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I've lived in my current duplex for about 5 years now and every summer, my upstairs portion of the duplex gets noticeably hotter than downstairs. I couldn't give an exact measurement but 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter would not surprise me.

Over the years, I've added several things to the house to deal with this issue. It's made the heat manageable but by no means is it solved. I had to replace the AC (it was 20 yrs old), but even that didn't fix the cooling issue. I've added ceiling fans in all three bedrooms. I've added an attic fan as well to get the hot air out of the attic.

What I'm really doing is just guessing what the problem is. I've looked into companies doing energy audits and insulation, but I'm not sure if this is the most effective thing I can do.

How do I go about solving the hot air in my second floor during the summertime? What is the most effective approach to solving this problem? Is this something I can solve or would it be best to hire a contractor?

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+1 Get the energy audit done. If your local utility does it, have them do it. They don't have a vested interest in selling product you may not need. –  mikes Jul 10 '13 at 23:43
We explored a number of your same issues here: diy.stackexchange.com/questions/29526/… –  HerrBag Jul 10 '13 at 23:50
where are you from? –  DMoore Jul 10 '13 at 23:57
Ceiling fans don't cool anything, and they don't circulate air throughout a house particularly well either. In fact, most fans actually use a lot of electricity and just heat up the room they're in. They only make you feel cooler if you can feel the breeze they create (or are circulating air from somewhere colder, like outside at night). –  Henry Jackson Jul 11 '13 at 1:06

2 Answers 2

Since hot rises, upper stories will tend to be warmer unless the design of your air conditioning system properly compensates for it. An energy audit, as mentioned in the comments by @mikes will tell you if you have any reasons for heat gain that may be correctable.

Assuming you have a single thermostat that controls a unit that supplies both levels, here are some other factors to consider:

  • Make sure you have a clean filter. A dirty filter will lower the overall efficiency of the unit.
  • Make sure that supply and return ducts are open on the upper floor; it's possible that supply ducts were closed during heating season due to excess heat in that area; return ducts may be blocked by furniture.
  • Check for dampers in the ductwork that leads to the upstairs. It's possible that flow to the upper level was restricted to balance the system for heating system. If you change a damper, note the position beforehand, you may wan to return to that setting for heating season (manually operated dampers usually have a small lever on the outside of the duct -- parallel to the airflow is "open", perpendicular is "closed")

  • Running the system fan full-time (rather than just when the compressor is running) may help to even out the distribution of cool air.

  • If you have rooms downstairs that are too cool, you might close or partially close a small number of supply ducts to improve air flow to the upstairs. Note that you should not close many ducts without consulting with a knowledgeable HVAC person, as you could restrict airflow too much, making the unit run less efficiently.

  • If your stairway has a door, leaving it open may help to allow air to circulate more freely between levels (especially if you don't have adequate return ductwork to the upper floor)
  • Last, consider having a qualified HVAC specialist evaluate your system to ensure the ductwork is adequate.
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If space allows, you can also put a ceiling fan in the stairwell to try and move the hot air down. It can help balance the temperatures. –  Chris Cudmore Jul 11 '13 at 12:41
@ChrisCudmore - the fan at the top of my parents' stairway is set to pull air up (and help push it out), not try to push it down –  warren Jul 16 '13 at 20:51

Not sure if this would work in your case but I have seen it work really well in a small single level house designed to capture the sun that I stayed a few weeks in over a summer.

Have you tried putting an inlet vent with damper low down in a cool part of the house and a similar vent high up on the 2nd level?

The idea is that in summer if you open up these vents it'll allow the warm air to pass out and as it does it'll draw in the cooler air on the shady side of the house.

No guarantees but you could test this theory out by opening a high window upstairs to let out the hot air and opening a window in the downstairs shady room and ensure that there are no doors closed in between.

The inlet air is critical or else it won't work.

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