Re-Zoned

January 05, 2015   //  Posted in: DIY   //  By: Emily   //  8 responses
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If you’re like “single me,” you probably haven’t paid very much attention to your home’s heating zones – you just layered on a sweater, and figured it reason enough to buy some awesome sherpa-lined booties. And then the tables turn. You marry someone who insists on being comfortable in a basic tee in his own home any month of the year, hates all sweaters, and you find yourself giving in to a home that feels like a summer day. In January. Bare feet.

Your thermostat might also be riddled with fingerprints, because, well, jam hands.

New location for the thermostat in the hallway.

There are underlying issues with the way this home’s heating zones were set up, not just my husband’s distaste for wool. The intention of two heating zones, one would assume, would be to control the temperature in two very separate spaces of the home. But in our case, the two thermostats were positioned just 11 feet from one another, in our open concept-type living and dining room space. Curious, right?

We consulted with a few people on the matter, determining that one thermostat was installed to regulate the living room temperature, which could more easily fluctuate with the use of the fireplace (that we don’t currently use). The other, located in the dining room, was used to control the heat to the rest of the entire house. That zone that supposedly controls the entire house had been installed in a corner of in the room that–while not directly above a heat source–was not in a location influenced by air currents, in a nook without a lot of air movement where it seemed that warm air might concentrate. Basically speaking, the dining room heats itself up, and then kicks the furnace back off (pretty quickly too, it’s just ~10’x12′ and influenced by heat coming from the kitchen and from the moderate living room thermostat temperature). It never stayed “heating” for long enough for the three bedrooms and hallway also under its reign to benefit. And thus, the bedrooms always seemed cold, usually 6-10-degrees cooler than our main living spaces, and even cooler if we were measuring nearby the windows which are old, and though not completely inefficient, not entirely draft-free.

The solution here wasn’t to keep the temperature higher (having an 78-degree living room just to get the bedrooms up to a comfortable 70 degrees is… stupid), but relocating one of the thermostats (the one from the dining room that controls the whole house) to a new location where the air from the bedrooms will be a primary influence of the on-status of the furnace. You guys. High-five.

We moved it from the dining room, down to the very end of the hall outside both of our girls’ bedroom doors, and the difference is incredible. The bedrooms are warm, and thanks to the living room thermostat still providing a read of the temperature in the dining and living room open space, we haven’t felt any difference in the rest of the house. I like to think it’ll be efficient too, not having to spike the thermostat to get the bedrooms warm before bedtime, but to let the house simmer at a consistent temperature.

It’s easy to relocate your thermostat if you’re in a similar situation (ranch house, two zones, no need to be digging through first floor ceilings to reach a second story zone). You’ll probably need to buy a length of thermostat wire assuming that you’re going to be moving the unit more than a few feet, and also assuming that you don’t have a lot of slack, but the rest of the tools–the cordless drill, drill bits, string–you probably already have around the house. We spliced the new wire right to the short old wire, because it’s low-voltage and a simple solution in this case.

Be wise and move your thermostat temporarily for a few days at first by removing it from the wall and unwiring it from its current location. From below (take a trip to the basement) you’ll want to run the new thermostat wire from the zone control valve to the floor boards beneath the new location – just make sure that the new location isn’t directly above a heat source, which will skew your read.

Remove the piece of floor trim below where your new thermostat is going to be installed. Use a 5/8″ drill bit and–at the point where the base of the drywall and the floorboards intersect so it will be hidden when you replace the trim–bore a hole downwards into the basement. Have a friend standing below to help pinpoint where you drilled, or else tie something small, like a bead, to a string, and lower it through the hole so you can find it when you go looking. Upwards through this hole, thread the new thermostat wire. Leave the floor trim uninstalled for now, but connect the thermostat and hang it on the wall at your preferred height (mine is at ~4’10”). Kick on the heat, see if the rooms are improved with the thermostat in the new location, and see if any previously comfortable rooms became noticeably too warm or cool. Find balance both day and night.

Relocating ours made a difference immediately; instead of the thermostat heating only our dining room and shutting off before the room produced enough heat to circulate into the bedroom hallway, it measures the temperature of the air at the end of the hallway, which is more influenced by the bedroom temperatures. Being able to control the temperature around our kids bedrooms is the best part about it; comfort is key.

To make the relocation permanent, remove the thermostat from its temporary placement, and unwire it. Drill through your drywall using the 5/8″ bit. Directly below that hole, at baseboard level right where you already have the wire emerging from the basement, do the same. The wire will need to come up from the basement, enter the wall between the studs, and then travel straight upwards behind the drywall to the new thermostat location.

How to relocate a thermostat, stat.

The trick to navigating the wire running up from the basement up through that hole, is to source a piece of strong string, and tie something small to the end – a tiny hex nut worked for us, glinting metal is easier to see if you’re shining light at it. Put the end of the string with the object down through the top hole in the wall, holding onto the end. As the thread makes its way downward through the wall, kneel and look through the hole for the metal object. Be ready to snag it with anything you can find–pinkie finger, needle nose pliers, an unfurled paperclip–and pull it out from behind the drywall.

How to relocate a thermostat, stat.

The string should still be visible going in at the top of the wall, so that when you tie the thermostat wire to the string, you can wrap the wire and string together, and pull the string out again and draw the wire up the same path.

thermostat_relocating_3

Couldn’t be easier, unless you choose a wimpy string and have to do it 2 or 3 times. Choose something heavier than embroidery thread, people.

Once the thermostat is hooked back up, reinstall it on the wall over the hole you made. Put the trim back along the floorboards, and consider the move a success.

New location for the thermostat in the hallway.

 

Hope you guys had a great holiday season. Happy New Year!

Comments
  • Jeff
    2 years ago - Reply

    How are you liking the Nest?

    • Emily
      2 years ago -

      Like it. Mostly, the ability to control it via smartphone, but you can do that with other models these days too. Actually, you reminded me – the only issue I had with the Nest was related to where it was installed originally. It was located on a wall that we didn’t often pass by, so it never really “learned” from us and sometimes it even thought we went on vacation, and the temperature would drop way down! In its new location, we’re passing by it all the time, so that won’t happen any more.

  • Cait
    2 years ago - Reply

    I was just thinking this morning about how the guest room/guest bath/laundry room side of our house doesn’t heat or cool properly. That side if the house is always either freezing cold in the winter or boiling in the summer – probably due to the fact that that part of the house is an addition (technically the living room is too, but it’s open enough to the kitchen/dining/library that is stays fairly comfortable). Anyway, suffice to say that I totally agree with you that spiking the thermostat on one side of the house to heat/cool the other is stupid! Sadly, I think our air handler just isn’t powerful enough to heat/cool a house that is now about 630 sq ft larger than when it was built in the 1950s. We’ll probably end up installing one of those wall-mounted AC units in the laundry room, and then install transom windows over that door, the guest bath door, and the walk-in closet door to help with air flow.

    R is basically the opposite of Pete and insists on keeping the house cooler than I’d like (because I’m always cold. always.) I end up bundling up as if it’s January inside our house on in the middle of July.

    Interesting to hear your take on the Nest! I had wondered about its auto-away/learning features. Our thermostat is in our dining room, like yours was, and although it’s by the doorway to the hall I was worried that we might not pass by it frequently enough. We installed the Lyric around Thanksgiving (after we fixed the heat pump; thank goodness that wasn’t as expensive as I thought the last time we talked about it) and it’s been great to be able to control the thermostat remotely if needed. There seem to be a few kinks with the geofencing, but thankfully the app works well, so it’s easy to correct if it doesn’t switch “away” automatically.

    Sorry for the novel-length comment! Also, I laughed out loud at your jam hands comment.

    • Emily
      2 years ago -

      Can you add an extra zone? I have absolutely no idea what that entails. But it seems like a good idea. I’d have a zone for each room if it were possible ;) Good to hear about the Lyric!

    • Cait
      2 years ago -

      I’m not sure about adding a zone, actually. I’ve tried to look into it a little bit, and it sounds like it is possible, but the cost seems to be about the same as adding a small ductless mini split AC (totally forgot the term for when I commented yesterday) in the laundry room because most of the time it involves adding a second unit, or adding a control panel and dampeners in the ducts. And there isn’t much air reaching those rooms, so our unit is porobably undersized. Fortunately we have pretty high ceilings in that side of the house so if we add a mini split it shouldn’t take up too much usuable storage space in the laundry, and the outdoor portion would go on either the back of the house, or behind where we plan to add a carpot.

    • Emily
      2 years ago -

      We looked into those a bit when we considered having AC installed. I’m skeptical, so let me know how it works if you add it!

  • dean brown
    4 months ago - Reply

    I live in a 2 story house. After replacing the old boiler with a new “efficient” one the upstairs doesn’t get warm. Boiler cycles on and off for short bursts and never gets upstairs. I’d like to have a thermostat upstairs. Does it sound like an expensive job?

    • Emily
      4 months ago -

      No clue on cost, to be honest, although the parts should be inexpensive (wire + the cost of a new thermostat unit). If you learn how to install it yourself and are confident that you can feed the wire upstairs it should be possible as a DIY project… not sure of the cost to get a pro to do it though.

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