The Second Story of My House Is Cold: A Common Complaint in Roseville Neighborhoods from 1950

second story of house cold rosevilleI was recently at the Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento. It’s a really interesting place, with tons of Northern California history. One of the most interesting things I learned there was about Roseville. Apparently, in the 1950s, Roseville had the most modern railroad facility west of Chicago, and it was a big reason that town grew so much back then, eventually becoming the biggest city in Placer County. That made a lot of sense to me. As an HVAC professional, I see a lot of homes in Roseville built in the 1950s.

These houses are charming to be sure, but they’re getting older these days. Like anything getting up there in years, they aren’t without their fair share of problems. One of the most common complaints I hear from folks who live in homes built in the 50s is that the upstairs is always too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer. The reason for this is many homes built in that decade don’t have the return vents they need upstairs. With that in mind, let’s talk about why your 1950s home is so darn hard to warm up.

What Do Return Vents Do, Exactly?

Return vents are vital to an HVAC system and should be in just about every room of a house. Modern furnaces inhale air from your home through the return vents. This incoming air is then heated and pushed back out to warm up your family. So you can see that return vents are crucial since they supply the air for the furnace to heat. They also help out by lowering the air pressure in each room, making it easier for newly heated air to enter.

See, in order for heat to flow easily throughout your home, the air pressure has to be lower than where the air is coming from. By removing some of it via return vents, you’re creating new space for the warmed air. But if you don’t have return vents in a room, it makes it much harder for hot air to get in, and the temperature stays colder. Newer houses usually have an ample number of return vents, but the problem is that in places like Roseville, where large housing booms occurred in the 1950s, many simply don’t.

Why 1950s Roseville Neighborhoods Lack Return Vents

Back when charming old houses like the ones in Roseville were built, we didn’t have the same HVAC technology we have today. In fact, there were still furnaces that used wood or coal being installed in new homes of the day. Gas or oil-fired furnaces were a lot simpler than modern equipment and distributed heated air throughout the house using an internal fan. Furnaces were always on the bottom floor of the house, and the upper floor was simply left with much poorer heating.

This is especially true of homes built in the 1950s, like the ones off of Keehner or King Road, where the furnaces were even sometimes placed in the basement. Without return vents, it’s almost impossible for hot air to travel from a basement up to a second floor easily. Believe me when I say that many of your neighbors in Roseville are dealing with the same troubles.

Fixing Return Vent Dilemmas in Roseville’s 1950s Houses

In short, you’re going to need return vents added to the rooms upstairs where they weren’t originally put in the 1950s—there’s just no getting around that. With additional return vents comes additional ducts, and ductwork balancing, to connect the new vents to the furnace. I’ve talked in the past about why balanced ducts help heat houses. Basically, when ductwork that connects to the return vents is uneven or leaky, furnaces work harder or longer to get heated air where you want it to be, leading not only to an unheated house, but also a furnace that’s likely to break down or wear out more quickly.

The great thing about houses built in the 50s, though, including the ones from Roseville’s railroad housing boom, is they often have design features that help facilitate the need for new ducts, like that laundry chute on the second floor. Areas like pantries and closets are also invaluable places to install return vents or ductwork and attics make it easy too. A last resort for adding ductwork is to have it installed in the corner of a room, where it can be easily covered up with drywall, then hidden by building a second duct on the same wall and putting shelves between them, like the traditional built-ins of that era.

Wherever you have space for new ducts and return vents in your 1950s house, a trained HVAC professional can ensure that they’re installed correctly, that the ductwork is sufficient and well-balanced, and that every room in the house is optimally heated or cooled without having to run the furnace excessively.

I really love Roseville in the wintertime. There’s nothing like bringing the little ones to have their pictures taken with Santa under the two-story tall Christmas tree at the Westfield Galleria—especially when you have a warm and charming 1950s home to go back to, with hot cocoa simmering on the stove. Make sure you have return vents everywhere they need to be and you’ll be cozy all winter, with or without the cocoa.

Are some of the rooms in your 1950s Roseville home much colder than others? Contact the experts at Bell Brothers to solve your return vent troubles and keep your whole house cozily heated this winter.