Maryland homeowners turn to their HVAC contractors when the temperature inside heats up.
But, after HVAC people install the machine and controls, it stops there. They have very little to do with the comfort level in your home.
It's a good practice to focus on the shell around your home. A well-sealed and insulated shell can play a big part in properly controlling the climate inside your living space on a hot summer day.
You need to know:
- What is the shell?
- Where is the shell?
- And, what condition is it in?
The good news is that often, the shell is easy to fix.
What is the Shell of Your Home?
It is where the inside touches the outside on the six sides of your building.
The location of your home's shell can vary. When you determine its location, you have to look for two things.
First, a pressure boundary or tight seal to stop airflow. Second, and more familiar to most, is the thermal boundary. The correct amount of insulation must exist to slow the transfer of heat.
The shell of a home is on six sides. Wherever your home touches the outside, you must protect it with a proper shell.
Never assume the location of your home's shell without a little investigative work. You can have two homes that are exactly the same and each might have a different shell configuration.
The big secret in Building Science is to address the shell where it is most important and easiest to access. This includes attics, crawl spaces, basements, and unfinished walls.
Don't be afraid to get an energy audit if you want someone to check it for you. An energy audit is a great way to have a professional assess your home's shell.
In this article, we'll explore the following topics:
The goal is to help you beat the Maryland summer heat and transform your home into a refreshing oasis.
Why are the Upper Floors So Hot?
As the weather heats up, I visit Maryland homes to perform energy assessments and the scenes are usually the same.
The houses I inspect have large openings to the outside. Sealant and insulation are missing. Sometimes it is in bad condition and installed wrong. The problems are quite common in Maryland homes, new and old.
Older Maryland homes have older construction concepts. As a result, large gaps and voids have gone unchecked for decades. New builds are often times insulated wrong because nobody knew any better.
Check out this long YouTube video where an energy audit was performed at a new build (2018) and you can see first-hand.
A large unsealed pathway around the furnace chimney in a 1970s attic. Like an open window 24/7-365.
The fact is, attics and crawl spaces do not get the love they need. As a result, they will not be up to the challenge that awaits them. A hot Maryland summer can overcome the often weak defensive systems I see.
Although the area of an attic is not traveled, it is a harsh environment. It needs upkeep and improvements. Building codes and techniques for insulating have changed. Especially in the last ten years.
But, don't sweat! It does not have to remain this way. There are many solutions available to Maryland homeowners. You can address these issues and cool down the upper floor of your home!
Anyone in Maryland can get an energy audit for $100. It is through the BGE and Pepco Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program.
A hot upstairs can be a real drag. When the upper floor is hot and uncomfortable, it can make it difficult to relax, sleep or even work. The constant discomfort and lack of proper rest can lead to increased irritability. It can affect one's stress level and quality of life.
Besides, a hot home can make it harder to enjoy indoor activities. Cooking, watching TV, or spending time with family and friends is too much.
Hot upper floors increase energy costs. Homeowners need to rely on air conditioning more to achieve a comfortable temperature.
If that is not bad enough, a hot upper floor can also affect the resale value of the home. If a buyer perceives the upper floor to be uncomfortable it can reduce the value of the property.
Misconceptions: Accepting Hot Upper Floors & Attic Fans
A common misunderstanding is that this is the way it is and there is nothing that can fix the problem.
So many Maryland homeowners accept this way of life. Some adapt to it by moving their bedrooms around the house during the different seasons. It is the only way they can maintain comfort and get the rest at night that they need to function.
Many I meet rely on decreasing the heat in the attic by adding ventilation. They are hopeful it will help with the situation inside the house. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. The attic will still get too hot and with weak defenses, heat will seep in.
You also have to be careful with attic fans installed on the roof or in a gable. You don't want to contribute to your problem. If the house is not sealed from the attic the pressure will draw your cool through existing holes.
Watch a demo of this in the video below.
A hot upper floor can have a negative impact on a homeowner's mental and emotional well-being. It can also reach into your finances and home value. Taking steps to address the root causes of the problem can enhance your quality of life. You can finally have a strategy to win!
What You Need Around the House to WIN! Summer
A hot upper floor in a Maryland home is a common recurring problem. It is due to our hot and humid summers combined with inadequate insulation defenses.
When working to keep your home cool in the summer, you have to check the different parts of the TEAM against summer.
Here are five members that are a big part of the winning strategy and each has to be at the top of their GAME!
Insulation - The most important is the attic. If not insulated, heat gains a direct path to your living space. It radiates into the attic and through the ceiling. This can result in a hot and uncomfortable upper floor. Energy bills are higher due to the increased use of air conditioning
Air sealing - There are gaps and cracks around your house. Examples include light fixtures, walls, vents, and ducts. If not sealed, they allow hot air to enter the upper floor, while cool air escapes. This can disrupt the temperature balance and make it harder to cool down the upper floor
HVAC duct leakage - If not sealed, it may struggle to cool down the upper floor.
Ventilation issues - A lack of airflow can make an upper floor feel stuffy and uncomfortable.
- Solar heat gains through windows - Maryland summers are sunny and hot. As a result, radiant heat will beam through windows. Allowing it will make it difficult to regulate the temperature inside.
Examples of the Problems that Lead to Hot Upper Floors
Many of the homes I visit that suffer the most in summer have missing insulation. Many also have raised, sloped ceilings which create vertical walls in the attic. Jammed insulation into a vertical space in a harsh environment is not good. Usually, with nothing holding it in place, it is less than effective.
It falls or sags, leaving large gaps in coverage that cause rapid heating on upper floors.
Missing insulation on a knee wall in a Maryland attic.
Shell Air Leakage
Excessive air leakage between the inside and the outside creates an uncomfortable home. A big problem in the summer is humidity. Sealing the house and reducing outside air infiltration helps to keep it dry inside. Dry inside air helps to maintain a more comfortable home on each floor.
HVAC Duct Leakage
If you have any HVAC ducts running through your attic or crawl space it is a good idea to get them assessed. According to ENERGY STAR data, as much as 20-30% of the air that moves through your duct system will get lost due to leaks. A duct assessment takes place during an energy audit.
In typical homes, 30 to 40 percent of the air that moves through ducts is lost due to leakage.
Importance of Proper Ventilation
Most exhaust fans in Maryland bathrooms turn on and make a lot of noise, but rarely do they work. Older models are awful at pulling out moisture after a shower. Fans that are working usually blow moisture into the attic. This contributes to the moisture content and makes it more difficult for the HVAC to keep up.
Close Window Shades & Blinds
Solar gains through clear windows contribute to uncomfortable indoor temperatures. You don't need new windows with a special glass package to solve the problem.
Shades or a film should cover windows in the locations that get the most sun. Southern and western-facing windows are the most important.
Modern Air Sealing and Insulation Techniques
The best defense against heat is an insulation strategy. Oftentimes, insulation exists in some form. Inspectors and homeowners check the box, and sight unseen. Insulation is not the thing people dream about when it comes to home improvements.
Insulation’s job is to slow the transfer of heat. When the heat in the attic builds, weak insulation will fail. Guess where the heat will go? Yep, into your living space making things uncomfortable.
Before any attic gets more insulation, it must be air sealed. Air sealing the gaps, cracks, and crevices around the attic will ensure two things. First, the insulation can work to specification. Sealing will also keep the warm, humid air from being able to enter the upper floors.
Air Sealing Examples
Air sealing and insulating ducts around your home should be a priority. Sealing ducts that are outside is a fantastic opportunity. Doing so will help to send more cool air to the places you want it to go.
Often overlooked, the common bathroom exhaust fan has a huge role to play. Moisture lingers after showering if you allow it to do so. This will increase humidity and make it harder to cool the upper floor.
New high-performance bathroom exhaust fans are a game-changer. New fans move a large volume of air super fast. They are also quiet. Keeping the air dry inside your home during summer is a key to success.
Additional DIY Solutions
If you don't have a big budget at the moment, don't worry.
There are several other things you can do around your home to begin to get your upstairs back.
Keep blinds and curtains closed during the day, particularly in the rooms that get the most sun.
Air seal larger, easy-to-reach gaps and cracks around your basement and attic. Be sure to use foam sealant.
Use ceiling fans in the rooms you are occupying, turn them off in rooms, not in use.
Upgrade to a smart thermostat that can track your habits. It can help track movement around the house to improve comfort and efficiency.
Keep an annual HVAC maintenance schedule for a check-up to keep things working well.
Locate the seams, gaps, and cracks in your HVAC ducts. Check closest to the air handler and seal them with high-quality duct sealant.
Insulate and seal the attic hatch or pull-down stair leading to the attic.
Look at your filter slot cover at your inside air handler and check that it has a cover and seal.
Filter Slot Cover Example Video
Hot upper floors can be a frustrating and uncomfortable problem. Maryland homeowners should know that better comfort is not insurmountable.
Drilling down to the root causes of the problem will help you enjoy a cool and comfortable living space. Poor insulation, air leaks, and an inefficient HVAC system are all priorities. Assessing these areas will give you the answers you need.
A great way to beat the Maryland heat is to get a comprehensive home energy audit.
A professional auditor can help you identify energy-saving opportunities. With energy savings comes comfort as well.
So don't wait - take action today and start your journey towards a cool and energy-efficient home.
A shameless plug! Get an energy audit today!
AI helped me with this blog post by taking my desire to produce an article that will help my fellow Marylanders create a cooler home for the summer and organize a framework with some context to convey my general message which is, with a little knowledge and investigative work, you can take a systematic approach to solving comfort issues and create a more efficient home.