Why is it always so hot upstairs?

I get calls all the time from people who complain that the second or top level of their home is too hot! I know this can be incredibly frustrating. My first question is always, “how long has this been a problem?” If it’s a problem that has just recently surfaced; the system may be failing in some fashion that is preventing the unit from cooling the upstairs. You need a certified technician to come out and diagnose what could be failing in your system. If a hot upstairs has been an ongoing nuisance; then there is most likely an overall problem with the system or home design.

Physics tell us that hot air rises and cold air falls. Unlike the laws of this great nation that can be debated and changed as time passes; the laws of physics aren’t so flexible. The fact is; every bit of hot air in your home is rushing up the top floor and every bit of cold air is falling like a brick into your lower level. While there is no way to alter this natural cycle, there are ways to mitigate the results!

Assuming you have a single zone system (single system/single thermostat), there is only one place you can “pick” the temperature. If you have one thermostat on the main level, that is the one and only place you can “control” the temperature; the rest of the home has to fend for itself. It is impossible for the thermostat in your living room to know what’s going on in an upstairs bedroom. That unfortunate truth in mind, here is how you can battle the stratification of temperatures in your multi-level home.

Ways to Prevent Temperature Differences

  1. Run your indoor fan all the time. By setting your fan to “on”, the fan will constantly move the air in your home, forcing cold air from the lower level to circulate with the air upstairs and help reduce the temperature difference.
  2. Lower the temperature on the main level to keep the upper level a bit cooler at certain times of the day. If your bedrooms are upstairs, simply turn the temperature down two degrees before you go to bed at night. In the morning; turn it back up when you spend most of your time downstairs and the bedrooms are usually unoccupied.
  3. Leave doors to upper-level rooms open. If there is not a return duct in your room, air will build up pressure and prevent the room from cooling. Warning… Teens will be very resistant to this concept!
  4. Add an attic ventilation fan. This will reduce the temperature of the attic that is sitting right on top of your upper rooms. Caution! Never add an attic fan without first having a professional energy audit or home performance analysis done on your home. Under certain circumstances, you could create all sorts of performance and health problems by adding an attic fan.

These suggestions are ways to help reduce the problem of “stratification” in multi-level homes. If you are looking for a more effective and concrete solution; a qualified Heating, Air Conditioning, and Home Performance company can come out and talk to you about a Whole Home Audit, potential design flaws in your duct system (including leaks), and the possibility of “zoning” your existing duct system or even adding an additional system to cool your upper level.

Just remember, if you’re upstairs is too hot, you’re not alone. A qualified contractor should be all too familiar with your frustration.

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