Reviewed by George Baral
Updated September 11, 2023
You probably know a couple—maybe you’re even part of that couple—with wildly divergent temperature preferences. One person is perpetually warm, while the other is usually freezing. For such couples, living together poses challenges in terms of indoor comfort, with one person wearing a sweater while the other is dressed for beach weather.
Whether that’s the case, or you simply need to heat areas of your home at different levels, an HVAC zoning system may be the answer to your troubles. In this article, you can learn all about the advantages of these systems.
A zoned HVAC system is what you might call a 4C solution: It provides Comfort, Convenience, Conservation and makes Common sense.
A zoned HVAC system takes a home’s standard heating system and divides it into zones, each zone having its own temperature controls. Zoned HVAC systems allow for variation in temperature throughout the house. Each area of your home can achieve a personalized level of comfort, and specific hot and cold spots are eliminated.
And don’t forget that the “AC” in “HVAC” means air conditioning.
If your heating system also includes air conditioning capabilities, those capabilities will be segmented into the same zones.
Most existing HVAC systems can be turned into zoned systems with the addition of some key components. The added pieces you’ll need are a zone control panel, thermostats, zone dampers, and, possibly, a bypass damper.
The zone control panel is the system’s nerve center.
It receives information about the temperature changes needed in various zones of the home and sends instructions to the thermostats and dampers. It allows your HVAC unit to respond to more than one thermostat in controlling household temperature. When the control panel gets a request for a temperature change, it closes the dampers for zones that aren’t involved before activating the furnace or air-conditioner to deliver air to the desired zone.
Thermostats provide readings of the temperature in the individual zones. They request adjustment from the control panel when the readings dip below or climb above the set temperature for that zone.
The zone dampers are gates installed in the ductwork to control the flow of air to the various zones in the house. They close and open automatically, depending on their instructions. A bypass damper isn’t always essential, but it can be installed to relieve the air pressure through the ducts as dampers open and close.
There are also modern versions designed within a smart home system model. Watch this video for an overview of a room by room control system.
If you’re considering installing a zoned HVAC system, you’ll need to determine how many zones you’d like to have in your home and which areas will fall into each zone. Think about the temperature preferences of family members and decide whether they’ll need separate zones for comfort.
Next, consider the layout of your home.
Do some floors remain warmer than others? Are there rooms that have specific temperature needs, such as a home gym? Do you have an atrium with high ceilings or a room with numerous windows or an addition to the house that is more energy-efficient than the original structure? You’ll need to take all of these differences into account.
You’ll also need to think about whether you’d like individual zone control points (thermostats) in certain rooms, making it easier to adjust the temperature from spots where you spend a lot of time, potentially with the aid of a remote control device. Or consider a programmable thermostat that provides you with the opportunity to adjust the temperature for any zone remotely from your smartphone or tablet.
It’s wise to engage a skilled HVAC contractor to help you plan and execute the installation of a zoned HVAC system. They have the expertise to know what is practical and doable and can assess the layout and design of your home to determine if your zones make sense. They’ll also know whether your home’s ductwork requires any additional adjustment to make your plans come to life.
They can also advise you on whether upgrading your furnace can save you money on operating expenses.
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When you install a zoned HVAC system, you not only benefit from even temperatures and happy inhabitants, you’re also conserving energy and saving money. By using less energy to heat and cool your home, you’re helping the environment and saving about 30 per cent on your energy bill. Essentially, you’ll recoup the money you paid for installation over time.
Imagine being more comfortable than ever in your own home, despite the season and the temperature preferences of other family members… All while saving money and doing your bit for the environment at the same time. What’s not to like?
An HVAC professional can determine how many zones are best for your home. It may be that you need one zone for each floor, or separate zones for each section of the home. Some systems may even have a separate zone for each room—it depends on your house and your HVAC system.
To add a 2-zone HVAC system to an existing house, expect to pay at least $2,500—and likely more. It’s much less expensive to incorporate a zoning system at the time of construction.
As with many home systems, the best time to plan a zoned HVAC system is before you build the home. But, if your house is already finished, you can plan your HVAC zones any time. Just make sure to consider how you heat and cool your home throughout different times of the year.
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About the expert: George Baral
George Baral has an MBA and a masters' degree in chemistry. He spent almost 35 years inspecting and evaluating heating and air conditioning systems before retiring. He obtained a California general contractor's license to start a company focusing on energy-efficient construction, became certified as a LEED AP and earned a NATE (North American Technical Excellence) certification, which provides advanced training for HVAC technicians.
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