When you set a target temperature on your thermostat, you expect that temperature to be achieved consistently throughout the entire home. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for many homeowners. A common problem when running an AC system is that some rooms will feel warmer than others. You can even experience pockets within a room—called hot spots or warm spots—that differ by several degrees. This kind of uneven cooling is often caused by an airflow problem, but there can be other issues as well. With that in mind, let us consider how you can eliminate your hot spots.
Check Your Filters and Air Vents
Since hot spots are usually caused by an airflow issue, you first want to inspect your air filters and air vents. Filters should be changed out every three months or as soon as they are visibly dirty. A dirty filter restricts airflow, which disrupts the balance in the home and leads to unevenness. You should also ensure that all of your return registers are open unless you know you have a variable-speed air handler that can account for the pressure changes. Many homeowners have inadvertently caused hot spots by closing a vent in a seldom-used room in the hopes of reducing energy costs; such an effort is based on a common misperception of how HVAC systems work.
Does Your Home Get Significant Direct Sunlight?
While airflow is usually the problem, sunlight is also a common culprit. It is particularly prevalent in homes with large open rooms with many windows. Energy-efficient windows, which are the topic of an upcoming section, may help, but your first emphasis should be on your shades and curtains. There are various thermal window treatments available that are designed to mitigate heat from direct sunlight. Some smart shades even have light sensors that open or close the smart shades automatically.
Schedule an AC Tune-Up and Inspection
It is recommended that you schedule a cooling equipment tune-up prior to peak usage, such as in early spring. In fact, this is a requirement of most AC unit warranties. A professional tune-up ensures that your system is clean and running well, and scheduling these tune-ups consistently will extend the lifespan of your equipment. If you have not had a tune-up recently, schedule one, and mention the problem that you are experiencing. Request a comprehensive inspection that extends to your ductwork and that even factors in the placement of the thermostat. Bad placement can lead to hot spots as well. Tune-ups are relatively inexpensive, provide you with certain guarantees, and are often available via maintenance programs that can help you save even more.
Focus on Your Air Handler and Ductwork
When it comes to having your cooling system inspected, the focus should be on your air handler and ductwork. If you are using the AC system that was installed when you purchased the home, there is the unfortunate possibility that the unit can be improperly sized, which will cause warm spots. A more common issue is that the ductwork is compromised. You can schedule duct cleaning, which will eliminate obstructions and identify any problems with the ductwork.
Common duct problems include:
- Faulty connections
- Loose ducts
- Sagging ducts
- Holes in the sheet metal
Have a Home Energy Audit Performed
If you have taken or ruled out the options mentioned above, then your next step should be to schedule a home energy audit. While you could attempt to identify drafts yourself, an energy audit is thorough and detail-oriented. Your inspector will not only identify unwanted sources of natural ventilation, but the professional can also pinpoint other issues, such as inadequate insulation, energy-inefficient windows and doors, problems with the foundation and crawl space, and so forth. It is worth noting that a home energy audit will often encompass an AC unit and ductwork inspection. In addition, there are often financial incentives available when an energy audit is performed, and those incentives can cover or at least reduce the cost of any home improvements that your inspector recommends.
Upgrade Your Insulation and Windows
Two of the most common issues identified during home energy audits are energy-inefficient windows and insulation. Basic windows are among the most prevalent causes of unwanted natural ventilation, which disrupts airflow and can lead to hot spots. You can have energy-efficient windows installed that will block most air from escaping and will mitigate the impact of direct sunlight. Storm windows are popular alternatives since they can be installed over your current windows and thus cost less.
You should also consider insulation within the room that is experiencing the hot spots. Although insulation can last about 100 years, it can also start falling apart as early as the 15-year mark. If you want to assess your insulation, it is best to hire a professional. An insulation expert can inspect your insulation with minimal disruption to your home through the use of an infrared camera system.
Other problem areas include:
- External doors
- Foundation cracks
- Unfinished garages
- Attics and basements
- Unencapsulated crawl spaces
What If Your Home Has an Addition?
If you are considering a home addition or even home remodeling, then it is imperative than you take into account the effect on the HVAC system. Most contractors will consider this during the planning phase and will help you explore your options. If you have purchased a home with an addition that was not accounted for, you should consult with a local HVAC company. You could install a new cooling and heating system appropriate to the entire home, but a popular and usually more economical alternative is to opt for a mini-split system that provides conditioned air specifically to the addition.
What If the Issue Is a Matter of Preference?
Are your hots spots truly a matter of uneven cooling? Some people run hotter than others. It is not uncommon in homes with multiple residents for those people to disagree on what is too hot or cold. If this is the root of the problem, then you may want to consider a zoned system. Your home can have two or more zones, and you can adjust the target temperatures in these zones independently. As for the master bedroom, there are heated pads that can let you keep the room cool enough for one partner and one side of the bed warm enough for the other.
Your Local Heating Experts
Rite Way Heating, Cooling & Plumbing has served Tucson and the surrounding areas for more than 60 years. We are fully licensed and insured, a Lennox Premier Dealer, a Trane Comfort Specialist Dealer, and a winner of an Angie’s List Super Service Award. In addition to cooling maintenance, repair, and installation, we offer a full range of heating, indoor air quality, and plumbing services. We also participate in Tucson Electric Power’s Efficient Home Program, which can provide you up to $1,000 in financial incentives to make energy-related improvements to your home. Call us today or contact us online with any questions about our services and to schedule your home energy audit or HVAC tune-up.