We’ve all been there: no matter how hard you try, at least one room in your home is either too hot or too cold. While your living room might be exactly the temperature you want, your bedroom upstairs is freezing. It’s annoying and uncomfortable — you’re paying for central air, so why isn’t it working properly? Temperature imbalances can be frustrating, but they may be signs of bigger issues as well.
Rather than cranking up your thermostat or overrunning your system, consider what might really be at the heart of the problem.
Common sources of temperature imbalances in the home:
Improperly sized ductwork or HVAC
If your ductwork or HVAC is the wrong size for your home, you won’t get the airflow you need. Not only will this impact the balance of heating and cooling in your home, but can cause long term damage to your system. In the cold months, improper airflow can cause your system’s evaporator coils to freeze up. In the warm months the opposite problem occurs: your system can overheat and fail prematurely.
Ducts can lose up to 30% of airflow from leaks. Even small leaks from poorly insulated ducts can affect airflow throughout the house. Large leaks, such as from loose joints, can completely eliminate airflow to distant rooms.
This is most prevalent in older homes, but in any circumstance poor insulation and thin walls can have a big negative impact on the overall temperature of the home. If your home doesn’t retain heat or cool air, you’re going to end up wasting energy and spending more to condition the entire house. Even if this is only a problem in specific rooms, you’ll be running your system longer than should be necessary to heat and cool them, which can be expensive in the long run.
Rising heat in multi-level homes
In a typical two story home, there is a 8–10 degree temperature difference between the upstairs and the downstairs. This is because heat naturally moves from lower to higher levels, leaving the upstairs rooms warmer than those below. To make matters worse, most heating and cooling systems only monitor the temperature around a single thermostat, which can leave rooms farther away or above it under-conditioned.
Thermostats are most effective in the room they are installed
Thermostat are best at regulating the temperature where they are. Say yours is installed in your living room: when that room reaches the pre-set temperature, the whole system will shut off to prevent the house from overheating. This happens whether or not the rest of the home has been brought to the same temperature.
Rooms are far away from your heating and/or cooling unit
It goes without saying, but the rooms nearest your furnace or cooling unit will naturally get the majority of the conditioned air. Those rooms that are located further away or at the ends of the ductwork receive far less airflow and as a result may not be evenly heated or cooled in comparison to the rest of the home.
Factors relating to the room (location, windows, etc.)
Where rooms are located and the size and number of windows in those rooms can have an effect on the temperature as well. For example, a room that faces the sun most of the day will naturally be warmer than one facing away from it. If you live in a particularly warm or cold place, the number and size of the windows in a given room — as well as how those windows are sealed — can affect the overall temperature.
A lot of factors can impact the heating and cooling of a home. We recommend getting a home energy audit to determine what is affecting yours, so you can start thinking about solutions.
Solutions to temperature imbalances
Find and patch leaky ductwork
Leaky ductwork is fairly easy to solve: locate the source of the leaks and seal them with duct tape. That said, we recommend working with a professional. They’ll know where to look (typically at joints and fittings along the duct work) and have pressurizing equipment to help them locate and seal leaks. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, the home improvement blog This Old House has a great how-to video that you can follow.
Install better insulation
Regardless of any temperature imbalances, adding better insulation to your home is highly recommended. Better insulation can mitigate leaks and can reduce the impact of environmental factors on the temperature inside of your home. The US Department of Energy gives some great tips for installing insulation, but again we suggest working with a professional.
Add a zoning system
Room zoning systems allow you to control the temperature independently from thermostats installed on each floor. These thermostats are rigged to control panels throughout your home and communicate with dampers that are installed inside your ductwork. The dampers are instructed to open and close automatically according to how you set the individual thermostats. In addition to helping you balance the temperature on different floors, a zoned system can allows you to heat or cool individual rooms on demand, or close off unused rooms entirely. Companies like ZoneFirst have been in the business of manufacturing zoning systems for over 50 years and have whole-home solutions that an HVAC contractor can help you install.
Add a second HVAC system
If your HVAC or ductwork is improperly sized for your home, you may need to add a second system or replace your existing one altogether. This is your costliest option, but can give you better control over different floors and might be your only solution in really extreme cases. We recommend having your system inspected by a professional to determine if this is the way to go.
Install Smart Vents
If you prefer to do things yourself, another option is to install a Smart Vent System. Smart vents give you control over the vent registers in specific rooms, similar to the dampers in traditional zoning systems. With our system you can use the Keen Home app’s occupancy scheduling feature to set your Smart Vents to open and close during specific times of the day based on when rooms are actually in use. Alternatively, set your Smart Vents to Auto Mode to automatically coordinate airflow and temperature between rooms. Integrate Smart Vents with a smart thermostat to create a comprehensive room-by-room heating solution that can intelligently determine your needs, all at a fraction of the cost of adding a standard zoning system or a second HVAC. The best part: because Smart Vents are connected to the internet, they get better over time. We have pushed many firmware and software updates since launching the Smart Vent System, and we are constantly working on integrations with other smart devices to extend the system’s capabilities.
Temperature imbalances can be caused by a myriad of factors. Thankfully, there are just as many ways to solve them. The right solution for you depends on the source, be it environmental or how your system is configured. Get an energy audit to determine the source of your imbalance and to find the right solution for your home. Now is the perfect time to do it too — start fixing issues now before the winter chill hits!
A huge thank you to Patrick Kilgannon of All-tech Air & Filtration, LLC and Josh Thomson of Thomson Air Conditioning for helping us write this post.