If you want to create a basement environment that is warm, cozy and inviting, planning out the heating system is a good place to start.

First, start out by thinking about how you’ll use your basement. If the main requirement is just for storage or when people come to stay, comfortable heating might not be a high priority.

If you plan on hanging out to watch TV or have full time occupied bedrooms, you’ll want the area to be warm — especially in the winter months.

An in-floor heating system will provide the most efficient, even and consistent heat for a basement. That being said, they’re not in the price range of everyone. Here is our post on How to insulate for better In-Floor Heating.

Starting out with an unfinished basement

Most high-volume home builders that are operating in Calgary are mostly concerned with profit, not efficiency. The basement heating system is one area where they often cut corners. Most homes with an unfinished basement will have both the cold-air returns and heat registers up at ceiling height. While it might be the easiest and cheapest option for the builder, it doesn’t result in an evenly heated, comfortable basement.

We all know that warm air rises, so why provide it from the ceiling? Having duct outlets pushing air downwards creates cold areas near the floor. Couple that with a cold concrete slab and you’ll have to keep the thermostat cranked all winter if you want to keep your basement warm.

Getting Creative with duct work

Extending heat registers down to the floor will prevent the warm air from going back into the cold air returns immediately. This will better circulate the air and will get rid of cold spots. This adds some complexity to your basement layout, but can be worth the effort in efficiency and comfort.


Adding horizontal runs of metal ducting need to be covered with drywall — commonly known as a bulkhead or soffit. These are not always very attractive to look at and reduce headroom.

An experienced contractor can help with this. They will know how the best way to hide the ductwork, while also making the basement layout interesting. Some techniques they can use

  • Doubling up a wall’s thickness
  • Running vertical ducts in smaller rooms like bedrooms and leaving larger rooms clutter free.
  • Adding accent lighting or recesses in the drywall to add interest or storage space while providing room for the ducts.

Depending on how creatively this is done the end result can either be completely invisible, or bulky and tacked-on. It is best to discuss your desire for a warm basement with your contractor when in the planning stage for the best results.