Angies List: Solving uneven heating on different floors

Winter is right around the corner, but now may be the time to take care of a common problem with home heating.

Many people who have multi-level homes, especially the older homes, deal with the problem of uneven heat. The furnace is running, but one room or floor may be warmer than the other.

"One common problem we hear about from members is uneven heating or cooling in a multi-level home,” said Angie Hicks of Angies List. “ Situations where the upstairs it's hard to keep cool in the summer or warm in the winter - is a very common issue."

A lot of it has to do with the way your heating and cooling system is set up, which has been the case for most homes for decades.

"Most two story homes have a pretty good temperature difference between the second floor and the first floor,” said HVAC Contractor Dave Mejean. “The main reason for that is your thermostat in your house. Your thermostat is typically located on the first floor of your house; so that is what is reading all the temperatures. So, when it gets cool enough or warm enough in there; that's what shuts the unit off; so it doesn't really pay attention to what the temperature is upstairs."

One solution is to add a zoning system that allows a homeowner to control the temperature independently from a thermostat placed on each floor. Zoning systems are easiest to install in new construction, however existing homes can sometimes be retro-fitted to accommodate the system.

Another, less expensive solution: “On your thermostat there is a switch for your fan for "on" and "auto." You want to switch that to "on" and what that will do is run your fan continuously,” said Mejean. “What that does in your house is that keeps the rooms a little more even-temperature because you are continuously circulating the air throughout the house; so it's mixing all the air between the upstairs and the downstairs."

But there is not a one-size fits all solution.

"If you find yourself having problems with temperature on different levels of your house, talk to a reputable heating and cooling company, because they can give you suggestions for how to best manage for that,” said Hicks. “Whether it be settings on your existing system or whether you need to add additional equipment."
Most zoning systems can cost up to $3,000. Not cheap, but half of setting up a second heating and cooling system, which some people with this problem do.

And we have a lot more helpful information on our website, wndu-dot-com, just click on this story.


Common reasons for temperature variances between floors:
• Restricted air flow from the furnace to the registers.
• Inadequate or improperly sized and sealed ductwork.
• A heating and cooling system that's not sufficient for the size of the home.

• Run the furnace blower continuously: Heating and cooling professionals recommend homeowners switch their thermostat fan to the 'On' position to allow the blower on the furnace to run continuously, which better circulates air throughout the house. First, though, make sure your air filter is clean. Adjusting the vents can also help redirect the forced air to the places it's needed.

• Add a second system: Certainly the most expensive fix - a second system could run upwards of $7,000, but is the best option for two-story homes with one furnace. Adding a second system allows the homeowner to better control the temperature on each floor.

• Add a zoning system: Zoning systems are a less-expensive alternative than adding another system. Zoning systems allow a homeowner to control the temperature independently from a thermostat placed on each floor. Zoning systems are easiest to install in new construction, however existing homes can sometimes be retrofitted to accommodate the system. Most zoning systems cost $3,000 and up.

• Add a ductless split: Essentially an air conditioner without the ductwork, these small room-based units pass cold air through small air handlers mounted on the wall. The homeowner can control the temperature independently in each room the air handler is installed. Cost for ductless air conditioners typically starts at about $1,500 per unit.

• Have ductwork inspected: Improperly sized and leaky ducts are often the culprits. Ultimately, homeowners with temperature variance issues should consult a reputable heating and cooling contractor to diagnose the issue and determine possible solutions. Doing so could not only make their home feel more comfortable, it can help ensure they are using their heating and cooling energy as efficiently as possible.

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