Temperature fluctuations can be normal, especially in older homes
Often, the second floor is warmer because of thermostat placement
Ductwork, shades, upgraded insulation, or new HVAC equipment may help
An HVAC contractor can fix temperature fluctuations
The average HVAC contractor costs between $40 and $100 per hour
Temperature fluctuations are one of the most common problems for homeowners, especially those who live in older homes. Perhaps you’re in your living room and catch a chill, so you wrap up in a thick sweater only to peel it off as soon as you ascend to your home's scorching second level.
Fortunately, temperature fluctuations are often an easy fix that a qualified HVAC contractor can solve. You may even be able to fix the issue on your own if you can find the source of the problem. Look out for these eight common causes to steady your home’s temperature and leave the frequent wardrobe changes to the fashion industry.
1. You’ve Accidentally Closed or Blocked a Vent
If your temperature fluctuates from room to room, you might have accidentally blocked a vent. This is an easy fix. Large furniture is often the culprit, so check behind your bed, dresser, or wardrobe. If anything’s in the way of the vent, move it. Make sure your vents are open, too. It’s easy to close them in one season and forget they’re not open in another.
2. Your Home’s Getting Too Much Sun
Most homeowners beam over a lot of natural light, but it’s important to keep in mind that sunlight drastically affects room temperature. You’ll notice that rooms with the most sunlight (like a room with large south-facing windows) are a lot warmer than rooms with the least sunlight (like a basement with a hopper window). In this case, you can try to control the temperature by installing solar shades or putting a solar film on your windows.
3. Your HVAC System Needs a Cleaning
Anything that blocks airflow will lead to uneven temperatures throughout your home. Sometimes, the issue is as simple as a clogged air filter or some built-up debris. To ensure that your HVAC system has maximum airflow, you should:
Change air filters every 30 to 60 days
Hire a pro to clean your HVAC system each year
Ensure outdoor units are free of debris
Lubricate older models
Outdoor units are particularly susceptible to blockages from things like fallen leaves, snow, and ice. But just because these units are outside doesn’t mean you should forget about them.
4. Your Thermostat Placement Is to Blame
If your HVAC system is working properly, your thermostat’s placement may be the problem. Warm air rises, which means a single thermostat isn’t always very accurate. If the thermostat is set so your ground floor is at a comfortable temperature, you might find yourself sweating in a T-shirt on the second floor. Similarly, if your thermostat is near an uninsulated attic or drafty window, it may adjust to a temperature that doesn’t represent the rest of your home.
Sometimes, you can solve this problem by moving your thermostat. Alternatively, you can install an HVAC zoning system. This puts thermostats on each floor (or even in each room) so you can precisely heat and cool individual spaces. Zoning systems increase energy efficiency, so it might just save you money in the long run.
5. Your Doors, Windows, or Chimney Are Letting in a Draft
Older homes are particularly vulnerable to drafty doors and windows. Wood rots or warps over time, glass cracks, and joints get loose. The same goes for your fireplace, which along with your chimney, requires regular maintenance.
If your windows or doors are damaged, you can hire a professional to replace or repair them. Installing weatherstripping will create a tight seal that blocks out pesky drafts. If you notice a draft coming from your chimney, you might need to install a damper.
6. Your Insulation Needs an Upgrade
Insulation is often the key to fighting temperature fluctuations. Rooms bordering unfinished attics tend to have the biggest problem because they heat up in the summer and cool way down in the winter. Improving your home’s insulation will help maintain a balanced temperature. It’s the unicorn upgrade everyone yearns for, with 100% or more ROI, according to HomeAdvisor. Not only that, the proper insulation will reduce energy costs, making for a happy household budget.
7. Your Air Ducts Are Leaking
Sealed air ducts can develop leaks from issues like cracks, holes, or loose joints. According to Energy Star, the typical home with forced air heating will lose 20% to 30% of air this way. Hiring a heating professional to repair your ducts won’t just prevent temperature fluctuations, it’ll also increase your home’s energy efficiency and lower your utility bills.
8. Your HVAC Equipment Is the Wrong Size
Are the rooms furthest away from your air conditioning warmer than the rest of your house? Does your home feel like it’s boiling the minute the furnace starts up? It could be that your HVAC equipment is the wrong size for your home. An HVAC system that’s too small won’t have enough power to heat or cool your entire home, whereas an HVAC system that’s too big will cause extreme temperatures.
To solve this problem, you might need to replace your existing HVAC equipment. Alternatively, if your HVAC system isn’t powerful enough, you can add a second system. Geothermal heating is particularly effective at regulating temperatures.
When to Call a Professional
Some issues that cause fluctuations can easily be solved by swapping out an air filter, adjusting a thermostat, or moving furniture away from a vent. These are solutions that most homeowners can achieve on their own. But if the problem is more complicated and involves structural work or technical knowledge—or you can’t figure out what the problem is— it’s best to seek a qualified heating and cooling specialist. Most pros charge between $40 to $100—and don’t forget to check your contractor’s references.