Why Are My Upstairs Colder Than Downstairs?

There’s not a winter that goes by where we don’t get at least one call from a homeowner trying to solve an old problem: The upstairs rooms in their house are colder than the ones downstairs.

Tired of putting extra blankets on the bed and still waking up with cold feet, we’ve seen homeowners try all sorts of things to get their upstairs rooms as warm as downstairs: crank the heat, use space heaters, even install a second furnace.

And, in the cases when they can make a difference, it’s often expensive to maintain. Or, inconvenient or even dangerous.

That’s why we’re tackling the problem head-on in this article.

We’re looking at the reasons why people’s upstairs rooms are colder than downstairs in the winter. Some are nearly universal, while others are a little more specific.

And, of course, we’ll give you our recommendations for the best ways to solve the problem.

Three Reasons Your Upstairs Rooms are Colder than Downstairs

The top reasons we see for uneven heating problems between floors are:

The Thermostat Is On the First FloorYou’re Losing Heat Through the AtticHigh Ceilings in the Master BedroomTapered Ductwork in an Older Home

Let’s look closer at each of these.

The Thermostat Is On the First Floor

This is the most common setup in homes — and maybe the biggest reason your heat is uneven between the first and second floors.

As you know, the thermostat is what tells the furnace when to turn on and off. It monitors the temperature and clicks on your heating system when it drops below the call setting.

But, here’s the problem: It can only measure the warmth in the room where it’s located. And, more often than not, it’s the dining room or living room on the first floor.

Now, naturally, the second floor takes a little longer to cool than downstairs. We’ll get into why in a moment.

But, the thermostat makes it worse. That’s because it turns off as soon as the room it’s in reaches the right temperature.

The rest of the house doesn’t matter. If the upstairs is too cold, it doesn’t get treated. So, it makes even a slight difference even more noticeable.

You’re Losing Heat Through the Attic

So, why is the second floor naturally colder than the first? Well, heat indeed rises. The problem is that it doesn’t stop doing so where you’d want it to stop.

In that sense, the bedrooms aren’t the top rooms in the house. Instead, that’s the attic or crawl space.

And, those areas are often uninsulated. So, the heat keeps going past the rooms on the second floor. From there, it escapes through any uninsulated points — often through the roof.

High Ceilings in the Master Bedroom

We see a lot of high, cathedral-style, or vaulted ceilings in newer homes in towns like Elgin, IL. They look great. But, they pose a challenge when it comes to climate control.The problem is similar to that of attics and crawl spaces. The hot air rises — right past where you want it. Instead of heat settling in the bedroom, it collects up near the ceiling. That means it takes even longer to get that room as warm as you’d like .And, if the thermostat downstairs keeps turning off before it gets there, you’ll always be a little chilly.

Tapered Ductwork in an Older Home

Tapered ductwork isn’t as common as other problems, but we still see it from time to time: Ductwork gets narrower in older homes that have three floors. The design is actually to keep too much heat from getting to the top floor.

You see this sometimes in houses that were around before air conditioning. Since heat rises, designers were concerned that all the heat from the furnace would shoot right to the top of the house.

Then, the bottom floors would be chillier because they’d never get appropriately treated. So, they forced the heat to bottleneck.

Unfortunately, it poses a challenge when you’re trying to get those top rooms warmer.

Why Space Heaters Are a Bad Idea in the bedroom

Before we get into ways to fix this problem, we want to address one solution that’s not as good as it seems at first: Using a space heater in the bedroom.

We get the appeal: It’s a portable, inexpensive appliance that adds heat exactly where you need it.

The problem is they’re not made for you to leave them unattended for a long time — like overnight when you’re fast asleep.

They’re a fire hazard, especially if they tip over, and they can be harmful to pets and small children. So, we don’t recommend them for dealing with uneven heating situations such as this.

How Can I Finally Get My Bedrooms Warm Enough in the winter?

Here are three options to consider when trying to get your bedrooms as warm as the downstairs rooms in the winter:

Insulate the Attic or Crawl SpaceInvest in a Smart ThermostatUse a Daikin VRV Life System

The best solution for your home depends on your exact circumstances. So, it’s a good idea to call in a professional to assess your home’s layout, airflow, and other factors. But, these are good starting points to consider.

Insulate the Attic or Crawl Space

We talked before about how much heat gets lost through the roof. So, a good starting point is preventing that from happening.

You can do that by adding insulation to the attic or crawl space. It can prevent heat from permeating that area — and from escaping altogether.

Invest in a Smart Thermostat

The most popular features of smart thermostats are that you can link them to your smart devices. Or, how they monitor temperatures and can make cost-saving adjustments on their own. They can help a lot when your upstairs is always colder than downstairs in the winter.

But, in this case, we’re focusing on another perk: Multiple, state-of-the-art sensors.

This benefit gets around that old problem of the thermostat on the first floor, not taking your second — or third — level into account.

Installing a smart thermostat includes adding extra sensors throughout the house. That means — finally! — there’s a measure for what’s going on upstairs.

Use a Daikin VRV Life System

Installing a Daikin VRV Life system adds safe, powerful, efficient heating exactly where you need it.

Unlike a space heater, it’s made to be a permanent installation. And, it barely uses any electricity at all.

If you’re familiar with ductless systems, then you know how this works: A heat pump outside provides heat that flows into the room via an air handler mounted on the wall.

Those handlers can direct heat anywhere in the room. That also makes them great for places with high ceilings.

That all makes them much more effective — and much less expensive to run — than adding a second furnace for the second floor.

You can read more here about how they work exactly.

And, these models, in particular, are seemingly tailor-made for our record-breaking, freezing, Chicagoland winters. That’s because you can link them to your existing gas furnace.

If for some reason, it’s too cold for the heat pump to work, your gas furnace picks up the slack. This way, you’re always warm, and you’ve still got heat where you want it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Daikin VRV, or the best options for warming the second or third floors in your house, contact Compass Heating and Air today.

Starting with a free consultation, we’ll make sure your home is all ready for winter — or if the cold weather’s already here, in just a few days, we can make a vast improvement.