Is one room or area in your home much colder than others? There are various ways to solve the problem, some of them simple and inexpensive…others involving greater effort and expense.
Bottom Line/Personal asked heating expert Richard Trethewey how you can figure out what’s wrong and what to do about it…
Home owners often think that they have to live with temperature inconsistencies in different parts of their homes because they are reluctant to spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade their heating systems and insulation. But in many cases, the solutions are so simple and inexpensive that people may overlook them…
Check the arrangement of the furniture and drapes to make sure that heating vents or radiators are not blocked.
Shut the damper in the fireplace firmly when you aren’t using it.
Feel for drafts along windows by holding a lit candle along the gap between the window and the trim. Watch if the flame bends or flickers, indicating a leak, and then caulk or weather-strip to close the gap. If a window still feels drafty, pry off the interior wall trim around the window and spray foam sealant between the wall and window frame. Then press the trim back into place.
If you need to heat only a specific part of a room such as the desk area in a home office or a couch near a TV, get an energy-efficient, 1,500-watt portable electric space heater such as the Holmes Eco Smart Energy Saving Portable Heater, which weighs less than five pounds, stands 7.5 inches high and costs only $40 but produces as much heat as larger models.
Here, cold-spot problems and cost-effective solutions…
Problem: Major heat loss through exterior walls. Does one wall or part of a wall feel cold all the time in the winter? Traditional fiberglass insulation in the wall may be inadequate because it has broken down over time or has left gaps around electrical boxes or light fixtures, creating drafts.
Solution: Blow Icynene into the walls. Icynene is a new type of expanding foam insulation that is injected into wall cavities through small holes. It’s much denser than fiberglass and reduces air infiltration with double the effectiveness of fiberglass. Icynene can be sprayed in without removing the fiberglass and directly onto electrical and plumbing work. (If you need to access pipes and wires for repair in the future, the Icynene foam can be cut away). For more information and to find a licensed Icynene contractor, go to Icynene.com. Cost: About $4 per square foot for the material and installation.
Problem: Heat from your furnace is not making it to the room that is cold. If you have a forced-air heating system and the airflow out of a room’s vent feels weak, you may be losing heat to tiny cracks and gaps in the ductwork in your walls. In older homes, as much as 20% of the heat never makes it to rooms, especially those farthest from the furnace. Trying to seal ductwork yourself with mastic tape often is ineffective because leaks can be hard to identify and much of the ductwork in a house is not accessible.
Solution: Use Aeroseal duct sealant, a nontoxic polymer spray that contractors pump into both rigid and flexible ducts, sealing gaps from the inside of the ducts. This product received a Best New Product award from This Old House magazine. It has proved so effective at improving heat flow (and saving on heating costs) that it’s worth doing in your entire home. Go to Aeroseal.com to locate a dealer near you. Cost: About $1,000 to treat the ductwork of a 2,000-square-foot home.
Problem: Your thermostat is poorly positioned. If your thermostat is in a sunny room that cools slowly, there will be a delay before the heat kicks in. If the room warms quickly, it shuts off the furnace too early.
Solution: Add a wireless thermostat in the chilly room. You can easily replace your old wall thermostat with a wireless receiver and place a wireless thermostat, which contains the temperature sensor, anywhere in the house. These units transmit up to 500 feet through walls, ceilings and floors. Recommended: ZoneFirst Wireless Thermostat and Receiver (ZoneFirst.com). Cost: About $200 plus a one-hour service call from an electrician.
Note: If moving your traditional thermostat wiring to a chilly room is easy to do, consider installing the Nest thermostat (Nest.com) instead. It’s not wireless, but it can be linked to your computer and/or smartphone so that you can control it remotely, adjusting the temperature up or down on short notice even when you are not at home. The Nest also can learn your daily patterns, so it can turn down the temperature when you leave the house. Cost: $250 plus a one-hour service call from an electrician.
Problem: Heat from a warmer room is not dispersing into an adjoining colder room. Rooms with an additional heating source (for example, a stove or a fireplace), as well as rooms on the south side of a house that get a lot of sun, tend to be warmer than the rest of the house.
Solution: Install a room-to-room ventilator. These ultraquiet fan systems are positioned between rooms right in the wall. One side of the ventilator draws heat from the warm room…the other side disperses it into the cold room. Ventilators run off of a manual wall switch or an automatic thermostat. Cost: About $100, depending on the size of the ventilator, plus two to three hours for an electrician to open up your wall and install the ventilator.
Problem: You just want to add extra heat to an entire room without having to turn up the thermostat for the whole house.
Solutions: Put in a ceiling fan that includes a space heater. The Reiker Room Conditioner with remote control installs and functions just like a regular ceiling fan. But in the winter, with the heater engaged, the fan blades circulate heat quickly through the room. Cost: $350 plus a two-hour installation service call from an electrician.
Install radiant-floor heating, especially for rooms with cold, ceramic tile floors such as bathrooms, mudrooms and kitchens. Radiant-floor heating consists of ultrathin heating cables in mesh mats—not unlike the wires in an electric blanket—that are installed underneath your flooring. Drawback: Because the heating system must be installed under the tile, this option is best reserved for when you are planning to redo your floors anyway. Cost: About $6 per square foot for materials and installation.
If these solutions don’t work, your problems may be more complex and you may need a professional energy audit.
Richard Trethewey, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) expert for the PBS-TV series This Old House since 1979. He is founder and owner of RST Thermal, which provides energy-efficient solutions for home heating and cooling to home owners and businesses in New England. He is based in Westwood, Massachusetts. ThisOldHouse.comDate: February 1, 2014 Publication: Bottom Line Personal