Do you somehow always break a sweat in your master bedroom at night while the kids are downstairs playing video games in the pleasant coolness of the family room?
Whatever rooms are on your second floor – a living space, bedrooms, home office – it’s not uncommon for them to take the brunt of the heat during summer. After all, you’ve heard that “heat rises”, and it’s true. Cooling a second story can certainly be more challenging.
But it isn’t just the physics of heat that can affect the temperature difference. There are other factors that may make your second floor less hospitable – or require you to freeze someone out on the first floor for some relief. Here’s why your second floor may be so darn hot during summer, and what you can do to mitigate the problem.
You Have Single-Zone Cooling
This one ties directly into the “heat rises” adage. Your second story is almost always going to be hotter than the first floor even if your air conditioner is perfectly sized, maintained and balanced. In small homes that may not be a huge differential. And if you have bedrooms upstairs that you only use at night when it tends to be cooler anyway, you may not mind.
But if you spend your days trading too hot upstairs for too cold downstairs, then single-zone cooling isn’t doing you any favors. It’s not your air conditioner’s fault – heat just doesn’t always play nice! And closing vents in cooler parts of your home won’t work, either. In fact, it can backfire totally, pushing cool air out of your home entirely, though cracks and leaks in ducts, and putting excess wear and tear on your system so that it loses cooling its efficiency.
If you have single zone cooling and want to balance the temperature in your house, you may want to opt to split it into multiple zones. You can also try installing ceiling fans to better distribute air, especially in warmer areas where air movement can help you feel cooler even if the temperature doesn’t change.
Your Air Conditioner Is Too Old
The average life span of an air conditioner is 15 years, so if yours is getting on in years, it could simply be too old to get the job done. If you’re noticing a bigger temperature difference between floors than usual, an aging air conditioner could be the culprit.
If you haven’t been maintaining your system, it could show signs of age a lot sooner, in 10 years or fewer. A well-maintained system can last well past the average, into its 20th or 25th year. But even a well-maintained system will lose efficiency eventually, and that loss means it will be less effective at cooling and distributing air overall. Couple that with an already-warmer upstairs, and it’s probably a good time to think about replacing it.
Your Ducts Are Leaking
Earlier we mentioned that by closing vents in some rooms, you could be pushing cool air out through leaks in ducts. Perhaps you shook your head because *your* ducts don’t leak. But do you know that for a fact? Leaky ducts are a bigger concern than many people realize.
They can happen due to faulty workmanship, and sad to say, even in the newest constructions you can’t always be assured of quality work. They can happen due to age. The longer those ducts have to funnel air to and from the rooms in your home, the more wear and tear they suffer and the more likely to develop leaks.
Critters can cause trouble, too. Believe it or not, animals can chew right through your ductwork, creating not only a major problem for your HVAC system but a health hazard, too.
Small leaks become bigger leaks and before you know it, you’re churning out more cash than cool air. Energy costs go up as your air conditioner works harder to keep your home cool, and your second story gets hotter as your system fails.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to detect leaks on your own, unless you’ve found an obvious escape hatch for a rodent or raccoon. Your best bet is to call an HVAC professional to test them for you.
Your Attic Is Poorly Insulated
An attic is a nice storage space but there’s a reason you don’t live there. Unless you’ve gone to lengths to make it otherwise, even the best-insulated attics are 10-20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature in summer. That means on a 95 degree day, you can expect your attic to hit upwards of 115 degrees.
If yours is poorly insulated, however, it can reach a sweltering 150 degrees! That’s a pretty scary temperature, and it can wreck havoc with your air conditioner’s ability to cool the second story.
Heat accumulates in your attic in a number of ways. Some types of roofing materials absorb more heat than others. Asphalt shingles are particular offenders. Heat then seeps from the roof into the wood beams and into the space in the attic itself. Without good insulation, that heat is traveling right to your upstairs story next.
Heat can also accumulate if your attic is not well-ventilated. Imagine all that heat accumulating with nowhere to go but into your master bedroom or whatever room is beneath it.
Proper insulation won’t keep the heat out of your attic, but it will keep it out of your living space. Conversely, it will help keep the cool air where you want it – not leaking into a space with triple-digit temperatures to combat.
It’s Not Actually That Hot… It’s Just That One Room
Before you dismiss your entire second story as a summertime sauna, think about it: is it *really* the whole floor, or is it just the master bedroom/home office/that addition over the garage?
If you’re constantly battling the temperature in one specific room, the problem is probably not your second story, or your HVAC system for that matter. Common problem rooms are those that are built over garages, where insulation can also be at issue – imagine all that heat accumulating under your room rather than above it – as heat from other areas seeps into your living space. Imagine a room sandwiched between an attic above and a garage below!
Another common problem room is one that gets a lot of afternoon sun. The best air conditioning unit in the world will have a hard time combatting hours of hot, beating sun.
Additions can be a challenge, too, even if they’re fully constructed and aren’t just a “room over the garage.” The problem can arise when ductwork is extended to attach new rooms to your existing system. It’s possible that your air conditioner is not powerful enough to accommodate the extra space. You may notice an overall increase in energy costs along with a decrease in cooling in other areas of your home, too.
If you’ve got a problem room, consider installing a ductless mini-split unit. They’re highly energy efficient, work independently of your central air unit, and as the name implies, they’re entirely ductless.
Summer is on the way. If you’re not looking forward to uncomfortable evenings in upstairs bedrooms, or miserable days switching between your sweltering home office and freezing kitchen, let us know. We’ll visit your home, assess your scenario and provide a free estimate to upgrade, replace or install the components you need.