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Just-right Rooms

We have a two-story house and some rooms are too warm or too cool. What can we do ourselves without driving up the utility bills?—Carol K.

Your problem of uneven room temperatures is common, but can be corrected by several energy-saving methods. When one room is uncomfortably warm during summer or cool during winter, the thermostat gets set either lower or higher, driving up your utility bills year-round.

The first step is to check for duct system leaks. If air is leaking out, you will definitely have room temperature problems.

To check, switch on the blower at the thermostat and close the registers in the rooms. This will create higher pressure in the ducts, allowing you to feel air blowing out leaky areas. Seal the leaks with aluminum-type duct tape or a thick paint-type sealer.

Once the leaks are sealed as well as possible, check the damper baffles in the ducts. Most systems have them and you can locate them by looking for short damper handles on the ducts near the blower.

Put all the damper handles in the fully open position and check the room temperatures with a thermometer. If a room or two are too cool during summer, close the dampers slightly in the ducts leading to those rooms. You will have to change the damper settings from summer to winter.

The most efficient and convenient fix is an add-on automatic zoning system. This allows you to set different temperatures in different rooms.

During winter, people generally prefer it a little warmer in a living room, family room, or dining room where they relax and are inactive. Since the kitchen, laundry, play room, and workrooms are more active areas, they are more comfortable when kept cooler. Bathrooms can be a few degrees cooler except for morning showers. You will need to change the room temperatures for the summer.

Some zoning systems allow you, using a control panel or room thermostats, to program the rooms’ temperatures throughout the day. For example, the living room temperature is increased during the evening. Bedrooms can be warmer at bedtime and morning, but cooler during the day. The kitchen is set cooler overnight.

By keeping the room temperatures in the comfortable range only when you are using them, less energy is required. This can cut utility bills and increase the life of your furnace and air conditioner.

Zoning kits are simple devices. They include thermostats in rooms or zones (a group of rooms) that are wired by safe low-voltage wire to the main controller. This is connected to mechanical dampers that fit in the ducts. When the thermostat in a chilly room calls for heat, the furnace starts. Dampers in the ducts to other rooms stay closed.

The simplest, least expensive zoning systems may have two zones with several rooms in each. These use dampers that switch from fully opened to fully closed positions.

The most sophisticated systems use modulating dampers that vary the open duct area instead of being all or nothing. This provides more even room temperatures. If your home has a temperature variation between the first and second floors, consider a system with automatic recirculation.

The most comfortable zoning systems have an automatic changeover feature to switch from heating to cooling during spring and fall. These may run the central air conditioner briefly during the day to cool only the kitchen, and then start the furnace during a chilly evening to efficiently heat only the bedrooms.

Write for Utility Bills Update 589, a buyer’s guide of zoning system manufacturers. Include $3.00, a business-size SASE, and Update number. Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Go to www.dulley.com to instantly download.

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