Closed Off Vents?

"Why would anyone install heat vents on the second floor, then close them off?" —Wendy Kaufman
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closed off vents

(Illustration: Brett Affrunti)

We moved into our two-storey Colonial Revival in summer. When the weather got cold, we were surprised to discover that the pretty, original heat registers upstairs were completely closed off. Since we live in a moderate climate, it hasn’t been much of a problem. Still, we’re not looking forward to any cold snaps! —Wendy Kaufman

Given the age of your house, it’s possible that the original ducts in the walls are wrapped in asbestos, which was commonly used as a fire prevention measure in the first half of the 20th century. Asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are unlikely to pose a health risk, according to the EPA, but the ducts may have been closed off as a precautionary measure.

If you’d like to add heating or cooling to your second floor, consider a supplementary source that doesn’t rely on ductwork, such as electric baseboard heat or a mini-split system. The electric solution is the least expensive to install initially, but may have a higher impact on energy bills if it’s used frequently.

Mini-split systems like those from Fujitsu Halcyon (fujitsugeneral.com) are one of the newest ways to add heating and cooling to one room or many. These energy-efficient ductless systems consist of a HVAC delivery unit that mounts on an inside wall, ceiling, or floor, along with a power pack that installs outdoors. Each unit can be controlled individually and turned off when the room is not in use.

If at a future point you will be considering a major addition or a remodel, a good whole-house HVAC option is a mini-duct system, like those from Space Pak (spacepak.com), Unico System (unicosystem.com), and Hi-Velocity (hi-velocity.com). Using flexible mini-duct tubing that’s small enough to thread between studs in walls and in cavities under floors and above ceilings, these retrofit-friendly systems circulate warm air in winter, and cool air in summer by aspiration. Whichever system you choose, stay warm!

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