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Closing off the stairs to 2nd floor?

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by gyrfalcon, Dec 7, 2008.

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  1. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Do you lose more heat going up an open stairway from the stove room, or is the problem primarily the cold air coming down?

    My old house has the doorway to the stairs to the 2nd floor smack in the middle of the interior wall of the front room that goes across the entire front of the house, and I want to try closing it off and see how that affects heat on both floors. There's no actual door on it now, though there clearly used to be, so I'm thinking of hanging one of the big tough movers' blankets left behind by my movers a few years ago. The doorway is 7 feet top to bottom, and the blanket won't cover the whole thing but will leave about a one-foot gap top or bottom.

    Before I struggle to put this thing up, does it make more sense to leave the uncovered gap at the top to minimize cold air coming down, or at the bottom to minimize warm air going upstairs?

    It's a small house, and I keep the two small spare bedrooms closed in winter, so there's a single steep flight of stairs straight up, then a small hallway that immediately doubles back towards the front of the house, and my bedroom is off the far end of that. So I don't think the warm air that comes up the stairway reaches my bedroom much, so all I'm heating right now is the stairs and part of the hallway. My 2nd floor is unheated in any case, and my bedroom, which is directly over the stove, is actually less cold with the woodstove than it was using the boiler, so some heat is certainly coming up through the ceiling.

    Anyway, I'm thinking it makes little sense to be wasting heat on the stairway and having that cold draft coming right at the stove.

    Any thoughts?

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  2. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa Minister of Fire

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    Is the doorway at the top or base of the stairs? Do you have a mattress you could use to block it off for a test?
  3. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Good quesion I didn't think of. Yes, doorway is at the base, just coming up to the floor at 2nd, so wide open there.

    A mattress? Are you kidding? This would be easier than nailing up a blanket how?
  4. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa Minister of Fire

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    A mattress should stand on its own or maybe propped up with a chair. Nothing to nail and it would close off the entire entrance better simulating a door. If the blanket doesn't cover the entire door it isn't a very good test. It also wouldn't seal well just hanging it up.
  5. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    I see what you're getting at. Thanks. But wrestling a mattress down to the doorway and then wrestling it out of the way and back every time I need to go upstairs just isn't something I'm capable of doing by myself. Also, the steps start immediately at the door opening, one step up from the floor, so I'd need an eight-foot mattress to cover the whole thing.

    And actually, I don't really think I need to seal the doorway, just block off most of the heat exchange. (FYI, people in the less affluent parts of Europe to this day use blankets over doorways to conserve heat, so it's not quite as silly an idea as it may sound.)

    I'm still curious about a bottom gap versus top gap. Any thoughts on that? If my experiment really makes a difference, I can nail a piece of plywood or something over the top part of the doorway so the blanket would cover the whole opening, but obviously, I don't want to do that until I've got a better sense of whether it's worth doing at all.
  6. bjkjoseph

    bjkjoseph Member

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    i just shut all the bedroom doors up stairs
  7. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'd just use some 4 mil plastic for a test. You can get a 10' x 25' roll for about 8 bucks. Use some thumbtacks to hold it up or staples if you have a staple gun. Cut it long and weight the bottom with a 2x4 or a split of wood.
  8. Cearbhaill

    Cearbhaill Feeling the Heat

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    I did much the same thing (but involving A/C) with a very large, heavy tarp. The grommets made it easy to hang and I tightened up the edges with velcro.
  9. fishinpa

    fishinpa Member

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    I have an open stairway about 20ft from my stove and I need the warm air NOT to go straight up into my kitchen. I had two sides of the stairwell to cover because the third is an interior block wall.

    I chose to 'try' a moving blanket and have been very pleased with it. I hung it from the ceiling to about 20" from the floor, cutting the corner open so we can pass right through it. This way I 'think' I'm getting the best of both worlds: I'm stopping the warm air from running right up the stairs and allowing space for the cold air to come down. I hope this helped.
  10. Rich L

    Rich L Minister of Fire

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    Do you have to go up to this level at all? If not cover the doorway with the two sided tape and plastic for a patio door.
  11. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa Minister of Fire

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    Think of the cold air as water. It has enough weight to it to move the blanket. That is why I was suggesting something with stiffness and weight to it, like a mattress. The blanket could still be used to seal above. You will need to dam the cold air at the bottom if you don't want to feel a cold draft.

    I was only thinking of you not peckering the wall/casings with holes to try and keep the blanket sealed. Air pressure will only work with you to seal the blanket if it is on the pressure side. The cold air will pressure the opening from the stairs side. The warm air, pressure from the stove side. If you nail it shut, you cannot pass through either.
  12. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Thanks. Yes, that's good to know. My problem is slightly different, though, in that I don't want the cold air to come down. My bedroom is on the second floor, small stove and living space on the first, so sealing off the doorway completely isn't an option. What I'm trying to figure out is whether keeping the warm air from going up through the top is more important than keeping the colder air from flowing down in terms of heating the first floor during the day. Guess I just have to try it to see what happens.
  13. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Sure do need to go up unless I'm going to sleep on the floor in the living room...

    I'm actually not trying to go for the perfect system, just whether I can cut down some on the heat exchange and heat my first-floor daytime living space a bit better. I like cold for sleeping, up to a point, and the stove right under my bedroom keeps it from getting too cold even for me.
  14. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Gotcha. I thought you were suggesting a mattress instead of a blanket, which seemed pretty cuckoo, but now I get what you mean. It's a good idea, but not practical in this situation, especially since I do sleep on 2nd floor.
  15. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa Minister of Fire

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    Is this blanket a short term test or a long term solution?
  16. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Thanks, Dow. That's what I was wondering. These movers' blankets are terrific insulators, but they're made out of some incredibly tough synthetic material you can hardly get a safety pin through, so I can't just cut and paste, so to speak, to make one long one. I guess I'll hang one lower and use a spare thermal curtain to block the top just for the experiment, and if it seems to work, figure out something more, um, esthetic. I can live with a movers' blanket in my living room, just barely, but the patchwork effect of two different materials is going too far!
  17. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    A test, basically. If it makes a real difference, then I'll figure out something more permanent, might even get an actual door, since there used to be one there some time in the past-- hinge holes and doorknob catch still there. My old-fashioned self kind of likes the idea of using a blanket, though.
  18. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Well, I just hung two of these musty, ugly old things on hooks inside the stairwell, one from the top and the other lower down to cover the bottom-- more or less, so we'll see how it goes.
  19. kenny chaos

    kenny chaos Minister of Fire

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    We have a hallway that leads upstairs and I had the wife pick up a spring loaded shower rod from which we hang an old quilt doubled in two.
    It was my idea. :coolsmile: The wife liked the idea so much that she did it herself. Did I say the shower rod was my idea? No mattresses or nails or tacks or hamsters.
  20. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Truly an awesomely brilliant idea, no question. I stand in awe... (hamsters??)

    Unless you know of a place to get 15+ foot quilts, that's not going to work real well for me, unfortunately. As honored as I would be to attempt to appropriate your invention. :)

    I just put in a couple hooks and punched holes in the movers' blankets to hang on them for now. The good thing about using ugly smelly old crappy stuff is not worrying about how it looks or how many holes you put in it. If it seems worth it, I may try a couple spare thermal curtains and see if that does as well, in which case I will surely use your splendid technique.
  21. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Oh, boy, immediate results on this. The first floor heated up lickity split and the heat's spreading out farther, too. I'm definitely a convert. Just hoping the 2nd floor doesn't get too cold. We're only around 32 today, but we've got low teens daytime coming up in a day or two, which will be the real test.

    Thanks, everyone, for your advice.
  22. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Once you understand the flow of air, it is pretty easy to come up with a compromise that regulates the upstairs temps better. We have a large open staircase that allows ready flow of cold air from upstair and hot air in return. I measured a 5 degree difference in temps at the stair step level (low) and at 6 feet above the same step.

    Now that you know the issue, you can work out a "valve" in the doorway to regulate this flow. Experiment with partial covering of the doorway until you are satisfied with the result. In our case I ended up putting in a false, 18" lintel at the ceiling level to regulate the heat heading up the open staircase. It's working better, but I'm still fine tuning it. In your case, perhaps a louvered door might permit just the right amount of flow?
  23. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa Minister of Fire

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    They also make spring loaded curtain rods in a variety of lengths. I used a few of them to form a barrier in a hallway for the dog before she learned her limits. We now use them wall to wall in the bathroom to hang laundry.

    In the construction (reno) industry, they often use vertical spring poles to hold up poly partitions to contain an area.
  24. snowtime

    snowtime Minister of Fire

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    This thread brought back some old memories. In 72 when I built our first log house we got 6' of snow on Nov 6 and had to move in. No doors so my DW hung 2 wool blankets over the front door. It worked like a charm. Even in -45 the blankets enabled us to keep the house at 70 or above. It worked so well that I did other projects until about the middle of Feb. then the DW said she was ready for a real door and you know what that means.
  25. gyrfalcon

    gyrfalcon Minister of Fire

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    Interesting idea. So you just blocked off the upper 18 inches and left the rest open? It may just be the vagaries of the "mixed hardwood" selection, but the stove also went right up to about 450, where it quits at 400 most of the time, so I'm thinking the colder air running down the stairs and almost directly into the stove might be worth continuing to block.

    I'll have to see how the upstairs goes for a few days. If it only gets, say, 5 or 6 degrees colder up there, that's no problem at all and I'll keep the whole doorway blocked off. If it's just a bit too cold when I go to bed to sit up and read, I put on a small space heater for about 5 minutes, and that's pretty much all it takes. If I'm burrowing down under the covers and going right to sleep, I don't even need or want that.

    I'm thinking, too, I could totally unblock the door overnight, since the oil burner has to take up the slack of the tiny stove's short burn time anyway to keep things downstairs just above intolerable first thing in the morning.

    Anyway, I'll just need to see how it's working for a few days and then try some experimenting.
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