How to Get Cold Air from Basement Upstairs – 5 Options & Alternatives

People with multi-story homes that include a basement can struggle with keeping the temperature the same on each floor.

Because the basement is often below grade, for instance, it can stay 5-10 degrees cooler than the top floor in a house during the summer. Getting that cool air to spread through the rest of the house would be great, but how to get cold air from the basement upstairs?

You can get cold air from the basement upstairs, at least temporarily, by creating a convection current with open windows and fans, utilizing the fan on your basement’s furnace, or adding a return vent in the basement. However, the best approach to cooling upper floors in a house is to add ductless cooling units and tune up your HVAC system.

Read on to learn more about these potential options as well as the recommended alternatives.

Why is the basement always colder than other floors in the house?

Before we get too deep into the options below, I want to take a second to address WHY the basement is colder than the rest of the house in the first place because we want to make sure that there isn’t a problem with the HVAC system that is causing the imbalance.

Yes, a basement is typically a bit cooler than the rest of the house for two main reasons:

  • Heat rises
  • Basements are usually below grade (underground) to some extent

Because of these natural phenomena, it is not uncommon for your basement to be 5-10 degrees cooler than the upper floors in your house. However, if your home only has one thermostat and ducts and vents are running down into your basement, you might have an imbalance in your HVAC system.

Picture a home with 3 stories – basement, first floor, and second floor. Imagine that this home has one HVAC unit located in the basement and the thermostat is on the first floor. This is a typical situation.

In this scenario, you set the thermostat to the desired temperature, say 68 degrees, and the house’s first floor stays pretty close to 68. However, the second floor consistently stays at 74 and the basement consistently stays at 62. This temperature difference is because the thermostat is taking the temperature on the first floor and turning on the AC until the desired temperature is reached.

Basically, you are dealing with a basement too cold, upstairs too hot in the summer situation.

But, there are two big problems:

  • Heat rises (up to the second floor) at the same time that the basement floor (typically concrete) absorbs heat and cools the basement airspace.
  • There isn’t enough static pressure in the HVAC system to move the cold air to the second story, causing weak circulation

If your goal is simply to try and avoid using the AC for as long as possible (for whatever reason) and you just want to create a natural flow of cooler air to other parts of your home, go ahead and check out the 3 methods below.

If you are looking to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your home HVAC system and just want to balance the temperature in your home (and don’t mind spending money to do so) then you might want to skip to the 2 alternatives in the section after.

Either way, we are going to help you fix your problem!

Too hot in the house during the summer - how to get cold air from basement upstairs

How to get cold air from basement upstairs – 3 Options

It’s genius, right?

If the basement is way colder than upstairs, we just need to move that cold air upstairs and we’ll be good to go, right?

Well, yes, but actually, no.

via GIPHY

Figuring out how to push cold air upstairs sounds easy and, while it is definitely possible to move cool air from one place in your home to another, there are a few big potential issues:

  • If you move cool air from one place to another without displacing the warm air somewhere (like outside) then you’ll cool one area while warming another
  • Depending on the size of your home, it might be difficult to move enough air to make a difference
  • Eventually, your basement will warm up, negating the benefits

Still, there are some scenarios where this could make sense, particularly if you have a shaded, cool outdoor area near a basement window that you could use to pull in fresh air, you have a basement furnace that you can use to even out the temperature in your home, or you are able to install a return air vent in your basement.

Let’s take a look at those three options!

Use windows and fans to create a natural convection current

This first option is pretty easy and definitely low-cost. In fact, if you have a couple of box fans around you are probably good to go.

The basic idea here is that you will:

  • Open up a window in the basement on the cooler, north-facing side of your home
  • Position a box fan in the window facing in such a way that it is pulling air in from outside
  • Try to fit the fan in the window such that it makes a bit of a seal but don’t worry about making it completely airtight. The less air that escapes around the fan, the better
  • Open up a window on the highest, furthest, south-facing corner of your home on the second floor
  • Position another box fan in this window, this time facing such that it is pushing air outside

If you do it right, you’ll be creating positive pressure inside the basement (with the air being forced in) and negative pressure on the top floor (with the air being forced out). As a result, you’ll have a current of cooler air moving through your house, exiting outside.

Note – this will really only work if the air outside is at or below your desired temperature. If you start pulling in air that is too warm, you’ll just be causing yourself problems.

man struggling with heat during the summer

Use your basement furnace fan

Depending on your specific scenario, this option might work best for you.

If you have a multi-story home with a furnace located in the basement, then you already have a fan-based air circulation system built-in to your home.

What you’ll do is take a look at your furnace (you might have to remove an access panel or covering) and look for a ‘summer switch’ that turns off the furnace element along with the pilot light if you use natural gas for your heating. You’ll also need to turn off the gas line to your furnace for this to work.

Once you’ve turned off the furnace’s heating ability, you’re going to:

  • Locate the furnace’s fan intake
  • Place a regular air filter over the intake to make sure you aren’t pulling in dust or dirt
  • Turn your furnace fan to ‘always on’ or ‘circulate’ to let it pull cool air from the basement and circulate it throughout the rest of the house

Using your furnace fan in this way should allow you to even out the temperature in your home without having to make any drastic changes or even bring in outside air.

If the first two options aren’t practical for you or don’t provide the results you are looking for, let’s check out a third option.

using a basement furnace fan

Install a return in your basement to pull cooler air

This option isn’t free, but it might be a fairly inexpensive option for you, especially if you are able to DIY.

Take a look at where your return is for your HVAC unit. Chances are, it is located on the first floor along with your thermostat. What this means is that your unit will do a fantastic job keeping the first floor at your desired temperature but not so much in the other places.

One potential fix for this is to either move your return to the basement or install another return in the basement. With a return in the basement, the AC will be pulling in some of the relatively cool air of the basement to use and send out to the rest of the house.

This option will likely help your AC unit work a little easier and warm up a basement that is too chilly. However, it might not solve the problem of a second story that is too hot.

install a return in the basement to pull cooler air

2 alternatives ways to cool your upstairs without using basement air

If you are looking to improve the temperature in your home, including normalizing that cooler temperature across each floor in your house and you don’t mind spending some money to accomplish it, then you probably want to take a look at the next two alternative options.

I say alternative options because although they will accomplish the same goal (cooling off the second story of your home) they really aren’t doing it by moving cooler basement air upstairs. With these options, you’ll be adding to or improving the ability of your home’s AC to cool your home more effectively.

Let’s take a look!

Install a ductless mini-split system with a separate thermostat

Traditional central heat and air systems rely on a cooling unit somewhere in the house (typically the attic or basement) which cools and conditions the air and then disperses it back into the house through a system of ducts and vents.

These units work great but there are some disadvantages, especially if you have a multi-story home. As I mentioned before, relying on a single thermostat is a recipe for uneven cooling regardless of how powerful your AC system is.

To help eliminate this problem, you can install a ductless air conditioner, often called a mini-split because there are two main parts split between the inside and outside of your house. These are indoor air handlers connected to a ductless heat pump outside. You’ll install one of these mini-splits in any area of the house that is struggling with higher temperatures.

The cool thing about these mini-splits is that while they definitely aren’t cheap, you can find quality units for way less than it would cost to replace or upgrade your existing HVAC system.

installing a mini-split to cool second floor

In fact, you can find mini-splits starting at around $800 and they go up to around $3000 for the super-high BTU versions with fancy features. Keep in mind that this price doesn’t include professional installation which is usually required to avoid voiding the warranty. All in, you should be able to purchase and install a mini-split for $1500 or less.

Other than the obvious cooling ability, the big advantage to these mini-splits is that they include their own thermostat so they will be able to regulate the temperature of whatever room or space they are in very easily, eliminating the issues caused by relying on a single thermostat on the first floor.

Tune up your home insulation and existing HVAC system

This isn’t a direct fix, but it is worth mentioning that another way to help improve the cooling efficiency of your home is to give your existing system a good tune up and take a look at the insulation in your home.

If you live in an older home, you are likely dealing with substantial insulation issues, an HVAC system that is potentially undersized for your home, and duct work that doesn’t properly balance the cooling ability of your AC.

Here are some ideas for upgrading or improving your existing HVAC system:

  • Consider replacing your existing central air system with a multi-position ducted system. This type of system can use the original ductwork, making installation quick and easy.
  • Other options include split systems, zoned systems, humidifiers, and single-stage furnaces. Each of these options can help you create the best system for your home’s heating and cooling needs.
  • When upgrading your HVAC system, it’s important to talk to an experienced professional to ensure the job is done right the first time. With a little bit of research, you can find the perfect upgrade for your home’s HVAC needs.

Here are some ways to improve the insulation in your home:

  • Replace any open or poorly sealed ducts and add insulation to maintain temperatures in longer duct areas.
  • Fix or replace weatherstripping around your doors and windows
  • Use a door snake to close floor gaps
  • Add or replace the insulation in your walls and attic space with newer, modern materials with a higher R-value
  • Plug your chimney when you aren’t using it
  • Seal your attic
  • Check outlets for air leaks

Here is also a great video that walks you through how to balance your HVAC system to make sure you are getting air where you want it in the home!

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