As Halloween draws near, I can’t help but think about basements. While you won’t find them in every home across the country, basements are often neglected and unused spaces. They can harbor air and/or water leaks, and depending on where you live, they can be susceptible to dampness, humidity or mold. Some might say basements are energy monsters in their own right — they can potentially gobble up as much as one quarter of your home’s annual energy use.
Keeping energy efficiency in mind, here are a few improvements you — or a qualified contractor — can do to help make your basement less scary.
ELIMINATE AIR LEAKS BY SEALING ANY GAPS AND HOLES IN THE FLOORS, WALLS OR CEILING
Explore your basement from floor to ceiling to identify any air leaks caused by gaps or holes from wiring, pipes, vents, windows or doors. Small gaps can be filled with caulk, while holes measuring up to three inches in diameter can be repaired with insulating spray foam. Holes larger than three inches should first be closed off with foam board and then sealed with insulating spray foam. Don’t forget to check for gaps in the uppermost section of the basement wall where the house frame meets the cement foundation or cinder block.
Any sealing of your home’s perimeter framing, known as the rim joist or band joist, should be addressed by a contractor. Once you have completed any type of major home sealing project, I also suggest hiring a contractor to verify that combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, boiler, water heater and clothes dryer) are still properly vented.
LIGHTING IMPROVEMENTS WILL ALSO HELP TO REDUCE YOUR ENERGY BILLS
Looking for ways to brighten up your basement beyond the traditional incandescent bulbs? Consider installing energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) in your basement lighting fixtures. Light emitting diodes, or LEDs, are also a good option. When compared to incandescent bulbs, LEDs are known to deliver a higher quality of light, could last 25 times as long and use even less energy than CFLs.
REMEMBER TO SEAL OR INSULATE ANY BASEMENT AIR DUCTS
Air ducts leaking either cool or warm air can be a large source of energy loss in your home. You can make simple repairs — such as sealing leaks, usually found at the metal joints — to your home’s air ducts. Avoid cloth-backed, rubber adhesive, and instead use mastic or foil tape to seal air ducts — especially if your basement is unheated and does not use air conditioning. Check out other tips for sealing and insulating ducts.
CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR BASEMENT APPLIANCES AND EQUIPMENT
If you’re in the market to replace older appliances or equipment, such as heating or cooling units, consider switching to one that has earned an ENERGY STAR® label, which requires products to meet specific standards for energy efficiency. While the savings will vary based on where you live, switching out old heating and cooling units can help to reduce your home’s energy bill by more than$200 a year. You’re also best off having any new equipment installed by a qualified technician.
CONSIDER HIRING A PROFESSIONAL CONTRACTOR
If you have the resources to do so, hire a qualified contractor to provide diagnostic testing both at the beginning and end of your basement improvement project. A contractor can verify if your basement is adequately insulated, provide ideas for making suggested improvements and install equipment.
A contractor can also help with project planning, so these improvements are done both logically and sequentially. Improvements can sometimes impact one another, making them less effective if not installed in the right order — such as sealing gaps and installing installation before addressing basement moisture issues. Doing this could easily introduce rot and mold, and also impact indoor air quality.
Tackling these dreary spaces so that they’re usable and comfortable is a worthwhile undertaking. It will help improve indoor air quality, and save you money on your utility bills and other home operating costs. Not only will you have more money for candy corn, but your home will be easier to maintain and can be enjoyed for many Halloweens to come.