Will insulating the basement walls make a noticeable difference in the floor temperature of my 100 year old frame house?

Asked by Rosa
Chicago, IL

The floors above are very cold and with forced air from the ceiling doesn't keep the first floor warm at all. The basement is unfinished.


Ted Kidd

Answered by Ted Kidd

Rochester, NY

Ted Kidd Energy Guru

November 21, 2011


Hot air rushing out the top of your house is being replaced by cold air sucked in at the bottom of your house.

  • This is called the "Stack Effect."
  • Do a search and you will find a lot of nice illustrations of Stack Effect.

You need to stop the flow of cold air

Typical insulation may slow the airflow a little but it doesn't stop it. Imagine wearing a loose knit sweater on a 5 degree windy day. Now imagine putting a windbreaker over the sweater. Air leakage makes typical insulation ineffective.

What you need is to stop the cold air coming in low in your house which prevents the floor from ever warming up.

Spray foam is a common solution

A common solution is to spray foam your basement rim joist (box band, sill plate, etc...).  Spray foam air seals as well as insulates. Often the foam is brought down the walls for its insulation value. 

See if your state has a Home Performance program.

  • They will come out and help you measure and quantify your problems both before AND after repairs. This is important.
  • Many air leaks are invisible.
  • You need before and after measurements of leakage or you don't know if anything was accomplished.

Good luck!

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.