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How to Get Wood Heat From Downstairs to Upstairs

Wood heat is a frugal way to heat a home - but for multi-level houses, getting hot air into every room can be a challenge. Some workarounds can be completed by the homeowner, while others require a professional.

How to Get Wood Heat From Downstairs to Upstairs

A wood burning stove can be cost effective and give your home a cozy feel. However, two-story homes with the only heat source located on the ground floor can be difficult to heat evenly, requiring some ingenuity to direct wood-heated air into the rooms overhead.

Check the Stove Rating Before You Buy

Wood stoves are rated for the square footage they can be expected to heat effectively, with the stove's heat output measured in BTUs per hour (British Thermal Units, usually abbreviated to BTU), and an efficiency rating of anywhere from 60-90 percent. As a general rule of thumb, each square foot of space will require a minimum of 20 BTU to heat. However, many other factors can affect this calculation.

In general, a house in a warm climate will require somewhere between 30 and 35 BTU per square foot of space to heat. Houses in cold climates may require closer to 50 or 60 BTU per square foot. Older houses will require slightly more BTU while newer, better insulated houses will take slightly less. Two story homes should have square footage on both floors measured, and 10 percent added to the BTU per square foot.

To determine the size of stove you need to purchase, multiply the estimated BTU required per square foot by the total number of square feet. A two story, open-layout home located in a warm climate, with 1,500 square feet on the ground floor and 500 square feet upstairs, can be estimated to require approximately 40 BTU times 2,000 square feet for a total requirement of 80,000 BTU. A wood stove with the potential to produce 100,000 BTU and an efficiency rating of 80 percent would therefore be ideal.

Use Wood Heat Consistently

Keeping a wood fire burning at a consistent level help temperatures stabilize. If the fire is allowed to die down and upper rooms become cold, it is hard to bring the temperature up again. Once the house is heated, it is easier to maintain that heat than to start over with a cold upper floor.

Use Fans to Move Heated Air

Use a series of fans to push and pull heated air upward. A properly placed floor fan will blow the heated air in the direction of the stairwell, a box fan at the foot of the stairs can push air up the steps, and a ceiling fan mounted near the top of the stairs can be set on reverse to pull the heated air even higher. This approach works best with an open floor plan and a spacious stairwell.

Funnel Hot Air Up Through an Existing Ventilation System

If your home has central air conditioning, you may be able to have your wood stove connected to the air ducts. Unless you are an HVAC expert, it is best to have a professional do this modification. Most newer wood stoves have openings near the rear of the stove that can be used to attach a pipe which is then connected to the ventilation system. You must install a filter to keep smoke from entering the upstairs rooms, while being careful to not accidentally tap into the air return system.

Have Floor Vents Installed by a Professional

A final option is to have large floor vents installed on the second floor directly above the stove. Again, this is a job for a professional, as two-story houses often have plumbing and electric running between the ceiling of one story and the floor of another. Vents allow hot air to access the upper floor (you can boost this process with fans installed inside the vents).

Warning

Call a professional to do any necessary HVAC alterations or vent installations between floors. Untrained individuals trying to complete these tasks could suffer injury, cause carbon monoxide to collect in the house, or cause structural damage to the home.

Wood stoves which are improperly installed or installed without proper clearance on all sides or which lack the correct grade of heat-resistant pipe can cause house fires. Always ensure you follow the directions in your wood stove's manual, and consult a professional if you make adaptations.

Wood stoves are usually less expensive than forced heat systems, and wood is usually cheaper than electricity or gas. Using wood heat to warm your home can help you save money over time, and reduce your dependence on traditional power sources.

Things You Will Need

  • Blower
  • Ceiling fans
  • Wall-mountable fans
  • Box fan
  • Measuring tape
  • Saw
  • Vents

Tip

  • Burn your wood heat continuously to help keep a constant temperature in your home. This will help warm the upper floors of the house. If you only want to burn a fire once in a while, your chances of keeping the upstairs warm are pretty slim.

Warning

  • Do not leave box fans on the steps if you have small children around who could stick their fingers inside the fans.

About the Author

Grace Alexander specializes in jumping off of metaphorical cliffs. Over the past 10 years she has quit her job as an executive chef, started her own copywriting company, moved her family to a Uruguayan ranch and adopted 11 dogs, two doe goats and the fruit bat who lives in the barn. She spends her spare time mending fences, indulging in the odd Netflix binge and baking her grandmother's legendary pie recipes.