Air circulation in an old summer cottage

hillellJanuary 15, 2014

Hi all,
We have a 1899 summer cottage in New England. In our area it is cool at night outside but super hot inside particularly upstairs. We are so vexed by this. I am trying to figure out a way that we can avoid getting AC.

The cottage has a small foot print and 3 small bedrooms on the second floor. The bedrooms have small windows and surround a center stair. There is a 2-3 foot high attic with windows on either end. The bedrooms have sloped ceilings (eaves?) and the windows are nestled under the eaves . We have a hatch we can open to the attic over the stair well. It is not winterized.

What happens when we open the hatch and the attic windows is that the cool outside air is sucked in from the attic through the downstairs windows up the stairwell and out the attic. The bedrooms remain airless, hot, and stagnant. We also have an attic fan, but the problem remains. Arghhh!

Does anyone have any ideas for us. We have asked local professionals,, but nobody seems to get the nuance of the problems (ie. the center stair well directs the cool air out through the attic).

Some of our ideas include putting in bigger windows in the bedrooms (a big Reno project for us which we are reluctant to do right now for financial reasons). Cutting holes in the bedroom ceilings and adding a register to try to get the air flowing out of the rooms. Adding fans in those holes for each bedroom.

We are a little nervous to start cutting holes until we are sure we won't make things worse.

I would love any feed back,


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"What happens when we open the hatch and the attic windows is that the cool outside air is sucked in from the attic through the downstairs windows up the stairwell and out the attic. "

What happens if you close the downstairs window and open the bedroom windows?

And have you used window fans blowing cool air in to force hot air out the attic? They are meant to fit onto a double-hung or sliding window amnd bloe air in or out, depending on how you have them placed.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 6:44PM
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are you trouble shooting for warm weather...
as in cooling off the house?

or trying to warm the house up for winter time?

it isn't clear to me what you are trying
to achieve. explain a bit better...& we
will go from there.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 7:49PM
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Some relatives of mine have a 1840s farmhouse that they use mostly as a summer home. It has pretty much the same issue, only no attic.

What they do is put window fans in all the bedrooms. As the day starts to cool off, they turn on all the fans upstairs. The fans on the east side of the house blow air in. The fans on the west side of the house blow the air out. This usually cools things down enough so that everyone can close their bedroom doors at night and keep cool using the window fan. But on really hot nights, everyone leaves their bedroom doors open to get more air circulating.

They also have insulated curtains on all the upstairs windows, which get pulled shut during the hours the sun is beating down on that side of the house.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 4:54PM
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I live year round in an 1860's New England farmhouse that when we bought it had no insulation, so I can fully identify with your problem. We open the downstairs and bedroom windows and run a fan in the upstairs bathroom that blows outward. This pulls air in downstairs and upstairs and exhausts it through the bathroom. When it is really hot, we close the door to the stairwell so that all the air gets sucked in through the bedrooms.

You really have two issues: the bedrooms need to be cooled, but so does the attic so that heat isn't radiating from the attic to the bedrooms. I would use the attic fan in one of the attic windows, but keep the hatch closed. That will cool the attic by pulling in air from one end and pushing it out the other, and then follow Camlan's advice to cool the bedrooms.

In the long run it will help keep the house cool in the summer if you insulate the attic from the upstairs. This can be done much more easily than window replacement, either with the roll out pink stuff or with blown in cellulose insulation (the places that sell cellulose insulation loan or rent the blower also.) Be sure to wear respiratory masks and long sleeves and pants, so it is better to do in cool weather.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 6:36PM
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Run the fan with the downstairs windows open during the evening, but then shut them and open the windows upstairs for an hour or so before you go to bed.
Or open only the window downstairs that is furthest from the stairwell and open one window in each bedroom. We have a whole house fan and have had to come up with a system that works for us by experimenting. It may be counter intuitive to not open all the windows, but sometimes that is what works best. Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 6:25PM
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The obvious thing to do is make sure the attic is properly insulated and vented. Attics tend to get very hot because the sun heats up the roof shingles. Proper ventilation involves a place for air to exit AND a place for air to exit...usually this involves sofit vents.

Also make sure the attic hatch is insulated...they sell kits to do this at Home Depot. The attic hatch should be kept closed.

Those sloped ceilings are probably just inches from a roof that gets very hot when the sun hits it. Are they insulated?

While it would produce a risk of leaks, you could put a skylight you can open in the sloped roof to let hot air out.

What about a ceiling fan in the stairwell to blow air back down?

Also, you can cover your roof with a shiny white substance so it heats up less in the sun. This could look silly or create problems in the winter.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Mon, Feb 10, 14 at 13:55

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 1:52PM
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