Does Closing Bedroom Doors Help You Save on Heating or Cooling Costs?

While closing doors may seem to help improve energy efficiency, there are a number of drawbacks. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Benjamin D. of Philadelphia)

While closing doors may seem to help improve energy efficiency, there are a number of drawbacks. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Benjamin D. of Philadelphia)

The heating and cooling system in your home is designed to maintain a constant temperature, no matter the season. But in the height of summer or dead of winter the cost of running an air conditioning or heating system can quickly increase, leaving homeowners scrambling to improve energy efficiency and lower costs. One common suggestion is to close bedroom doors, but does this really work? Can you save energy by closing doors?

What's supposed to happen when you close doors

The idea behind leaving a bedroom door closed (or shutting HVAC vents) to improve energy efficiency is that doing so limits the amount of air movement required as well as the space that needs to be heated or cooled. In turn, this should lower costs and save money on utility bills. On the face, this makes sense. The unoccupied room behind the closed door doesn't need to be the same temperature as the rest of the house. Instead of cooling a 2,000 square foot home, for example, a few closed bedroom doors could drop the number of square feet that need to be temperature controlled to 1,700 or even 1,500. Simple cost savings, right?

What actually happens instead

According to the nonprofit publication Home Energy, the reverse is true. When doors are closed, the room is placed under pressure; the door acts as a blockage to airflow. Air trapped in the pressurized bedroom doesn't stay contained, however. It finds ways to escape the house however it can. Any air lost is replaced in an equal amount, which can increase the amount of air being drawn from 300 percent to 900 percent, significantly increasing utility bills.

Related: 10 Energy Saving Tips

This replacement air comes through the chimney, water heater or furnace flue and creates a steady draft in your home. Because the air isn't coming through your HVAC system, it isn't being filtered, which means it contains everything from dirt and dust to humidity and carbon monoxide (CO). The result can be damage to your home or danger to the occupants in the form of high CO levels or possible mold growth that can make you sick.

How to improve energy efficiency

There are several options available to solve this problem, starting with cutting out a small section (approximately 14 inches) at the bottom of the door. But most homeowners don't want to see their bedroom doors — especially unique or costly ones — chopped up, even for energy efficiency. Leaving all the doors open is also a solution, but doesn't work if you have company, pets that like to sneak into rooms or older children who value their privacy.

It's also possible to install cold air returns in every room. This is a simple solution, but not always cost-effective, as holes must be cut and ducts run into every room. You can also choose to put in what are known as "transfer grills." These grills allow air to flow between hallways and bedrooms, but are opaque and can be placed into a door, above a door frame or beside the door. If you choose to install a transfer grill, it's always a good idea to hire a qualified HVAC contractor. Improperly installed, transfer grills won't circulate airflow as they should and may not solve your HVAC issues. In addition, not all doors are suited for a grill — professionals will be able to tell you if what you have works or if you will need to replace your door.

Summer or winter, heating or cooling, closing your bedroom doors doesn't improve the efficiency of your HVAC system and may actually increase your utility bills. Leaving your doors open, installing cold air returns or putting in transfer grills are all effective ways to improve your home's air circulation.

Related: Guide to Home Energy Audits


Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story originally posted on February 5, 2013.

 

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Comments

I have a large 23kw unit all zoned, I have been closing the kids rooms but not all the way, I have been putting a chock in the door way so the door is still open a little, I have found the heat in the rooms are a lt warmer now. Is this putting pressure on the unit.

Hi, I just have question. I live, with my roommate, in a split level. When we use the AC, the downstairs and the living room are cooled just fine. The back bedrooms up stairs are not. I am fine with just opening my window and cutting on a fan. My roommate is complaining that it causes the AC to use more energy. But I argue that the thermostat is in the living room, and my bedroom temperature does not affect the thermostat. So, does having a window in the back bedroom cause the AC to use more energy?

So if I close the air vent in a bedroom that we I don't use, I can then close the bedroom door without increasing my utility bill or causing high CO levels or possible mold or mildew growth? My wife decided to close all the bedroom doors in the house, so that my Boston Terrier doesn't go into them to relieve herself. I am pretty sure this is what is causing our A/C bill to be higher during thes summer months here in Florida, but the wife doesn't believe me, go figure! However, from what I am reading in these string of comments is that if I close the air vents in the bedrooms that we don't use, then close the doors it will be alright. Am I correct in this assumption, anyone please answer?

If you close the air vent (seal it off with plastic and tape for better seal as some air still gets through the internal vent blades), and the door, the room will not be affected by the A/C. Air can still sneak in through the bottom and around the frame, but it isn't much and can be sealed with strips of rubber. So, if your home is 2,500 sq/ft, and that room is 500 sq/ft, your A/C will only need to cool 2,000 sq/ft of space if you seal the vent and door(s). It's worth pointing out that the article doesn't mention sealing the vent, just the door, which is what causes the increase of pressure in the room.

the article doesn't mention closing the air vent into the room. if closed, the closed door room will not be under pressure and no air will escape to the outside. Further, it should increase pressure to the other rooms in the house making the system MORE efficient.

Closing vents will not increase efficiency, it will actually decrease it. Your system is designed to move a certain amount of air through the furnace and coils, if you close vents, it causes restricted air flow and a decrease in efficiency, it may also cause your AC and heater to cycle on/off more often which also decreases efficiency. Most systems are already suffering from low air flow and excessive cycling. I am an Energy Star trained AC contractor in Los Angeles. Specializing in air quality and energy efficiency. Hope that helps. Poly-Tech Environmental.

I live in an apartment where cooking is difficult. We would have all the windows along with the front and back door where the kitchen is located open to vent the smoke. Will this cause decrease effecientcy? And caused my bills to increase also? If so, is there any alternative??

I also would like to close vents and doors in bedrooms in my home to keep out animals during the day. Is there another option?

Childproof gates are an alternative if you want to keep dogs out of a room while still keeping the door open. However it won't usually keep out cats

What happens if the particular room I shut off does not have a heat duct or a cold air return in it? For some strange reason the older couple that owned our home did not want those in that bedroom.

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