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Ask Angie: Start with energy audit to address uneven heating and cooling

Angieslist.comMarch 29, 2013 

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Angie Hicks

HANDOUT — MCT

Dear Angie: I have lived in my 7-year-old house for three years. During the winter months, the master bedroom stays very cold. During the summer, it stays very warm. I don't know why this is.

We have a two-level home, and the bedroom is on the top floor in the back of the house. We also have a built-in fireplace in the room. I tried to fill in any areas that might let air in, but it doesn't work. We have two heat vents in the room but we hardly feel any heat unless we turn it way up.

Do you have any ideas on what the problem or solution could be? — Jake E., Dover, Del.

Dear Jake: Uneven heating and cooling between the floors is actually a common problem for owners of multi-level homes. Unfortunately, the solution can vary, depending on what the problem is. Reasons for temperature variances between floors can include restricted air flow from the furnace to the registers; inadequate or improperly sized and sealed ductwork; or a heating and cooling system that's not sufficient for the size of the home.

I would start by having an energy audit done on your home. Many utility providers offer these assessments for free. However, those audits can be limited in scope. A reputable energy auditor can thoroughly assess your home for areas where you're losing energy and offer advice on how to correct the problem.

If it's been a while since you've had your heating and cooling equipment inspected, I definitely recommend you have that done as well. A qualified technician can determine whether the equipment is working properly and operating at its peak efficiency.

If you have an attic that is under-insulated, you could be losing heat through the roof. So adding insulation could be all you need to solve the problem. An energy audit can help determine whether the insulation levels are an issue.

Another thing highly rated heating and cooling companies recommend is to keep your thermostat fan set to the "On" position. This allows the blower on the furnace to run continuously, better circulating the air more evenly throughout the house.

You mentioned you have two vents in the bedroom but don't feel much heat through the vents. I have two recommendations: Check to make sure those vents are opened all the way, and reduce the amount the vents are opened in rooms that are receiving plenty of heat to help redirect that airflow into the bedroom. Don't close the vents off entirely to those other rooms, though, or you could create other potential problems by restricting that airflow.

It also could be an issue with your ductwork leaking or not being sized properly to deliver balanced heating and cooling throughout your home. A professional inspection of your ductwork can let you know if that is the issue or not.

You could look into adding a zoning system to your home. This allows you to control the temperature independently from a thermostat placed on each floor. Zoning systems are easiest to install in new construction, however, they can often be retrofitted into existing homes. This can be a pricey solution, though, ranging from $2,500 to $3,500 on average, so it's certainly something you want to research ahead of time and seek advice from a qualified and reputable heating and cooling professional.

Though it will likely cost you some money up front to address this issue, you can rest assured that it should save you even more money in the long run through improved efficiency. You won't have to crank up the heat or the A/C to get the bedroom to the temperature you like, and you'll be comfortable year-round to boot.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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