator thingies.

But in the meantime how do I manipulate my flues to keep heat costs down?

It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a cold weather area and had a basement. My recollection is that you want to keep some heat/air circulating in a basement, summer or winter, to ward off moisture.

Incense, candles, potpourri, bake or cook something fragrant. Just a temporary cover up though so don’t let it go too long.

As for the heating. Close all but one vent and keep tabs on the temperature of the basement. If it gets too cold open one more, etc.

Your heating/cooling unit usually draws in enough air thru, if it is in the basement. If you ‘pull’ moisture out of the basement, it could actually wind up in your home. An overly moist home is not good for the structure or your health.

A dehumidifier unit in the basement and/or one on the heating/cooling unit can help.

As for wet basements, most are victims of poor gournd grading outside, and poor use of gutters/downspouts. Usually the downspouts can be extended and tons of moisture headaches go away, as thousands and thousands of gallons of water are carried away from the foundation, rather than being deposited next to it.

Longer term plan:

Get water away from the foundation.


Seal the basement with a ‘dry lock’ and use hydrolic cement on fussy areas.

I live in Minnesota. Home of basements and cold weather. I’ve got a fullsized, non-walkout basement. I don’t open any vents into it, and it stays in the 50s to low 60s all winter.

I’d suggest:

  1. a dehumidifier. You probably have a drain or a sump some place in the basement. Set up the dehumidifier so that it will dump straight into that, so you don’t have to worry about emptying it. Humidy probably won’t be much of a problem in the winter, as the air in your house is much drier then, but we get humidity in the summer.

  2. A thermostat that keeps a record of high and low temps reached. Set it in the basement, and every couple of days (until you get an idea of what’s going on) check and see what the limits are.

Most likely, you’re not going to need to heat the basement at all, to keep it above freezing. The fact that it’s underground, heat from the house above and warm air carried through as you move back and forth to the garage should take care of that. If you’re worried about it, keep one vent open until you can see how it goes.

Assuming there’s nothing unusual about the configuration of your house (e.g. a small crawlspace with pipes running through it), you shouldn’t have to worry about the pipes freezing. You might want to shut off the water to any outside faucets during the winter, but the pipes inside the basement should be fine.

You don’t have to heat the basement to keep the pipes from freezing. There should be enough residual heat floating around there from your furnace, etc. to keep it warm enough.

It sounds like you have a heated basement (designed for living space). It should be safe to turn off the heat vents to the basement.

To further save energy, you could insultate the basement ceiling to prevent the house heat from migrating down into the basement.

IIRC, the temperatue 8 feet down (avg basement depth) is approximately 50 degrees anyway. As long as you have heat in your house, the combination of the abiant ground temperature and the water flowing through your pipes (motion reduces freezing temperature) will pretty much eliminate your worries of pipe freeze.

Also regarding heating efficiency, try keeping the fan on your furnace running full time out the temperature of your house, and can reduce your call for heat from the thermostat, actually saving gas (Burning gas being more expensive than running a small furnace fan full time). Especially in an older home, you may find it to me much more comfortable in all the rooms.

I wouldn’t worry about leaving the vents open in the basement or insulating the basement ceiling. In fact I would probably recommend opening them. Heat will always rise. Any heat coming out of the vents in the basement will only help in keeping the rest of the house warm by slightly warming your floors. The heat may even slightly help the dampness in the basement.
Air conditioning on the other hand is the opposite. Cold air flows to the lowest part of a room. I would close the vents in the summer since you don’t really need to cool a basement.