Help with improving HVAC performance on the second floor of an old house


I'm hoping some of you can offer some advice on how best to add a second AC in our home -- or on whether we should look for a different solution. I should say upfront that I've done a lot of reading on this topic and feel more confused than ever. I'm not crazy about the idea of an attic AC (leaks, cost, efficiency). But I also want my pregnant wife and soon-to-be newborn to be comfortable. Some of the more popular alternatives won't work for us, whether they're minisplits (wife hates the look) or a whole house fan (wife has bad allergies and we try not to open our windows because of friction / encapsulated lead paint).

Anyway! We live in central Indiana in a 1920s brick colonial -- no insulation in the walls, a few inches of cellulose in the unfinished attic. The house is about 1700 square feet and currently has a newish Lennox 2.5 ton AC, but while the house has plenty of supplies and returns downstairs there are no returns upstairs. (There is a supply in each room upstairs...

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Fresh Air Without Energy Loss
When a house is built so tightly that it can't "breathe," it can suffer from high indoor moisture levels (which encourage mold growth), elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other toxins (from offgassing finishes, fabrics, and glues), and plain old bad smells (from cooking and smoking).

A hybrid air exchanger (below) solves these problems by sucking in fresh outside air as it expels stale indoor air. In winter, it uses the expelled air to warm and humidify the incoming cold air. In summer, it cools and dehumidifies sticky outdoor air. And as it operates, it filters out airborne contaminants and odors.

"Sooner or later, every house will need one of these units," says Richard. He recommends connecting it to a separate duct system serving bathrooms, bedrooms, and the kitchen.

Outdoor Reset Control
These simple devices save energy by regulating the boiler or furnace temperature in response to changes in outdoor temperature....

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As the heat and humidity in the outside air rises, homeowners will switch from using their furnace to heat their homes to using central air conditioning to keep their homes comfortable.

Humidity levels can be a factor in home comfort and HVAC performance in both the cold and warm weather.

Because one of the important functions of an air conditioning system is to remove excess humidity from the air, it's logical that the process can take a toll on your air conditioning equipment and potentially affect its efficiency as we approach the warm weather months.

Below, we present the issues related to humidity levels and some solutions you should consider to achieve a desirable home environment in different seasons.

Humidity and Central Air Conditioning Systems

If your air conditioning system is working efficiently, it will remove the proper amount of heat and moisture from your living area, resulting in the comfortable environment you...

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In Maryland, the summers are brutally hot. Just ask the Sisson family: Starting around April each year, their three-story 1942 brick house became more like a brick oven, even with the help of a few window-unit air conditioners.

They briefly considered installing a traditional central air conditioning system—“but if we’d done that,” says Welmoed Sisson, “we would have lost all our closets because that’s where the giant metal ductwork would have had to go.” Fortunately for the family’s comfort and the house’s well-being, Welmoed’s husband, Bob—in her words, “an avowed technogeek”—discovered an alternate solution: a high-velocity, mini-duct HVAC system.

As the name implies, the system pushes conditioned air at high speeds through small ducts. For old-house owners, the main attraction is that the small (3" diameter), flexible ducts can be snaked through walls and on top of ceilings without the need to cut big chases or drop a ceiling. And unlike the large wall-, floor-,...

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Brevard is a small town nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. It was developed around a combination of industry and tourism, and today, it’s a thriving community rich in outdoor recreation and the arts.

Our home is in the Railroad Avenue district, the neighborhood developed around the town’s depot, originally home to essential businesses such as a livery, an icehouse, a cotton mill, and a lumber company. The houses built in this area were a mixture of merchants’ homes and boardinghouses that served visitors arriving from the depot.

Our Craftsman-style bungalow was built in 1910, and a small boardinghouse was added to the property a few years after that. When we purchased both houses in 2009, they had been abandoned for years. We bought our houses as part of a collection of seven abandoned houses. All have been or are currently being renovated, as the neighborhood has become the focus of public and private revitalization planning and...

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Live in a 100+ year old house in SW Ohio that used to have a gravity fed furnace, I think. There are three large return ducts on the first floor but none on the second. All of the supply vents (first and second floor) are located towards the center of the house. We have forced air, gas heat and AC.

I'd like to have return air added to the second floor, but for at least one of the bedrooms the only way would be inside an exterior wall. Is this advisable? What are some of the factors I should be looking at beyond load calculations for my hvac system?

The main purpose of a return is that of a drain. It has little ability to improve comfort (it can relieve a dead zone, but that’s about it) unless the space or bedroom you’re talking about has no return pathway. A return path can simply be an open door. Comfort (as it relates to an HVAC system’s ability to provide it) is achieved primarily by good air mixing through proper (unobstructed) exit velocities from the supply...
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Check to see if your insulation is in good condition, that windows are tightly sealed and all drafts have been eliminated. Heat distribution tends to be less of a problem in well-insulated and sealed houses, according to In contrast, poorly insulated rooms experience so much heat loss it can be difficult to keep them warm.

Leave any doors between your main source of heat and the second floor open as closed doors block hot air movement. Also leave doors on the second floor open to increase horizontal air movement.

Remove the transom, or wall between the top of your door and the ceiling, on any doors between your heat source and the second floor. This enables hot hair to get to the second floor more easily. Also remove the transom on doors on the second floor to increase horizontal hot air movement. This project will require some trim work to make the opening presentable, but it can be a major benefit.

Employ strategically placed fans to move...

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Michael Schonlau is building a house in Omaha, Nebraska, where he can expect 6,000+ heating degree days a year. He's planning on putting a radiant-floor system in the basement slab of the ranch-style home with a footprint of about 1,600 sq. ft.

In a recent posting on GBA's page, Schonlau asked whether he'll have to install radiant loops under the subfloor of the first floor as well as the basement — or will the heat generated in the basement migrate upstairs and keep the house comfortable?

"Please assume the house will be well-insulated and air sealed, with 'good' windows," he wrote. But will that be enough to keep his wife's toes warm through a long Nebraska winter?

It's been done
GBA senior editor Martin Holladay tells Schonlau it can be done, but "but only if you aim for near-Passivhaus levels of airtightness, insulation, and window quality."

Dan Kolbert is more optimistic.

"We've built a couple of houses on slabs with no heat...

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Parts of this story: Fuel burning units, general >> Forced warm air heating systems >> Forced hot water (hydronic) heating systems >> Steam heating systems >> Electric resistance heating >>Air conditioning systems

Most HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) systems in small residential buildings are relatively simple in design and operation.

They consist of four components:

Controls Fuel supply Heating or cooling unit Distribution system

Each component must be evaluated for its physical and functional condition and its adequacy in terms of the buildings planned reuse. The adequacy of heating and cooling is often quite subjective and depends upon occupant perceptions that are affected by the distribution of air, the location of return air vents, air velocity, the sound of the system in operation, and similar characteristics. For this reason, past energy use should not be used as the basis for estimating future energy use.

This series of describes...

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I'm living in a 125 year old row house with a 6 year old central a/c system. The system is installed in the basement and cools the first, second, and third floor finished attic space. The first floor cools very well, however the second floor cooling leaves a lot to be desired and third floor cooling is non-existent. In fact, when I purchased the house, the previous owners told me a window a/c unit is necessary and left me their unit.

Right now, I'm using the finished attic space as storage. Do you think it would be cost effective to run an a/c unit in the attic space to keep the overall temperature of the house down? The a/c unit is at least 6 years old and I know there are much more efficient units out there today.

I'm going to have a professional HVAC guy take a look at my existing system, but I'm looking for a stop-gap option in the mean time. Thanks!

There are 'stop gaps' and then there are "You really...

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An Old House Renovation gives this Ugly Duckling House a 2nd Chance.

Most old house makeovers are done badly and actually make the house worse giving it bad curb appeal as you can see.

This house is a victim of Bad Home Improvements and in desperate need of help.
Let’s rehabilitate this house together!

This old house renovation was performed live on Facebook as members submitted their input. They were able to see this house made beautiful right before their eyes.

original post:

With so many of your Face Book comments and ideas you posted about this house, YOU can now help perform an old house renovation and you don’t have to leave your computer.

An ugly house before rehabilitation

I will make the changes graphically and post them here with explanations as the work is performed. Your input on the changes can be sent via the comments section below. You will see each step as I update this page.

The house may not be...

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When it’s hot outside, you want to be sure your air conditioner is working as well as it possibly can to keep you cool.

Before the summer heat sets in, now is a great time to perform some basic maintenance on your AC system.

Maybe the term “basic maintenance” make you balk because you’re not exactly the handiest person in the world…

Don’t worry. You don’t need to hire an HVAC company to do anything on this list!

Read more: These 7 paint colors will increase your home’s value

Want to make sure your AC is working at peak capacity? Do the following…

Change your filter

Filter changing is the #1 thing the HVAC companies will tell you to do to help your system run better. You should aim to change your filter anywhere from every month to every three months, depending on whether or not you’re in peak season for air use.

If you’ve never changed your filter before, the first thing to do is locate your furnace. Look for the part with a...

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Home improvement, home renovation, or remodelling is the process of renovating or making additions to one's home. Home improvement can be projects that upgrade an existing home interior (such as electrical and plumbing), exterior (masonry, concrete, siding, roofing), or other improvements to the property (i.e. garden work or garage maintenance/additions).

Types of home improvement that can be done[edit]

While "home improvement" often refers to building projects that alter the structure of an existing home, it can also include improvements to lawns, gardens, and outdoor structures, such as gazebos and garages. It also encompasses maintenance, repair, and general servicing tasks. Home improvement projects generally have one or more of the following goals:[1]


Maintenance and repair[edit]

Maintenance projects can include:


Additional living space may be added by:

Turning marginal areas into livable spaces such...
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Buying a new furnace, air conditioner or ducts for your home? The well-worn practice of getting three bids, asking for references and checking 3B is not enough. Most botched installations are performed by contractors who pass those tests. Most of those same contractors don’t pass the test of an informed customer. Read this page and you’ll be the informed customer.

You need not understand all that’s written here. You need only to familiarize yourself with the concepts. Even if you just read “The Basics” you’ll still know more than most. Your newfound knowledge will help you to distinguish the tradesmen from the badmen. A tradesman will echo the trade-truths found on this page. A badman will echo the half-truths found on this page.

The Basics


Air Conditioners


Indoor Air Quality

The Basics

How NOT to Buy a Furnace and Air Conditioner

Buying central HVAC the same way you buy a car is a huge mistake....

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We are considering replacing our furnace and AC. It was installed in 1995, but has been working well with generally no issues during the last 12 or so years. It's a 5-ton Carrier unit in a 3,700 sf house.

However, recently the AC stopped working and we had a guy out to do repairs. He found that the fan motor in the condenser unit was seizing up which may also have resulted in the capacitor crapping out. He replaced both of those items and the AC is has been working fine for now.

The repair guy also inspected the entire system. One of the major problems is that the heat exchanger has cracks in it (I think there were six of them). We saw them on his digital inspection camera. Because it hasn't been 20 years, the exchanger itself is under warranty.

We decided then to schedule an appointment with one of their sales/engineering persons. This person came in and talked about our current system and the differences we would see if we went with a new one. I agree that...

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In this column, the subject of HVAC Air System BTU measurement is frequently referred to as the foundational calculation for system efficiency. While it may surprise some of you "air heads," there are regions of the country where homes and buildings are heated with water. Let’s take a look at how "wet heads" calculate water system BTU.

The Cost of Heating Water
The first snowstorm of the year arrived early in Ohio. Just out of bed before 5 am on that day, I was greeted by the warm tile floors in our master bathroom. My high flow shower head warmed me even more. Efficiency is not the priority in our bathroom, comfort is!

Leaning against the shower wall, my mind began to calculate other areas of efficiency in our home that offset the comfort luxuries of warm floors and the showerhead. I started calculating flow rate and temperature differences and before I washed my hair. I quickly calculated the low efficiency cost of my morning comfort at less than a dollar. I...

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Do you need to be worried about having the HVAC ducts in your home cleaned?

Duct cleaning has become popular in recent years, with commercial cleaning services popping up everywhere. But is the service worth it, or is it a scam? Here’s some information to help you decide whether or not your home might benefit from having the HVAC ducts in your house cleaned.

Duct Cleaning Services

Professional duct cleaning services use specialized blowers, vacuums, and brushes to clean out the supply, intake, and return ducts throughout your home. Duct cleaning should also involve a thorough cleaning of the air handler, registers, grilles, fans, motors, housings, and coils of the HVAC system.

There’s no research at present proving that routine duct cleaning improves the air quality or reduces dust in your home. There is, however, evidence that dirty heating and cooling coils, motors, and air handling units can make your HVAC unit less efficient.

While duct...

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A Windowless Air Conditioner is a self-contained unit that does not need to sit on your windowsill.

Although a lot of professionals argue that Windowless Air Conditioner unit are less reliable compared to other appliances, there are number advantages of buying a windowless design.

These consist of the truth that this type of device is less complicated to put in, could remove smoke smells, and is excellent at cooling down rooms that run hot and aren’t cooled down appropriately by another air-cooling system.

Right here is an overview of the pros and cons of purchasing a windowless a/c.

This sort of device is absolutely much easier to install and is not an eye sore. Due to the fact that only a solitary tube needs to be fed gone, this sort of appliance is really unobtrusive. Actually, it’s extremely tough to see a system from the beyond your residence.

A windowless air conditioning unit could also be an excellent idea if you are simply wanting...

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I hate low water pressure. Low pressure affects everything in the house. The dishwasher and clothes washer take forever to fill. The outside hose squirts an anemic 2 ft., and the shower turns into a small sprinkling device. To increase pressure, first try simple, local solutions at point of use. If those don’t work, more drastic measures are called for.

Factors that reduce water pressure

Ever wonder why you have less pressure in the upstairs shower than in the basement? It’s because it takes more pressure to get the water all the way up there. For every 2.31 ft. of vertical climb in your water line, you lose a pound of water pressure. Thus water that enters the house at the basement level loses 11 lb. to 12 lb. by the time it travels to a second-floor showerhead. If your house water pressure is already at the low end—40 lb. would be low and 80 lb. would be high—this is a significant loss.

Now let’s add in a water softener and an iron filter. These...

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