Heat up my Nether Regions
January 8, 2010 6:23 AM   Subscribe

My downstairs is cold and upstairs is toasty. How can I even out the temperatures?

We just remodeled our 1926 bungalow and added a second story and master bedroom suite downstairs. I have two HVAC units (one brand new and one a year old). The "old" 4 ton HVAC heats the original area (which has old, drafty single pane windows and new ten foot ceilings in part of the original house (as opposed to 8.5 feet). The new 3 ton HVAC heats the new master bedroom downstairs (10 foot ceilings and double paned windows) and the upstairs (9 foot ceilings and double paned windows). The new HVAC has a dual zone damper system so I can separately heat the master and the upstairs. I do not have the heat on at all upstairs as the heat rising from the first floor keeps it toasty. Also, the stairway between the floors cannot be sealed off to stop the heat from rising.

The main room with 10 foot ceilings in the original part of the house stays cool. I know part of the issue is the drafty old windows. We are not changing them and I am not going to use temporary plastic to cover them since we are in Texas and it rarely gets this cold.

My main question is : Would the downstairs stay warmer if I turned the heat on upstairs or would the second floor simply become an oven? For that matter, would it help the old and cold original house by cranking the heat up in the downstairs master? Any other ideas that I haven't thought of?

I don't really care how warm the upstairs gets (other than wasting energy) because we do not use it much. I just want the downstairs warmer.
posted by murrey to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried closing the heating vents upstairs, to slow the flow of hot air to those areas? This assumes your heating system even has vents, of course.
posted by joelhunt at 6:26 AM on January 8, 2010

@ JoelHunt::The heat is not on upstairs (and therefore no air is coming through the vents). It stays warm simply from the heat rising from the downstairs.
posted by murrey at 6:29 AM on January 8, 2010

Try putting a big box fan at the top of the stairs to direct the heat back down. If there are any ceiling fans upstairs, try turning those on as well.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:35 AM on January 8, 2010

Do you have ceiling fans? They can help _a lot_ in the winter. They're sufficient to move the heat from my wood stove all the way around my house.

Also, you might try messing with blocking off your return ducts upstairs if you haven't already, or changing the cycles-per-hour (or whatever the pros would call it) on your furnace to be a touch more frequent.

Experiment experiment experiment.
posted by paanta at 6:38 AM on January 8, 2010

Also, move cold dense air with fans, not warm. You're probably better off putting fans on the floor in the coldest rooms pointing towards warmer rooms.
posted by paanta at 6:39 AM on January 8, 2010

How about using an electric fan to circulate the heat? Arrange it so it pushes the hot air down the stairs. You could plug it in via one of those automatic timer devices so it needn't run constantly - just enough to even out the temperatures. Depending on the size of your house you might need more than one fan.

I used this method in my old apartment where there was only a heater in one of the rooms. It worked pretty well.
posted by jonesor at 6:41 AM on January 8, 2010

posted by jonesor at 6:41 AM on January 8, 2010

Hot air rises...I would think that heating the upstairs would mitigate the heated downstairs air from wanting to rise to fill that cold air in the upper floor, which by doing so is forcing the cold air down to the first floor.
posted by Gungho at 7:02 AM on January 8, 2010

Don't listen to Gungho. That's going to make the problem worse, not better. If one area of your house is too warm, the solution is not to put a heater there so that hot air elsewhere will not "want" to go there because it's "full". It would theoretically slow down the transfer from downstairs to upstairs a little bit, but given that it's, you know, cold outside, this will probably be more than offset by the extra heat you're going to lose because of the increased temperature differential between inside and outside.

The only real solution I see here is to 1) stick more heaters downstairs, and 2) improve your circulation. You might also look into improving the efficiency of your insulation. That's always a good idea.
posted by valkyryn at 7:17 AM on January 8, 2010

Might also want to see if you can chase down air leaks to prevent the colder air from getting in in the first place. Leaks in both the downstairs and upstairs can contribute to the problem. If you have combustion based heaters, be careful about how tightly you seal up the house. Some are designed assuming a leaky house to supply air for combustion.
posted by electroboy at 7:27 AM on January 8, 2010

I don't really care how warm the upstairs gets (other than wasting energy) because we do not use it much. I just want the downstairs warmer.

Maybe this is too obvious, but have you tried turning up the thermostat on the downstairs?
posted by dalesd at 7:43 AM on January 8, 2010

Cranking the heat probably won't fix the problem. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're looking for a quick fix to last a couple of weeks or so, not a big HVAC project. Two ideas:

1. Use door fans to move the heat downstairs. Put them in the stairwell and anywhere else that you think is transmitting heat. There are plenty of different kinds and sizes of door-fan, and they're cheap enough to buy several. When it gets hot in the summer, you can reverse them to circulate the cool air upstairs.

2. Get something -- anything -- over those big windows. You're probably right about the plastic -- it's a huge pain to put up, especially if you're going to be taking it down again in two weeks -- but you can use what you've got. Close the blinds, close the curtains, hang a second curtain on the rod, whatever. In my house, I've actually clipped a blanket to the curtain rod for the window closest to my bed, and it works really well. If you don't want to block all the light, you can leave the top foot or two of window uncovered.

3. Space heaters. This is not a great option, but if you can't get that main room warm any other way, invest in a space heater and crank 'er up.

4. Last but not least: wear a sweater. It's what my mom always told me and it actually works.

Items #1 and #2 together will probably make an enormous difference. Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 7:49 AM on January 8, 2010

Can your heater fans be turned on, even if your heat isn't? Our central heat system can be set to turn on only the fans, which helps to even out the temperature around the house.
posted by markblasco at 8:03 AM on January 8, 2010

We had a similar problem in our condo.
We had the walkout basement completely finished for living and it has become our primary place to work and relax while the upstairs remained the eating and sleeping areas.
The upstairs became too warm in the winter and summer even though we sought the advice of a heating/cooling "specialist" when finishing the lower level. The cathedral (high) ceilings in the upper level contributed to the problem.
The best solution was to keep the ceiling fans running in the upper living room and bedroom. Twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week; changing the direction of the fans as suggested for winter and summer.
YMMV IANYHCS (I am not your heating/cooling specialist)
posted by Drasher at 8:13 AM on January 8, 2010

Does your thermostat have an option to run the fan continuously? That should help even things out. You might also want to keep the returns open upstairs and mostly blocked downstairs. You don't want to totally block them in a room wit a door as that would make it difficult for air from the furnace to enter the room.
posted by caddis at 9:46 AM on January 8, 2010

Also, move cold dense air with fans, not warm. You're probably better off putting fans on the floor in the coldest rooms pointing towards warmer rooms.

Why does this work better?
posted by spicynuts at 9:51 AM on January 8, 2010

I think it is worthwhile to try setting up fans both ways and see what works best. For example: During the summer nights, when our house is full of hot air (we have no AC) and the outside is cool, we open windows and put our box fans in them, facing out. As some hot air gets blown outside, cool air gets sucked in. It works incredibly well. Maybe the same principle can be applied in the OP's house (not with open windows of course). Pretend that the upstairs is the hot house and the downstairs is the cool outdoors. Or reverse it and blow that cool downstairs air upstairs to displace the warm air. I see a MythBusters episode developing!
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:38 AM on January 8, 2010

Is there a way to block the airflow from the lower level to the upper level? If there is only one opening (like a stairway) then if you find a way to close off the migration of air from downstairs to upstairs it should make a significant difference. It would slow down the air movement going up to the second floor.
posted by JayRwv at 10:38 AM on January 8, 2010

This is kind of jury-rig, but it would work. Go to Home Depot, Lowes, wherever, and get two ten foot long pieces of sonotube about ten inches in diameter. Put them on either side of the stairs and afix them in some simple way so they stay in place.. At the top, mount a small household fan pointing down one of the tubes. At the bottom, put a small household fan pointing up the other tube. Turn them both on. Instant circulation between levels. Trust me, it will work.
posted by Old Geezer at 11:25 AM on January 8, 2010

Oh man, I want to try the sonotube thing, but I'm pretty sure that'll get vetoed by She Who Must Be Obeyed.
posted by electroboy at 1:50 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

SWMBO might feel better about it if you pointed out that it is temporary and that the tubes can covered with a nice cloth that complements the color of the stairs. Warmth tends to cancel a lot of objections.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:05 PM on January 9, 2010

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