Basement... Heated floor? Or rads?
February 1, 2018 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me assess the pros and cons of creating a heated floor, versus adding a few radiators, in the unheated basement of my Canadian house?

The plan is to turn a finished basement into a nanny suite (bedroom, kitchen, living room, bath).
Currently the basement floor is janky old concrete, topped by a carpeted wood subfloor that's about 2 inches thick.

The basement is completely unheated, and freezing. The rest of the house has radiators, run from a very old, but reliable, small boiler. The boiler may not be able to handle the additional demand of heating the basement, so whether we do the floor or just add new basement rads, we'd probably create a separate heating loop for the basement apartment.

Here are the pros and cons I can see right now... what am I missing?

The ceiling is a little low, so we could probably gain two inches of height by demolishing the floors.
Basement drainpipe is probably clay- a good time to replace it.
Heated floors are nice.

I find tiled living spaces often look "too hard" and not cozy. My ideal aesthetic would be light wood in a herringbone pattern... is it possible to make a heated tile floor look equally cozy?
Building a heated floor is quite a bit more expensive than just adding a few radiators.

The basement bathroom is fine, but currently unheated- would we need to renovate it to heat the floor in there too, or can we just leave it a bit chilly as the door will be open most of the time?
We'll likely be keeping this house for at least 10 years, hoping to use it as an income property. Will we make the investment back on these floors?

Any other info to consider?
posted by pseudostrabismus to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
By nanny suite I am assuming this is going to be rented out. I'm sure you are aware that you are going to have to follow building-code requirements for insulation, heating, ventilation, egress windows, etc. for occupied basement spaces. I would keep a subfloor and use radiators. The reason for this is that without a subfloor the floor will be cold and unpleasant in seasons when the furnace is not running. You will also be inviting moisture problems. We have a dricore subfloor under an engineered bamboo wood floor in our finished basement in Ottawa, and it makes an enormous difference in comfort. The dricore subfloor acts as both a thermal and moisture barrier, so much so that the floor feels no different from the main floor. If you are renting this space out, you don't want an unheated, chilly bathroom. Nobody likes that, your tenants may be tempted to run space heaters, and you would be encouraging all sorts of condensation problems. You could always install a small in-wall electric heater with a fan in the bathroom.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:35 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can use some bamboo or hardwood flooring over radiant heat. A quick search yielded this article.
posted by mareli at 1:36 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I find tiled living spaces often look "too hard" and not cozy. My ideal aesthetic would be light wood in a herringbone pattern... is it possible to make a heated tile floor look equally cozy?
Building a heated floor is quite a bit more expensive than just adding a few radiators.

We installed radiant heating in most of our first floor and put engineered hardwood on top, with the radiant heating tubes in gypcrete (under the hardwood). The radiant flooring is really, really nice in the winter. It's significantly more comfortable than our upstairs, which has hot-water baseboard radiators.

So, in summary, radiant flooring is awesome, and you don't have to have tile on top of it, you can have other flooring surfaces.

You would need to heat the bathroom if you think folks are going to take showers and stuff in there (as they would if it's a rental). Either just run the radiant flooring in there or install a radiator. Don't forget to install a vent, too, so it doesn't get moldy.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:58 PM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Things to think about are how old your house is, whether you have a moisture issue as well as a cold issue, and what the insulation in the basement is like otherwise. Is this a gut job, where you are wiling to put up the cash to get a really comfy space, or is this just patching it up to good enough?

We just demolished the janky cement floor in our early 1950s Montreal basement. Before that we ripped up the floating floor installed by the previous owner to find a rotting plywood and shimmed subfloor. That helped explain the dampness we'd hated. Wall insulation was minimum, and there was no insulation under the original cement floor of course. Our floor was so gross we opted to jackhammer It all up. Once we did that we had a sewage pipe to fix, and while we were down there might as well increase the diameter of the old water pipes. And hey, lets put in some French drains. Gotta have a fan if we're putting in a new bathroom and want to avoid those moisture problems.

We opted to lay radiant heating under a new cement floor and put in new insulation on the walls, floors and ceiling. The heat is lovely, but it was not cheap. We gained some height (not much) mostly because we had newer HVAC pipes put in. Our house is built on rock so drilling down was too cost-prohibitive, but if you are on softer material you could certainly gain. The thing is, unless you have an amazing general contractor or have really deep knowledge yourself it is difficult to know until you are in the rough of a space what exactly the options are. I also found that if I had three contractors over they'd inevitably give me three very different recommendations.

How much do you want to spend? In the single thousands, you're going to go with the radiators and a patch-up job. If you are willing to get into the tens of thousands then start considering the radiant flooring and fixing up insulation. We're loving our almost finished new basement but it didn't come cheap.
posted by Cuke at 5:38 PM on February 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

If the problem is just the cold floors, it's certainly possible to lay the radiant heating pipes on top of the concrete foundation floor and then put some click together engineered wood flooring on top. You only really need a pro for hooking it all up and to give you guidance on how to set up the piping to make that easiest unless there's more to it.
posted by wierdo at 11:33 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mr Sixswitch did radiant floor heating in a big three floor reno. Polished the concrete in the basement for a nice finish, laid tile in the upstairs unit.

Vet your contractors! This is new-ish stuff in Canada.
posted by sixswitch at 1:38 AM on February 6, 2018

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