6 Ways to Keep the Upstairs Cool in the Summer (Under $500)

Summertime can be a blast but with the extreme heat, I find myself a drained of energy and with a big bill each month. I’ve been researching some tips to keep the second floor of my home cool in the summer heat without breaking the bank. Here is what I found.

So, what are the best ways to keep the upstairs cool in the summer? The best ways are to cool off the upstairs are:

  • Install a Solar attic fan
  • Purchase black-out drapes
  • Turn off the lights during the day
  • Use ceiling fans to and windows for a cross breeze
  • Make sure all AC vents are open upstairs and close a few downstairs
  • Check for leaks in the window sills – re-caulk if needed

The air-conditioning in your house may not be providing all the temperature control you need. By adjusting some small things, you will feel a big difference in the temperature of your second-story. 

Why the Upstairs is too Hot and How to Fix it

You may have the air conditioning unit going and the downstairs feels fine, but the air in the upstairs feels stale and hot. This is because hot air rises. The molecules from hot air are much more spread out and they rise. So even if the air is being cooled on the lower level, really, the warm air is being sent upstairs.

So how do you fix this? The best way is to redirect the cold air to upstairs, which is where it is needed much more. This can be done with fans, cross-breezes from the window, or opening the vents upstairs and closing some on the lower levels of the house. 

Another reason the air upstairs might be warm is that the heat getting trapped in the attic. Sometimes the insulation in the attic doesn’t keep the heat away but rather traps it in.

According to myenergymonster.com “Attic temperatures can reach 150 degrees or more on a hot summer day!” So when hot air is just stuck in the attic, it affects the temperature of the upstairs. 

So how do you fix a hot attic? One option might be re-insulating the attic, which can be expensive. Another choice can be installing a solar attic fan.

1. Install a Solar Attic Fan

A solar attic fan is a way to cool down the attic in your house, which intern makes the second floor not as hot. A solar fan is installed in the attic and through the roof. So, the installation might be a little tricky, because you have to make sure that you don’t cut through anything important in the process. 

The basics of how a solar attic fan works are fairly simple. The attic gets hot. This fan, using power from the sun, senses the attic is overheating. The fan kicks on and circulates the warm air out by pulling in air from the outside. 

The Installation Process

Installing a solar attic fan can be done on your own, but it is not recommended for someone who doesn’t have experience. Having a professional will cost around an extra $150 so if you are confident, it could save you. 

Here’s the basics of what to do (information gathered from thisoldhouse.com):

  1. Go to the attic and mark the location of the fan (in between two rafters) and put a nail in the center of the location
  2. On the outside of the house, install roof brackets
  3. Trace and draw the outline of the fan on the roof by using a dowel compass
  4. Using a utility knife, cut the shingles around the area which you have drawn and remove any shingles are nails from inside the circle.
  5. Use the compass again to draw the area which the vent will go through the roof sheathing
  6. Cut a hole in the roof using a reciprocating saw 
  7. Use “continuous bead of tri-polymer roofing cement” around the hole before placing the attic vent in.
  8. Place roof vent over the hold and then secure it into place with screws. 
  9. Apply caulking to fill in any holes. 
  10. Replace any shingles that are not covered by the new vent. 

This video is also really helpful to watch before cutting a hole in the roof. 

As mentioned earlier, this install can be a bit tricky. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a professional.

Now, some of you might think this install is not a very cheap one. But, installing this attic fan could potentially drop the attic temperature 40 degrees which will save a ton when it comes to the cost of cooling the house.

Since it’s solar powered, you don’t have to worry about how much it will cost to operate this fan either. 

Some of these attic fans can be pricey, but here are some viable options that are under $500:

There are tons of options out there for these solar attic fans and they can really make a difference on the amount of heat that is trapped inside of your house. 

This fix can definitely help you out with your warm second floor problem, but if this isn’t the project for you, maybe a more simple option can do the trick.

2. Use Blackout Drapes to Keep Things Cool

Sometimes, one of the simplest options can be the solution. In the upstairs rooms, draw the curtains to stop the sun from warming up the rooms. Regular drapes will keep out the sun and heat some, but the best option is to use thermal blocking drapes or blackout drapes. 

Thermal blocking drapes are great because they have an extra thin layer of foam designed to insulate more. Blackout drapes are very similar to thermal blocking drapes – they both have at least two layers of tightly woven fabric material. Blackout drapes, however, are designed more to block out sunlight rather than insulate windows.

Both of these drapes are great for being energy efficient and keeping sunlight out. Thermal blocking drapes seem to be more designed to keep houses warm in the winter, but does just fine in the summer too.

With more fabric than the average drapes, these curtains can do a great job of keeping out the heat. Just remember to draw the curtains during the day while a room isn’t in use to provide the most use of them.

These drapes can be very fashionable, too. This change can be energy saving and look great!

If you don’t want to replace all your upstairs curtains with blackout or thermal blocking drapes, just use them on the sides of the house that get the most sun. 

Here are some great, cost-friendly, and trendy blackout curtains:

  • Tekamon Blackout Curtains Panel – These curtains are Amazon’s choice and come in a variety of color. This product, in particular, is triple weave so it is thick enough to keep out the sunshine. It also says it keeps out 99% of the light. Each order comes with one panel.
  • 100% BLACKOUT Curtain Set Thermal Insulated Blackout Curtains –  A great thing about this product is that it comes with 2 panels. These blackout curtains come in 8 different colors and are machine washable. 4.5-star rating as well.
  • Nicetown Room Darkening Curtains – This is Amazon’s best seller for blackout curtains. These drapes come in longer lengths than the others and have many colors to choose from. There is only one panel per package, however. 
  • PONY DANCE Blackout Curtains Drapes – This may be one of the best bargains. For around $18 you get 2 panels. This product has high reviews as well.

As you are looking at ways to cool down your upstairs, seriously consider changing the drapes to blackouts. They will certainly help keep the hot rays of the sun out better than the average curtains. 

3. Turn Off the Lights

Another easy fix is to turn off the lights when you are not in the room. However, this trick is really only useful to those who still use incandescent light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs produce light by using heat.

Turning off the lights will give your electric bill a rest too. 

Instead of just turning off the lights, you can also switch to LED light bulbs. While incandescent light bulbs may be cheaper to purchase, switching can really save you money.

LED light bulbs are much more energy efficient and they can last much longer as well. 

According to Stouch Lighting:

“Incandescent lights have the worst lifespan on the market…even though incandescent bulbs are cheap to purchase, you have to purchase a whole lot of them (50-100) to equal the lifespan of a single LED. “

stouchlighting.com 

So switching to LED light bulbs can save you money and it can make your home feel cooler.

To save money, you probably should be turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms anyway.

4. Use Fans and Air Flow

Almost everything that you read about how to cool your house down will say something about using fans. Whether it be ceiling fans or one that you plug into a wall, using a fan really can cool down a room.

“Running a fan is one of the most convenient and effective ways to keep a room cool in summer without AC. The windchill effect makes you feel about 4 degrees cooler…”

aireserv.com

One idea that I thought was very great was to direct the cool air from downstairs, up the stairs by pointing a fan. While doing this, it is best to taper off some rooms on the lower floors. 

My husband last summer bought air conditioning duct-work and attached to a fan downstairs where the air was cooler and brought the other end upstairs. This wasn’t very sightly, but it did help us sleep better in the warm summer night.

This is another way to cool down the house. Create a cross breeze by opening a window in the downstairs and one upstairs on the sunny side of the house. Upstairs, place a fan on a window sill and blow the hot air out. This creates an air flow throughout the house.

When the air starts to cool off around dark, face the fan the other way to bring some of the cooler air back inside. 

Ceiling fans are great as well. During the summer, the fan should blow air down (unlike in the winter when it should suck air up). If you look up at your fan, it should be turning in a counter-clockwise position to make the hot room feel more bearable. 

Not everyone has a ceiling fan, but they are not super difficult to install if you feel comfortable with wiring. Watch this clip to learn how to get one in your home. 

Costs differ but there are ceiling fans as low as $150 so this DIY project can definitely go under the $500 budget. 

Sometimes, using a fan does not cool down the temperature of the room but it can make a person feel not as hot. So, turn off the fan when there is no one in the room to save some money on the bill. 

5. Redirect the AC through the Vents

Another simple, but great way to make an upstairs room cool down is to change the amount of air flow coming out. This works with central air conditioning.

What you need to do is to open up all the vents that are connected to the air conditioning that is upstairs. One the lower levels of the house, close half of the vents. This will direct more cool air upstairs.

*CAUTION* When you do this, make sure you don’t close all of the vents on the first floor. Closing all the vents on one level can actually cause the coils on the a/c to freeze.

Instead of closing some of the vents all of the way, you can also just partly close them, especially if you are worried about the coils freezing. 

6. Check for Air Leaks in the Windows

If hot air is creeping in from the outside through your window, your upstairs can be extra hot. Leaks in your windows can also cause your a/c cooled air be leaked outside. While thermal heat drapes might help with this problem some, the best solution is to tackle the main problem, fix the draft in the windows.

Finding leaks in the windows during the summer isn’t quite as easy as it is during the cold months of the year. In a hot room, it’s even harder to tell if there is air coming through. Finding a trick is crucial then. 

A great way to check for drafts in your window seal is to light a candle and move it slowly near the frame. The best time to do this is typically on a breezy day, so it’s easier to see any movement.

If the flame bends, that means there is air coming through. While checking, look around the edges of the window. 

If you do find any air leaks, before you put any window glaze or caulking on, remove the previous layer. This will help immensely with the application and how well your new layer works. 

Clean all the surfaces before putting anything new on. Dust or dirt will interfere. After applying glaze or caulk, make sure you wait before touching, it requires some drying time. 

Fixing the air gaps should not only help retain the cold air in your house but it will also keep hot air out much better. Regularly check for drafts.

One tube of caulking should be enough for one decent sized window. So this little fixer up project is not too expensive but can save you a lot of money in the long run. 

One tube of caulking is about $8 depending on the brand. Amazon’s choice G.E. is a very reliable brand and $5.20: click here to view the product. If you don’t already have a caulking gun, you’ll need one of those as well. 

Related Questions

What is the fastest way to cool down a house? Quick ways to cool down a house or room is to turn on the a/c (if available) and use fans to circulate the cold air. Drawing the curtains will get rid of the warm air created by the sunshine. 

How much does it cost to get air conditioning installed? To get central a/c installed, it costs anywhere from $1000 – $5,000 depending on the size and age of your home. A 2,000 square ft home is usually $3,750. Window a/c units can be found for $150 and don’t require a lot of installation.  

How often does my air conditioning unit need to be serviced? It is recommended that an air conditioning unit be inspected every year. This can be expensive, but it makes sure that the filters are clear and that the air going into your house is safe. If you hear unusual noises or suspect something, it doesn’t hurt to have a professional come out and check the unit. 

Ricky Kesler

Ricky Kesler has been an avid DIYer for years. Recently he's really taken to home security, but he has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from Plumbing to Electrical and Framing to Tiling.

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