Stove in basement or zero clearance on first floor? Risk of pipes freezing...

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Kyla from Canada

New Member
Sep 19, 2022
5
Kelowna, BC, Canada
We are considering installing either a stove in our basement or a zero clearance unit on our main floor to provide a back-up heat source in case of power-outage. We're in a stand-still debate about which will better meet our needs and especially need some input re: risk of pipes freezing. Here are the details-

Our home is builtin the late 80' but is relatively well insulated. It previously had a brick chimney and stove in basement but we haven't used it as it needs some safety work (ie: liner or use 2nd flue and needs proper inspection- this is in progress and seems positive).

Our basement is a half-walkout with a door right near where the stove would be installed. Water pipes into the house that we are most worried about are on the opposite side of the open basement from the stove. Water tank and a potential future 3rd bathroom are around a corner from potential stove placement.

We heat our home with a mini-split heat pump (LOVE IT!) and don't have natural gas or any other heat source (still have some baseboards but prefer not to use them). We don't have much ducting in our home although we do have an old but good condition HRV system (which obviously wouldn't run in a power outage).

Home is about 1200 sq ft in basement (cement floor, insulated but needs some additional insulation along headers), 1200 sq ft on main floor and 600 feet on 2nd floor where the bedrooms are). We have vaulted ceilings on main and a LOT of windows on main (decent but not awesome, energy advisor says they are fine and doesn't recommend much upgrades for them due to cost benefit).

We would like a unit that would supplement our heat pump in cold snaps and function as a back-up for emergency situations in an outage. My husband does work from home in the basement although he's quite cold-tolerant. (I work from home on main floor.)

I think we would get more enjoyment and benefit from a zero clearance in our living room to heat where we spend most of our time. However I am concerned about pipes freezing in the winter during a particularly cold snap if the power was out. We're not sure how much heat would get to the basement or if putting vents in the floor, or a space heater in the basement run off a generator would be sufficient? My husband is leaning towards a basement stove. Cost is also a factor but we can manage either.

We live in Southern BC (Canada). Winters are mild by Canadian standards but we have had spells of -35 C for a week or so on occasion. Otherwise we hover between -5 and +5 C.
So my questions are:
  1. Will a zero-clearance throw any heat to the basement? Will heating the floors provide enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing?
  2. I read another thread that said advised against a stove in the basement if the primary function is heating the main space. Will a stove be wasted in the basement re: heat/comfort upstairs?
  3. Would our 2nd floor bedrooms get any heat from a stove in the basement?
  4. What would you do?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,422
South Puget Sound, WA
Have you ever used the basement stove? If so, was the chimney draft good so that the stove started and ran well?

How did you heat the basement last winter? Did the mini-split need supplementation from a resistance electric heater on the coldest days?

How close is the stairwell from the basement to 1st floor to the basement woodstove location?

Have you considered getting the basement stove working, and then if necessary, putting a second nice stove upstairs instead of a ZC fireplace? That would be less expensive and would afford full control with the basement stove carrying most of the heating load and the main floor stove being lit during nights, weekends, and on very cold days.
 

ericm979

Burning Hunk
Nov 2, 2018
209
California
Since you're talking heat I assume you'd want a zero clearance stove not fireplace. Most (all?) zero clearance stoves have fans. I asked the manufacturer of mine (a Flame Monaco) what to do if the power goes out while the stove is operating, and they said it would be ok. But it still makes me nervous. Even if it's totally ok without the fan running, you'll get less heat out of it.

I went with the ZC due to space limitations. If I had the room I'd have gone with a freestanding stove that does not need a fan.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,422
South Puget Sound, WA
That's correct. In a power outage, a freestanding stove is a better source of heat. I don't think there are any zero clearance stoves. Most if not all have at least a minimum clearance requirement.
 

jalmondale

Member
Dec 16, 2021
140
NY
For heat, I'd get the stove in the basement. Hot air tends to rise, so you can heat higher floors with a stove, but it's difficult/impossible to heat lower floors. That said, in order to heat the upper floors, you'd need vents to allow the hot air to rise, and air returns to allow the cold air to fall. Stoves can also be run without electricity (although getting a battery backup for a blower fan is much more feasible than a back up for a heat pump), and you can get stoves that are substantially more efficient than a zero clearance fireplace (by about 15%, it looks like).

The only downside, as you mention, is a lack of fire ambiance on the main floor, but it sounds like that's very much a secondary goal.
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
6,286
Long Island NY
  1. Will a zero-clearance throw any heat to the basement?

    No.

    Will heating the floors provide enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing?

    Only if you can keep the pipes down there from freezing with the current (main floor heating) set up... Heat does not travel down easily.
  2. I read another thread that said advised against a stove in the basement if the primary function is heating the main space. Will a stove be wasted in the basement re: heat/comfort upstairs?

    No. I heat my 1700 sqft from the stove in the 825 sqft basement. 1200 sqft on the main floor are comfy. 500 sqft above that are fair. It's only sleeping, there so that's fine. (The additional bathroom is chilly - but that helps with the time my kids spend in there...) Temps go down about 5-10 degrees for each floor up. (So yes, the basement is WARM.)

  3. Would our 2nd floor bedrooms get any heat from a stove in the basement?

    Yes, some. If the set up allows for enough convection.
    I have the thermostat (separate zone) for the 500 sqft second story set at 60 F. It does not come on. That is, with the temps we've had here. (I think 10 F overnight lowest). You are colder.

  4. What would you do?

    That depends. If you want the ambiance, put something in the main floor and supplement the basement. You don't have freezing pipes now there. Unless you never had a power outage yet, that suggests things will be allright? However, if you will be burning 24/7 to heat your home (i.e. more of a utility than ambiance perspective), I'd put a stove in the basement if you have an open staircase going up. Why? It's insulated, and you keep all the mess (wood burning is messy) down there. Walk out basement is ideal. I have the same. But I have no cozy fire on the main floor.
 
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Kyla from Canada

New Member
Sep 19, 2022
5
Kelowna, BC, Canada
Have you ever used the basement stove? If so, was the chimney draft good so that the stove started and ran well?

How did you heat the basement last winter? Did the mini-split need supplementation from a resistance electric heater on the coldest days?

How close is the stairwell from the basement to 1st floor to the basement woodstove location?

Have you considered getting the basement stove working, and then if necessary, putting a second nice stove upstairs instead of a ZC fireplace? That would be less expensive and would afford full control with the basement stove carrying most of the heating load and the main floor stove being lit during nights, weekends, and on very cold days.
Thanks for your response!
We haven't ever used the basement stove as there were chimney cracks so it didn't pass inspection and we aren't insured to use it.
We heat the whole house using our mini-split. We have one unit in the basement that keeps it comfortable. We usually keep it cool anyway since we're not down there much but we use it to keep the floor on the first floor warmer since our unit on this floor is a bit undersized given the vaulted ceilings. We've never had to supplement the mini-split in the basement.
Stairwell is about 20 ft I'm guessing and goes up back towards the stove area about 12 feet to the side of the stove. One challenge is that the entry to the stairs on the first floor is in an awkward spot around a corner and a long hall away from our main living areas. We do have two vents from the basement directly over the stove area that go into our living room (ie: stove is below living room).
I don't think our basement stove can be used as is. We need a new liner likely and the unit itself no longer meets efficiency requirements. Our chimney is about 40 feet tall so liners are a significant cost.
Hope that makes sense! :)
 

Kyla from Canada

New Member
Sep 19, 2022
5
Kelowna, BC, Canada
Since you're talking heat I assume you'd want a zero clearance stove not fireplace. Most (all?) zero clearance stoves have fans. I asked the manufacturer of mine (a Flame Monaco) what to do if the power goes out while the stove is operating, and they said it would be ok. But it still makes me nervous. Even if it's totally ok without the fan running, you'll get less heat out of it.

I went with the ZC due to space limitations. If I had the room I'd have gone with a freestanding stove that does not need a fan.
Good things to consider. I've heard that some fans can be run by convection if required but I haven't looked into the efficiency of these much yet. Guess I've got more homework to do!
 

Kyla from Canada

New Member
Sep 19, 2022
5
Kelowna, BC, Canada
For heat, I'd get the stove in the basement. Hot air tends to rise, so you can heat higher floors with a stove, but it's difficult/impossible to heat lower floors. That said, in order to heat the upper floors, you'd need vents to allow the hot air to rise, and air returns to allow the cold air to fall. Stoves can also be run without electricity (although getting a battery backup for a blower fan is much more feasible than a back up for a heat pump), and you can get stoves that are substantially more efficient than a zero clearance fireplace (by about 15%, it looks like).

The only downside, as you mention, is a lack of fire ambiance on the main floor, but it sounds like that's very much a secondary goal.
Yes I think you are correct with this assessment overall. Although the lack of ambience is very much a loss in my mind, the other thing that feels wasteful is heating the basement more than is necessary when we don't spend much time down there. I think the practical choice to consider simply as a back-up heat source is the basement stove but I had hoped that we'd also off-set a bit (but not most) of our heating costs by taking the chill off with a main floor fireplace. I guess we can't have it all!
 

Kyla from Canada

New Member
Sep 19, 2022
5
Kelowna, BC, Canada
  1. Will a zero-clearance throw any heat to the basement?

    No.

    Will heating the floors provide enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing?

    Only if you can keep the pipes down there from freezing with the current (main floor heating) set up... Heat does not travel down easily.
  2. I read another thread that said advised against a stove in the basement if the primary function is heating the main space. Will a stove be wasted in the basement re: heat/comfort upstairs?

    No. I heat my 1700 sqft from the stove in the 825 sqft basement. 1200 sqft on the main floor are comfy. 500 sqft above that are fair. It's only sleeping, there so that's fine. (The additional bathroom is chilly - but that helps with the time my kids spend in there...) Temps go down about 5-10 degrees for each floor up. (So yes, the basement is WARM.)

  3. Would our 2nd floor bedrooms get any heat from a stove in the basement?

    Yes, some. If the set up allows for enough convection.
    I have the thermostat (separate zone) for the 500 sqft second story set at 60 F. It does not come on. That is, with the temps we've had here. (I think 10 F overnight lowest). You are colder.

  4. What would you do?

    That depends. If you want the ambiance, put something in the main floor and supplement the basement. You don't have freezing pipes now there. Unless you never had a power outage yet, that suggests things will be allright? However, if you will be burning 24/7 to heat your home (i.e. more of a utility than ambiance perspective), I'd put a stove in the basement if you have an open staircase going up. Why? It's insulated, and you keep all the mess (wood burning is messy) down there. Walk out basement is ideal. I have the same. But I have no cozy fire on the main floor.
Thank you for this excellent response. So many wise folks on this forum.
We don't plan on burning 24/7; main reason is to have a back-up in case of emergency so I think the stove is winning based on all the responses for that. Sadly, I want the ambiance and comfort of the main floor as well but that may have to be secondary. Maybe I'll consider an electric fireplace (don't have gas to the house) just to sit by on the coldest nights. Not the most efficient probably but sometimes being warm is as much about the cozy ambiance for me. :)
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
6,286
Long Island NY
I have to say that if the stairwell is in an awkward position (for heat coming up), if the basement is kept frost-free by the minisplit there (and thus the stove there would only be for when the power is out - does that happen often and how did you keep the basement from freezing previously in power outages?), if you like ambiance, and you don't spend much time in the basement, and if you have to spend to get the basement chimney into proper shape, and you won't burn 24/7 (i.e. a lot less mess than if you would), then a wood fire on the main floor might be good for you.

Why? Because ambiance and heat are in the place you want it to be and where you spend.
The only caveat is the basement freezing in power outages. But how are you dealing with that now? Is that really an issue? I'm almost thinking whether a stand-alone kerosene heater (far away from any combustibles, plus fire alarm on batteries!) would help then to keep the basement from freezing. You only need to run it very low to make that happen, and only when the power is out.

On the main floor, you could do a zero clearance fireplace, or a small (non cat) freestanding stove.

Bottomline, I think that if you can be confident the basement won't freeze by having another non-electric emergency solution, and you don't burn 24/7 but do ambiance/supplement *for* the main floor, then a wood heat source on the main floor is a better match. As in "more satisfying" to your preferences.

Just a thought - the main issue seems to be keeping the basement frost free. Solve that, and then do what you really want on the main floor.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,422
South Puget Sound, WA
Thanks for your response!
We haven't ever used the basement stove as there were chimney cracks so it didn't pass inspection and we aren't insured to use it.
We heat the whole house using our mini-split. We have one unit in the basement that keeps it comfortable. We usually keep it cool anyway since we're not down there much but we use it to keep the floor on the first floor warmer since our unit on this floor is a bit undersized given the vaulted ceilings. We've never had to supplement the mini-split in the basement.
Stairwell is about 20 ft I'm guessing and goes up back towards the stove area about 12 feet to the side of the stove. One challenge is that the entry to the stairs on the first floor is in an awkward spot around a corner and a long hall away from our main living areas. We do have two vents from the basement directly over the stove area that go into our living room (ie: stove is below living room).
I don't think our basement stove can be used as is. We need a new liner likely and the unit itself no longer meets efficiency requirements. Our chimney is about 40 feet tall so liners are a significant cost.
Hope that makes sense! :)
A 40' chimney will present a challenge to most stoves due to strong draft. On a day when the basement temp is warmer than outside by say 20º you could test the draft by holding an incense stick or cigarette a few inches away from the chimney opening (wall thimble) in the basement. If the smoke is drawn right up the chimney then the draft is good.

A basement stove could be made to work if negative pressure is not an issue, but it sounds like a nice stove on the first floor would be more appreciated and beneficial, especially if the current setup handles the basement heating well.
 
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crstrode

New Member
Feb 10, 2021
21
spokane
My house is similar; Vintage 1972 with 1200 feet walkout basement, 2600 feet on main floor. 16-foot high vaulted ceilings, poorly insulated with acres and acres of windows. Main heat source is a large Heat pump/AC for the summer, and when temps are above 40 F. In the cooler days a behemoth natural gas furnace automatically kicks-in to keep us warm and toasty.

There is a gas fireplace in the dining room for ambience and aux/emergency heat. It is capable of operation without the need for electricity, however the basement cannot benefit from the upstairs heat without the central forced air system.

The house also has traditional masonry fireplaces upstairs and downstairs. Neither of the fireplaces were used by us, since we moved in 6 years ago.

For backup heat, we opted for a Blaze King Sirocco insert in the basement. An insulated liner was installed inside the interior masonry chimney. Height of the chimney cap is about 30 feet above basement grade. It was intended only to be used as an emergency heat source and occasionally for ambience. However - since it was first installed the basement has become our favorite place to hang out. I love it and have been jonseing to get it going since the delayed end of summer. This is our third season with the Sirocco and just today fired it up for the season.

With a big drafty house like mine, there is no hope of heating the upstairs exclusively from the basement, but in a pinch, it will do quite well to make it (almost) habitable up there. Here in the basement, the insert can be loaded, fired up, and then throttled down to minimum and keep the temp very cozy even in the bitterest of winter weather ("bitter" in these parts is a balmy 15 below (F)) . The small amount of wood it consumes downright is spooky! And I burn almost exclusively Ponderosa Pine (after all, when you live in a pine forest, it makes sense to burn pine).

My only other experinces with wood heat was as a kid half a century ago in a very old farmhouse with multiple primitive wood stoves and fireplaces constantly burning mountains of cordwood. The Blaze King is very easy to operate as long as the factory instructions are followed to the leter - nothing more, nothing less. Doing so has provided me with a heat source that is amazingly efficient and clean. I have been kicking myself this past three years for not getting one sooner. Now, I am even considering getting another one to install upstairs in the living room.
 
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stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
6,286
Long Island NY
You'd be a member of the vaunted 2-BK club...
:)