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Old 04-10-2011, 05:14 PM
Location: 125 Years Too Late...
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What does it take to keep an unheated basement in a very cold winter climate (such as northern ND, northern MT, northern ME, AK, etc...) from freezing? I know in my area (which is considered cold but not extremely cold in winter) a typical basement will not freeze. It will remain between around 40 to 55 degrees.

The parameters are that the basement/cellar would be under the home, not elevated at all, centered beneath the home, typical cement foundation construction, and be fairly small (perhaps 12x12).

If we're talking average winter highs of around 15F and lows at -10F, would I need a bunch of insulation? Or would thick cement be sufficient? Or is it even doable? I don't know the frost line--assume ND climate. The cellar would be primarily food and water storage--large containers of water, dry goods, canned goods, and "root cellared" perishables.

Anyone have experience with this in the north country??? I have a feeling it will be a little harder to do than it is in Utah.
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Old 04-10-2011, 08:15 PM
Location: FROM Dixie, but IN SoCal
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I am by no means an expert, but from your description it sounds as though very little (or no) insulation would be needed.

Since all you want to do is keep the air temperature, and thereby the goods, slightly above freezing, I suspect all you'd really need to do is (a) keep the goods a few to several inches away from the outside walls, (b) ensure good air circulation around the goods, and (c) keep a low-level/low cost heat source, such as a few light bulbs, going. If they're down low, btw, the heat source(s) should generate enough convective circulation to keep things moving.

Once again, I'm no expert.

-- Nighteyes
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Old 04-11-2011, 08:17 AM
Location: Maine
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Do you mean the footprint of the home is 12x12 or just the basement? In regions that get as cold as the that, you will need an 8 foot frost wall anyway. Why not make the entire footprint of the home your basement.

The frost will get to 4 feet many years.

If you are living in this home permanently, the basement will not need to be heated as the ambient heat of the home above will keep it above freezing in the basement. Some people do put blue board on the outside of the concrete walls, it will help.
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Old 04-11-2011, 11:37 AM
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My room is a basement room under a house. The foundation is buried by earth on 3 sides. One wall of this room is openly exposed to air/weather. It stays from 50 to 55 degrees year round. There is no heat here, other than my 4 Alladin Lamps, which I put on in late afternoon or early evening from Fall to Spring. Mainly I use 3 of the 4, as the room warms I shut them off one at a time to conserve fuel (K-1)

This room is 14x25.

This winter wasn't so bad as a NH winter can be. But we have been here since Dec 3rd 07, and some of the winters were far colder than this past, and it has reached -20 over some days in the winters past here.

In the rest of the basement is a oil fired furnace that heats air and does the first floor (only other level), and a gas fired water heater, which may shed some minor heats to the cellar, but neither are intended to heat the cellar.

This room also has a propane gas wall mounted rig I can't stand. So not even the pilot has been lit since we came here.

A 12x12 area would heat with a couple cheap oil lamps easy to better than 55 degrees.

With what I run, the way i run them I can reach 72 degrees when I want to.

The frost line here runs around 4 feet. The room has fiber glass on the solid wall and the exposed wall and it is framed and sheet rocked around.

The rest of the basement is bare cement, and shows no sign of frost ever.

In summer I like this room for sleeping the most since it is cool, and it is quiet. I can't tell if there is rain or now unless it's a T storm.

In winter i do bank snow on the exposed wall to at least the window sill.

A proper buit igloo will only get down to 32', even ar -40 and colder, so making a living temp in a 12x12 cellar topped with a cabin should be pretty easy.

Depending on how you heat (wood) you might be able to vent heat from the ridge line rafters right back down into that cellar too. That might take a small box fan of 50 CFM, or if you get clever nothing but the sun.

Once I built a stick cabin with foam insulation on the inside roof. This was faced south. So one side face east the other west, and as the east side heated the moving heated air trapped in the foam venting panells under the roof created a draft, that cause heated air to leave from the west side before noon. After noon the whole thing swapped.

I am pretty sure that if that place had had a cellar I could have vented the attic area right to the cellar with no motors or fans of any kind.

There was no loft floor in the place either.

AND probably with a little more thought, if that place had had a cellar and this was a thing to do, then the vents could have a by pass for the seasons. In summer the heat would just be vented out the sofits as it was, and by closing the sofits off in winter, that heat could be sent rght smack into the cellar.

The How I Know: It was late Feb high on a hill in NY state, and I was building that cabin with a bigger gambrell cabin/ barn/ work shop.

I was in the act of finishing the facia and sofits when the warm breeze struck me in the face, and I can't say it was unwelcomed since I was on the colder west side working.

Another option with the 50 CFM fan: Once I had a house heated with wood only. I placed my wood stove in the kitchen because that's where i spent the most time. I used 2 50 CFM computer fans because they don't whine. One fan blew down the hall to the living room, and the other into my sons nursery.

That house had a loft, and the heat ended up in the loft. The cellar was a crude afair, and I wanted to heat it for less freezing of water pipes and the washer, and not light up the wood only furnace down there untill it was colder than -10.

So I made a box of 2 pices of board wood, and used the existing celling as the other 2 sides of the box. The box ended shot and were open on both ends to draw air in. Stairs were lined up to get to the loaft with the stairs to the cellar, so it wasn't a big chore to open the floor and create a box to the cellar, and extending that down to with in 1 foot of the floor near the furnace about 4 feet away.

Inside the box down tube was the computer fan also at 50 CFM. A flick of a switch and warm air was pumped from the loft to the cellar.
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Old 04-16-2011, 10:27 PM
Location: 125 Years Too Late...
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Some great ideas here!

The footprint of the home will be somewhere between 12x16 and 16x24 and a timberframe design (I have several designed right now). So, depending on the size, it may well be the entire footprint of the house (if the house is on the small 12x16 side of the spectrum). The basement will be pretty much food/drinking water storage only. Much of it will be dry goods, so not a problem there; but not all of it, and I just don't want it freezing any water or canned food. The ambient heat from upstairs may be sufficient, but I really only keep the temps around 55 to 60 throughout the dwelling during the winter. And of course, it won't matter in the summer--no freezing, and basements stay fairly cool on their own.
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Old 04-17-2011, 10:15 AM
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How do you expect to heat the place, and then the water? Wood only?

I have seen some wonderful contraptions where a coil of soft copper pipe is fitted into a wood stove, for hot water. Usually there is a water tank very close to the wood stove too. The water tank like any other has cold water enter, and that flows low into the copper coil, where water heats and by the action of getting heated rises, and goes back to the tank, with no power.

So long as the copper line never goes dry, and or is allowed to freeze, it can last a good long time.

That line WILL make condenstaion inside the stove as cold water enters the copper line, but it doesn't appear to be much if any problem.

Another idea I haven't done myself but have seen is a heat trap around a smoke stack. The trap doubled as a fire break for the smnoke stack too. All this was was a ordinary wood air tight wood stove with a ordinary black 6 inch pipe smopke stack, with the top 4 feet in the roomm showing covered with 8 inch black smoke stack. The top piece was a T, and had a flange holding it to the ceiling and off the T one last side there was a turned down elbow, The effect of the flange sealed the top, so heat was trapped between the inner pipe and the outter pipe, which forced heat to go down thru the elbow and thru more 8 inch pipe into the basement area, where the pipe ended a couple feet from the floor.

The stove was out from the walls in a corner set up some for safety and the heated pipes was in line, so it looked factory made. This was a bit nicer cabin too, so the walls were covered in sheet copper for roofing, and were polished bright and clear laquered to stay bright. These copper sheets were just nailed to the walls with old fashion ceramic electric fence insulators, so the copper sheet has a 1 inch air space. The only problem with that is spiders made a mess behind the copper.

The fix for that would be to use sheet rock screws to hold the copper shields and take them down at times, where you can't if you use nails.

Since your place wants to be air tight pretty much so far as the basement goes, I might suggest thin foam insulation on the cement, before the sills, and again between the doubled sill plates and again on top of the sills. You can buy that foam made just for that in 6,8 and 10 inch wide rolls for cheap.

Another idea I have seen is wicked cool.

I got a old sailor buddy, and his air tight stove is in a corner of his living room. His place a a salt box cape. He does his wood pile out back and stores much of it under a back deck, and more in the basement. He has a 36 inch door as the only means into his basement. He is getting on in years too, so the less hard lifting he has to do the better off he is, also he hates cleaning, but keeps his place spotless.

His living room carpet is light blue, and he likes it clean.

So he had this old antique trunk taking up space in the basement, and was willing to put cord wood in it.

He cut a hole in the living room floor near the stove, ran some pvc pipe as guides, built a platform to run up and down the guides, and mounted the box on it. He mounted a boat hand crank trailer winch to a rope and the rope grabs both ends of the platform.

With the carpet he cut and the floor plywood he cut, he capped these parts off in stainless boat trim, but any mnetalic carpets trim would work. Then he added piano hinge in stainless to the floor cut out.

As he raises the trunk it lifts the now trap door up and sets it to the wall, as the trunk is raised. When it lowers the trap door is closed, so in summer there is a place that appears to want to hold his slippers, and in winter it becomes a wood box with no dust and no wood chips. I left out the pullies and the like, but your plenty smart enough to know how to place and set a few pullies, so a platform can go up and down.
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Old 04-18-2011, 11:28 AM
Location: eastern Kansas in the wooded hills
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Every place with a basement that I'm aware of in Alaska is heated although there aren't many basements around here due to water table levels.

We have a roughly 24X24 7' high basement though slightly elevated (2' above ground with clerestory windows) under a small vintage 40s era bungalow in Anchorage. Our utilities are located, (of course) in the basement along with our boiler furnace/hot water tank so the basement must not freeze. It takes only one heat loop with a small garage style blower to keep the entire basement heated to roughly 60-65 degrees. We can get it warmer but why? In the year that we gutted the house, that basement loop heated the entire building. It wasn't super warm upstairs but the basement loop kept it from freezing that winter.

To help with heating and damp, we dug out our foundation and applied a water shield membrane and added 2" of blue board under the ground to slow concrete block/ground transmission of heat/cold.

A few issues in a basement without a heat source: Mold or mildew if the area soils are damp which is a year round hazard. Possibility of freezing the footings and having the building jack up. Our frost levels are 4 feet. Freezing utilities.

A lot of old timers used to put their wood stoves on their lowest levels and run a central masonry stack and grate vents through the upper floors for ambient heat. If you have a multi-story design, you may need more than one stove in the winter. Happy building.
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Old 04-18-2011, 07:01 PM
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AK-Cathy, I am not familar with Ak, and wonder if you also have perma frost? Doesn't seem like it with a 4 foot deep frost. We get frost that deep easy in NH.

I got the idea the old timers put the heat low because it rises and if the cement is fairly tight to the sills above, one the cement is heated up it will give heat back. Might save fuel, but in Ak I don't know.

I knew a guy over in Maine, that built a car shop to work on cars for a living, at his home.

When he built the concrete floor he ran pvc pipe and added straw to the crete, this was all done nice with re-bar and road mesh and the floor was thicker than needed.

He installed a wood stove and a water pump with a Thermostate, so with a fire the coolant in the pvc pipe would circulate once what ever temp he selected turned on the pump.

I worked there sometimes to assist, and one fire in the stove was all it took to throw the doors open and bring in 3 cars in winter. Over a slightly extended coffee break first thing all the cars and the floor would be dry. A little fire to save coals for late afternoon was all it took to keep the place warm in moderate cold, and any more or less real wood stove fire would drive you out, unless a garage door was left partly open.

That set up paid for it self and paid it more than back for the extra cost and extra time it took to build.

Chris if this happens to float yer stick, that pipe was full of water before the floor was poured! After that thru a drain out it was filled with old car coolant and never drained again that I would know of.
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Old 04-18-2011, 08:37 PM
Location: eastern Kansas in the wooded hills
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I am not familar with Ak, and wonder if you also have perma frost?

No permafrost in our area. Up north yes, lots of it. All things considered, our winter is no worse than the northern tier states here in south-central Alaska, maybe it lasts a little longer. Summers are cooler, all due to oceanic influences.

The system that you describe with radiation loops in concrete is being done up here in garages and even some driveways have it. Pretty nice.
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Old 04-18-2011, 11:31 PM
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If you are building the home I'd suggest insulating the exterior of the poured concrete basement to the depth of the frostline or add another foot to be safe.. Apply the insulation over the foundation's waterproofing. This is a product that works well for such a purpose: P2000 is a System (http://p2000insulation.com/index.php/component/content/article/47 - broken link)

The problem with most traditionally built homes in regard to basement and 1st floor insulation occurs at the sill plate where the wood frame of the structure meets the foundation. Energy assessments usually show a loss of energy at the sill plate; thus, insulation that does not allow for thermal bridging from the foundation carrying up through the main structure is optimal.

Last edited by lifelongMOgal; 04-18-2011 at 11:41 PM..
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