It's hard to keep the upstairs of a two-story house cool in the summer.
Well, duh, you're thinking. Everybody knows that hot air rises and cool air sinks. But, despite living in a two-story house for the last couple of years, I wasn't paying attention to that fact, because I haven't spent much time on my home's second floor.
Our upstairs is where my husband's office/music studio is set up, along with a shared book-lined space that's nice for reading and lounging. Not being much of a lounger (I'm either running around doing stuff or sleeping), there's been little reason for me to head up the stairs other than to clean up after (ahem) others and turn off assorted electrical devices that have no business being on.
That changed with the pandemic, when the newsroom staff packed up our desktop computers and iPads and headed home, communicating via Slack and Zoom and our shared online editing systems to produce digital content for readers.
At first, in a haze of magical thinking, I set up what I expected to be a temporary shop in a corner of my kitchen. That was OK for a while, until I realized that facing a blank wall and being way too close to snacks was not ideal in the long run, which is what our exodus was turning out to be.
So I relocated to a corner of my main-floor bedroom. The wedge of space wasn't big enough for my modern glass-topped Crate & Barrel desk, let alone a bulky office chair (slim-lined dining room seating isn't very comfortable after a few hours, especially while perched in front of a bunch of electronic screens).
That's when I moved upstairs and created a suitable space with plenty of room, windows with views of the wacky goings-on in my diverse neighborhood, a nearby couch for visiting dogs, and few distractions. This worked well over the winter and spring.
Then summer arrived, with its relentless sunshine and attendant heat.
Being one of those cursed individuals who's always cold, this didn't concern me. The problem was that when the temperatures rose into the 90s, the upstairs thermostat controlling our zoned AC system couldn't maintain its setting of 75 degrees; as the days wore on, it would push up to 76, 77, 78, 79, before retreating overnight.
This was alarming, and surely a sign of a defective AC unit--right? It probably happened last summer as well, but since I wasn't upstairs much, I hadn't noticed. No wonder; the pandemic was taking up more than its fair share of attention (and still is).
Living in a pocket community provides access to neighbors with similarly designed houses built by the same builder, so I cornered one of them--whose home and garden area are gorgeous--and asked if her upstairs got hot. "Not really," she said, adding that she had installed solar-blocking honeycomb blinds on her second-floor windows, which helped. I practically knocked her over in my haste to get back to my iPad and research "insulating blinds."
It didn't take long to find what appeared to be a solution on blinds.com: Ultra-insulating light-filtering cellular shades, available in a huge range of fashionable colors (including dark chocolate, pomegranate, and khaki) with options like inside or outside mounts, corded (with the choice of having the cord on the left or the right side) or cordless ("the safer choice for homes with children and pets") and many more options. Then I typed in the size I needed: 35 inches wide, 64 inches deep, cordless, and hit the tabulating key. The price of each shade: $118.99. But hey, shipping is free!
Installation isn't, though. Ever the optimist, I figured there must be a better way.
Once I regained control of my research capabilities, I settled down to learn more about how to keep upstairs rooms comfortable. Gleaned from the Internet: Along with blocking the sun with light-colored window blinds or curtains, change air filters (which also reduces allergens), open vents to allow air to flow, use heat-generating appliances (like clothes dryers, hair dryers, ovens, stoves, hot showers and dishwashers) sparingly, and run ceiling or floor fans to keep air circulating. And if all else fails, consider adding a window air conditioner upstairs, and turn it off when you're not there.
That's when I found this tidbit on homeairguides.com: "Adjust the fan setting on your thermostat, Switch it from auto to on, so the blower fan will run constantly and create a more even mix of air throughout your home. Don't worry, running the fan doesn't use a lot of energy. It actually may lower energy usage, because your HVAC system won't need to cycle as often."
After another Internet check to find out where the fan setting is on my thermostat and determining that it was indeed on auto, I flipped the switch. The next day, the temperature upstairs stayed exactly where it was supposed to be. And continues to do so.
Good thing I didn't order those blinds. I like the view from here. And the canine company.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.