SHOP BY DEPARTMENT
Houzz Logo Print
dphouston

Can't get enough heat downstairs

dphouston
2 months ago
last modified: 2 months ago

My living room ceiling has a cutout where it goes up to the top floor. Unfortunately the only heating vent for the living room is in the side of the cutout, and so the hot air mostly just goes up -- and the thermostat is upstairs just a few feet down the hall from the cutout. (The photo is taken from the floor of the living room pointed up.)


On colder days this makes the downstairs 12-13 degrees colder than the upstairs. Thankfully I live in Texas so this is only an issue for a few months of the year (the AC spreads out just fine).

I can use the fan on the furnace to mix the house's air even when it's not heating, but it's not very efficient at doing that. I'm thinking of installing a ceiling fan from the top of the cutout to try to get the hot air down a little better. Does that seem like it could work, and if so, would you recommend having the fan at the very top, or having a long downrod so that it sits right above where the vent is? (I should mention that there is an open stairwell to the right of the railing in the photo, so air can come down that way as well if the ceiling fan is up high.)


Thanks!

Comments (26)

  • klem1
    2 months ago

    Hot air rises so a fan might drive some down but not enough to even temperature between upper and lower floors. This isn't a diy situation so I suggest hiring a competent havc contractor to assess it and find the best solution. Just on the remote chance the return air might be desighned to switch upstairs while cooling and downstairs while heating,I have a couple questions. Have you noticed a filter downstairs that never gets dirty as a filter upstairs? What about one or more grills downstairs that air never flows out or into? I just can't believe the installing contractor positioned the vent in your picture unless he made provisions for interchangeable return air.

  • Rachel Lee
    2 months ago

    I would install a space heater where you need it.

  • Related Discussions

    I Can't Look Fast Enough!

    Q

    Comments (1)
    I KNOW!!! I was gone for the weekend. To Kentucky where the roses are blooming...picture me dying of jealousy here. Walked the yard Sunday evening and stuff was blooming that wasn't even budded when I left. I figured it was because I hit everything with a shot of 20-20-20 fertilizer before I left.
    ...See More

    I just can't say enough about this plant

    Q

    Comments (23)
    Mary, You shouldn't have a problem with the banana shrubs like you would with plumbago. Plumbago isn't really hardy here. But if your banana shrub is really small you may want to pot it and bring it in for the first winter. That's what I did with the ones I rooted. I love plumbago but they don't really come back for me. Maybe 1 in 8 will come back. There is a lady in town here that has them all over her yard. She says they come back with no problem. Maybe it's cause the other houses block the wind and the streets hold the heat at night, I don't know.
    ...See More

    Can't decide if this Trane quote is good enough to jump on...

    Q

    Comments (4)
    I don't know about the coil. Yes, new refrigerant lineset. He looked at the ductwork and said it was OK. There are special filters they offer, an $1100 one for allergies and a $400 one. I don't think we're getting either so I guess we'll just be using the traditional furnace filter? Don't know exactly what stat but he did say we'd be getting a new one that is 7-day programmable. He did recommend the XV furnace however he said if the cost was too high we could do the XR or the XB.
    ...See More

    Is a 3-ton heat pump big enough?

    Q

    Comments (3)
    If you want to get the Manual J calc done, you could try talking to Southface to see if they'd do it or point you in the direction of a consultant who would. I don't know where costs are running these days but ours was ~$.10/sq foot a few years ago. That was with the Manual J, Manual D, and a schematic duct layout. We also had a duct blaster test done. I haven't looked at packaged systems recently. We replaced a packaged furnace with our dual-fuel heat pump and put the new air handler/furnace/ductwork in the attic. Tightened up the ducts massively by replacing. My concern, when I looked, was that the package units weren't available at as high an efficiency as the separate pieces. That may have changed. Here is a link that might be useful: Southface Energy Institute
    ...See More
  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    2 months ago

    On colder days this makes the downstairs 12-13 degrees colder than the upstairs. Thankfully I live in Texas so this is only an issue for a few months of the year (the AC spreads out just fine).


    Yeah during times like this for our area I say hey, free air conditioning.


    dphouston, quite a common problem here in our area. 1 HVAC system, 2 floors -- design wise as you can imagine this would work ok for AC operation if all bedrooms are up stairs. I don't know if the master bedroom is upstairs or not as you don't say. (Sometimes the master bed room is the primary source of complaint for these kinds of home designs when the MB is on the lower level.)


    So your house design has a double whammy against it. The thermostat is on the upper level / heat rises and what appears like no HVAC vents on the lower level. The heat sounds like it's mostly going to the upstairs, cycle off the t-stat because heat rises there will always be a discrepancy from upstairs to down stairs.


    A ceiling fan might help, but if a minor cool breeze like we have had here the past few days or so is causing you trouble I wouldn't count on a ceiling fan for anything real. Blowing around partially warm air is likely to feel colder not warmer on a lower level that is devoid of heat.


    If you're looking for a cheap fix the space heater is it, just use this option safely or the cheap option will become the most costly.


    I service the Katy, Texas area.

  • sktn77a
    2 months ago

    If your system has ductwork dampers at the furnace/air handler, you can change these to direct warm air to the downstairs in the winter and cold air to the upstairs in the summer. This is the usual procedure which may help some (or may not). The best solution is two systems - one for upstairs and one for downstairs.

  • dphouston
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thanks everyone. I should clarify that this is not the only vent downstairs. There are other ceiling vents in other rooms. Smaller vents, though. In some of the small rooms downstairs that have doors, the temperature can go higher when the door remains shut (but never as warm as upstairs). In other rooms that are open to the living room, though, the heat dissipates quickly. I don't expect a ceiling fan to circulate heat throughout the downstairs, but I was hoping it might mitigate the effect of so much hot air going up the cutout and heating up the area around the thermostat. Does that sound reasonable?

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    2 months ago

    In other rooms that are open to the living room, though, the heat dissipates quickly. I don't expect a ceiling fan to circulate heat throughout the downstairs, but I was hoping it might mitigate the effect of so much hot air going up the cutout and heating up the area around the thermostat. Does that sound reasonable?


    dphouston, It's more about having confidence that it would work. Comfort is sometimes the wild, wild, wild west because people have their own view as to what comfort is. Others that don't live here have different views without the consideration of the climate here.


    If you're cold at 68F inside, you'll be freezing at 60F inside. If you start stirring the air around due to a fan, air movement tricks the body into feeling cooler than what it is sometimes. This statement would be completely changed if the air in question was 80F, but at that point the rooms upstairs are too hot by then.


    So because of that (how this system was designed as well as the structure) leaves you with not so many good options. If you install the fan anyway and it gives you some brief relief --- I know it will be brief because what we contend with the rest of the year.


    Heat rises. This won't change with the addition of a fan, certainly there isn't any rule against trying, but it's something I would never say as a resolution to this sort of problem. (design)


    How well installing a fan works is predetermined by? comfort factors I've tried to lay out here. It's merely cool here now. It can get much cooler for brief periods, in some cases down right cold like sub 30F These episodes are often brief as this area (Houston) is known more for heat related concerns (too hot, rather than too cold).


    This leads into the next discussion of dampers, dampering off the upper level and forcing more air down stairs. Due to these brief periods of cooler, sometimes cold and or freezing then only to get hot again sometimes as brief as 24-48 hours... manual dampers don't work either. If your view of comfort is battling with changing manual damper positions every other day (sometimes the weather changes here on a dime from hot to cold to hot again) --- the other con in doing this closing dampers off can increase static pressure and cause damage to the HVAC system. So I don't recommend that either.


    A fix is a fix, because it actually fixes it. I often say a solution is one that fixes what it sets out to do without causing more problems, otherwise it's not a fix nor a solution.


    There are many times, more than I care to think about --- that when people are informed this way decide to live with what they got. I mean if we are wanting truth over hyperbole --- this is the nitty gritty truth. It's mostly about budgets a ceiling fan budget vs ???


    Because this discussion can then take dramatic turns: we don't plan to live here that long, etc and so on. I get all of that.



    ------------ But what can I do to fix it? ----------


    I don't believe you are at this stage yet, because you'd be looking at spending a vastly different sum of money than merely installing a fan.


    Sometimes these kinds of fixes are limited to the design of the structure, which in turn can have a dramatic effect on cost. If you don't spend the money the right way, it's a waste. No different if you spend the money on the fan and it proves fruitless you still have the fan even if it offers no real relief in terms of comfort.


    NOTE: Some of what I put here isn't necessarily for the OP, it's for others who may stumble across this thread sometimes years later with similar problems that are looking for fixes that will work -- fixing these kinds of problems is what I do... the only reason I am here. I have been doing HVAC for 29 years almost three decades. This isn't about bragging, this is about informing you.


    I service the Katy, Texas area.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago

    Hi, dphouston,

    Expecting a single HVAC system controlled by a single thermostat to maintain comfortable conditions on two levels of a home is a tall order. It only works if the heating and/or air conditioning loads on both levels are similar and there is a concurrent need for heating or cooling on both levels. That would be a pretty rare case. Added to that, whomever designed your home thought it was a good idea to connect the two levels with a "chimney," and your HVAC designer/installer wasn't able to figure out how to get the requisite air flow to the living room. Houston, we have a problem. At the risk of stating the obvious, it's an air distribution problem. That's best fixed by altering the air distribution to provide the required amount of air to maintain comfortable conditions in the living room. I don't think your proposed ceiling fan option will do much, if anything to help. Here are a couple of options to consider when consulting with a local HVAC professional to determine feasibility and cost:

    1. Add supply ducts to serve the Living Room.

    2. Replace your existing thermostat with a smart thermostat compatible with remote temperature sensors as inputs. Assuming all of the bedrooms are on the upper level, installing a smart thermostat with temperature sensors on each level would give you the ability to control to the average temperature of the two levels. Alternatively, you could choose to control the system based on the upstairs temperature during sleeping hours and the 1st floor temperature during the daytime.

    3. Install jump ducts or transfer grills between the Living Room and adjacent rooms and configure the return air flow so that air introduced in the adjacent rooms flows through the Living Room on its way to the return.

    4. Install the required addition supplies to the Living Room and install a zone-control system with a separate thermostat for each level.

  • 3onthetree
    2 months ago

    When I zoomed in on my phone I see a large ceiling return vent here.



    That is probably not helping in heating or cooling with this register. I would guess a ceiling fan would not make up for a 10+ degree difference in combination with an open floor plan. You would have to look into your return venting and what other options are in that wall leading down to the ceiling that your supply register feeds from on whether you can move it to a better area.

    E.g., if that is typical TX design so you have a large attic space with flex duct that register might have a better location somewhere in the ceiling. If that is the only return for the floor, spacing the register farther away might benefit.

  • klem1
    2 months ago

    " E.g., if that is typical TX design so you have a large attic space with flex duct that register might have a better location somewhere in the ceiling. If that is the only return for the floor, spacing the register farther away might benefit."


    I agree that simply relocating that supply to ceiling would help more than adding a fan. The farther from return the better.

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    2 months ago

    E.g., if that is typical TX design so you have a large attic space with flex duct that register might have a better location somewhere in the ceiling.


    There is nothing that is truly all that typical here in TX. You'd think builders would learn something, but no. (If you're a builder, you got your work to do to satisfy me I am in these Taj Ma Halls on a regular basis here when it comes to HVAC the west hasn't been won yet.)


    Certainly some homes are better than others... but that wouldn't be so typical would it? (Like if it was a custom built home, but that isn't so custom.)


    We don't call things large here... they are big. As in my what big temperature differentials you have here.


    Supposed to be 75F here on Thanksgiving so with all that cooking + people visiting this seems appropriate for what looks to be a brief amount of time.

    Happy Thanksgiving.



  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    " I am in these Taj Ma Halls (sic) on a regular basis here when it comes to HVAC the west hasn't been won yet."

    Poor design whether architectural design or HVAC design has never been limited geographically. It's also not limited by price point.

    Ray, do you have any specific, actionable suggestions for the OP or do we just get the usual musings devoid of any such suggestions?

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    2 months ago

    Poor design whether architectural design or HVAC design has never been limited geographically. It's also not limited by price point.

    Ray, do you have any specific, actionable suggestions for the OP or do we just get the usual musings devoid of any such suggestions?


    See that even the builder agrees with me. (not limited by price point) -- Contractually obligated only goes so far it seems. I've been in million dollar homes with starter home problems (like a long time ago when there was such a thing as a starter home.)


    Specific action? He's on a ceiling fan budget Charles. Stopped reading too soon again?


    I'm honest even when the budget doesn't preclude a favorable outcome.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago

    Ray,

    The OP inquired about whether a fan on a down rod would be effective at reducing the temperature differential between floors. At no time did they state they were on a "ceiling fan budget." You inferred that.

    I was hoping with your considerable expertise in the unique Texas climate zone that you'd be able to help them.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago

    Ray,

    There are lots of viable options for improving the performance of the OP's system without resorting to the use of space heaters to do what the HVAC system should do without them. You just didn't offer any.

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    2 months ago

    What like closing dampers & forcing the air to go downstairs vents? A common solution of yours?


    I already discussed that to the tune that it's going to raise static pressure more likely to cause damage then do much more... plus it's now got warm again here I ran the AC last night. So every day, two or three to a week you're adjusting dampers + raising the potential of damage to the HVAC system.


    So while you may call that a solution Charles I do not.


    Gimmicks don't fix design problems.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Ray,

    I offered a list of four possible solutions and suggested the OP evaluate the cost and feasibility of each in consultation with their local HVAC contractor(s). Installing balancing dampers wasn't on the list because it's not an appropriate solution to their problem in my opinion. We're sill waiting for you to contribute a viable option to the discussion. It appears that you are just as lacking in solutions as the HVAC contractors the OP is consulting with.

  • klem1
    2 months ago

    Since op hasn't ask for clarification or additional details is it safe to assume he has already seen this movie and took the football in search of a more entertaining group? (:

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Okay, so you're going with the temporary use of space heaters as your recommendation. Got it. That's not a very "elegant" solution is it?

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    2 months ago

    Better options exist for more money. I go over those options in person if you reside in my service area of Katy, Texas.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    2 months ago

    People come to houzz.com for solutions to problems, Ray. If you're unwilling to help posters without them opening their wallets, houzz.com may not be the right place for you.

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    last month

    Everyone has their own opinion Charles and yours more often than not is wrong.


    I am here to tell people they have more than one choice. I'll let them choose with freedom.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    last month

    Ray,

    You're not a champion of free choice. You're a purveyor of misinformation because you don't understand the basic principles of HVAC. When you're called on it, you retreat with a series of ha ha has, lols, bullying the poster who calls you out, or a statement that you only provide solutions if you're called to do so by a paying customer in your service area.

    If you're looking for houzz.com to serve as free advertising, I submit you're doing more harm to your reputation than good.

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie
    last month

    Should I look to the reviews hanging on my Fridge?


    If I didn't laugh at your foolishness of gold collar credentials chasing the low hanging fruit of blue collar job?


    Is that the real reason you've found yourself here Charles -- you've been labeled as "over qualified" for the job you're attempting to do?


    ha, ha. (more than just a laugh as it signifies "tone" in written form -- they must have skipped over that in intro to nail beating 101.)

  • dphouston
    Original Author
    last month

    Hi all,


    Just to let everyone know that I appreciate all the suggestions. Based on the discussion I tried simply installing a new vent cover that is closeable and it does seem that this sends more heat to the other parts of the downstairs (and less straight up the cutout to the thermostat), so the temperature differential is not as large at the moment. We'll see how this holds up when it gets a little colder outside.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    last month

    Hope that y'all stay warm the next couple of days. @Austin Air Companie tells us that Katy, TX is a *tropical like* climate, so I'm not too concerned about that area except for the possibility of inadequate supplies of suntan lotion, but a freeze in Houston, TX, well, that probably won't end well.

  • stoveguyy
    last month

    A freeze in texas? does that affect spot energy prices?