What’s the Best Way to Cool My Two-Story House?

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Making the Most of Your Air Conditioner This Summer in Sacramento

As an HVAC technician, I have the comfort in my two-story home dialed in.  The upstairs is just as big as the downstairs for the most part.  But in the summer, the heat rises so dramatically to the second floor it seems I’ll never get the second floor to cool down by the time we go to bed.  Knowing how to control the summertime temperatures in your Sacramento area home can be a bit of a mystery for some.  That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Fox Family Heating Air and Solar!

Intro

As the typical 100° day begins, you have a nice cool attic and rooms throughout the house are at the nicest temperature they’ll be at all day.  If we could just keep our homes at this summer morning temperature, we’d literally be in paradise.

But by 9 am you can feel the warmth already pouring in through the sliding glass door.  If you don’t turn your AC on soon, it’s going to start warming up in the house.

Do you have one thermostat in your home or more than one?

If you only have one thermostat but your home has two levels, an upstairs and downstairs, then your AC system is intended to cool the whole house at one time.  It’s a “single-zone” air conditioning system.  If you have two thermostats, whoever installed your home’s HVAC system set it up to have “two zones”, upstairs… and downstairs.

If you have one thermostat that turns on the air conditioning system, you may notice the upstairs is still warmer than the downstairs, or vice versa, even when the system is supposed to be cooling.  Downstairs where the thermostat is it says 75 degrees and it feels like 75 degrees.  But upstairs you know it’s 80 degrees because the meat thermometer you got from your kitchen accurately reads 79 to 80 degrees upstairs.

Yes, change your filters, yes check the batteries in your thermostat, but we know that’s not the issue here.  The issue here is that downstairs gets more air than upstairs.  So how are we going to fix that?

A Weekend Project

Getting a thick blanket of insulation in the attic is critical to keeping your cool air in your home.  So, if your insulation levels are low, this is a low-cost weekend DIY project for that certain handyman in your home, or you can hire a contractor like us to come out and do it for you.

Whole House Fans

A whole house fan is a great idea for mornings and late evenings, but any time after 10 am, you’ll just be bringing in the hot outside air, so most people are going to resort to their AC system.  If you want to know what a whole house fan is and what it can do for you check out my video on installing a Quiet Cool whole house fan.

Any time after 10 am, most homes in Sacramento are starting to run their AC’s and will continue cycling that AC on and off throughout the day until about 11 pm or later.  If you only have one thermostat, chances are that one floor cools better than the other.  The reality is just that.  The people who installed the system ran all the pipes and ducts where they were supposed to go.  But they just didn’t quite finish the project when they walked away with unbalanced airflow issues in the house.  This is really common in new homes where teams of install crews are literally just slamming these systems in so they can do the next one tomorrow and move on.

Installing a Manual Damper

What we try to do in these cases is find the part of the house that is blowing more air upstairs or downstairs.  Then we’ll cut into the ductwork and install a manual damper.  A manual damper is round like the ducts in your house.  It runs in line with the duct and has a paddle on it that opens and closes allowing more or less air through it and on to the rest of your house.  If we can adjust this manual damper or in a few cases, a series of manual dampers, we can adjust the airflow accordingly in your home.  This is the way we can balance the airflow in your two-story home if you only have one thermostat.

You might ask “why don’t we just shut off the registers around the house until we achieve that?” You can… but it’s not recommended as a practice by HVAC professionals because the registers can start whizzing and making noises.  The pressure of the air trying to enter the room can cause the registers to start vibrating and rattling, which causes other issues.

A Fine Balance

The air conditioning system has a sort of blood pressure to it.  When we start shutting down registers around the house it affects the system’s static pressure.  If the air can’t get out of the system, expensive compressors start failing, motors start seizing up, and your HVAC system gets to a point where it doesn’t want to cool the home anymore.  There is a fine balance point we are trying to achieve here with this static pressure, so letting an AC tech balance your ductwork is recommended for the longevity of your system.

If you have two thermostats, you have a zoned system which will let you decide whether you want the downstairs AC on or the upstairs AC on.  Does this sound enticing to you?  If you don’t have this setup currently, it can be done on any AC system in the Sacramento region.  It usually takes a good amount of labor for people to take a system that only has one zone and make it have two zones, but it can be done.

A Typical Sacramento Household

The typical home we work on is one where someone is home most of the day, like a parent staying home with a child or for retirees typically home most of the day.  I tell people in these homes to focus on running the AC downstairs where they typically are throughout the day.  If you like it 75 degrees in your normal living areas, set it to 82 upstairs, in the area you’re not using.  Run the AC primarily throughout the day downstairs at whatever temperature you’d like, until about 6 or 7 pm.  Then, shut the thermostat off for downstairs and have the upstairs start cooling off so that by the time you get to bed, it’s cool enough upstairs to sleep for the whole family.

It’s already 75 degrees downstairs when it shuts off, so it’s not likely to warm up super-fast and make it uncomfortable for you.  Nobody needs the AC downstairs during this time so set the downstairs to be 82 degrees.  It won’t get there overnight, but at least the system doesn’t come on downstairs, so the AC can focus its efforts on cooling your two-story home down as quickly as possible.

Master of Your Castle

You can set it up however you want on your thermostat’s schedule.  If you need help with that, call Fox Family or text us and we’ll get out to you and set it up.  Having two thermostats makes sense when the home’s system isn’t big enough to cool the whole house at once.  Your home’s AC system with two thermostats is designed a little smaller.  This is because it’s designed to cool just one floor or one zone at a time.  For many people in the Sacramento region, they can save money and maximize efficiency by using smaller systems.  The smaller the system, the less you’ll pay for the electricity it takes to run the AC.  We can also save money and energy when we don’t try to cool the entire house at one time.

Use Your Thermostat Effectively

If you have a one-thermostat, two-story home that is 1500 sq ft or more, you might have uneven temperatures.  If upstairs and downstairs are at different temperatures, balancing the ductwork will correct the issue.  This means upstairs and down receive the appropriate amount of air to cool the house more evenly.  If your house has two thermostats and still have uneven temperatures, learn how to use your thermostats more effectively.  Learn to control the temperatures in your home.  Have the AC on downstairs during the day, while upstairs stays off or is set higher, such as 82 degrees.

Summary

I hope this has given you some good information on how to cool your two-story home more effectively.  If you need any advice or help with this, let me know in the comments down below.  I’d love to start a conversation about homes with two zones.  How do those homeowners strategize their airflow throughout the day?

Thanks so much for watching and we’ll see you on the next video.

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