Benefits of HVAC Zoning – Frequently Asked Questions
Your home is the place for you to be completely comfortable. So why do you still find yourself reaching for a blanket to watch a movie? Or turning on your ceiling fan, even when the A/C is on, just to get cool after a day out in the yard?
Most homes, including yours, have areas that suffer because you are asking a single thermostat located in one area to control the temperature in all parts of your home. The thermostat only knows the temperature where the thermostat is actually located! You simply cannot achieve whole home comfort with one thermostat control, just like you can’t (and don’t want to) control all your lighting with one light switch.
Zoning is a control system designed for the way you use your home. With a zoning system, each area of your home is given customized heating and cooling control.
Basics of HVAC Zoning
Trying to regulate the temperature in your whole home comfort with a single thermostat control is similar to controlling all the lights in your home with one switch. Such a system would waste energy, be costly and would not match your lighting needs.
With multiple thermostats, you are given the same control over your heating and air conditioning that you are with the lighting in your home. The design and lifestyle patterns of your home create many temperature differences a single thermostat just cannot serve.
Only by using multiple thermostats can achieve complete comfort control you and your family desire. Zoning creates areas or “distinct comfort zones” which all have their own, individual thermostat. If you have four zones, you have four thermostats. With zoning, you select the rooms that need more customized control like a finished basement, bonus room or second floor. The thermostat will then alert your system to serve only the area needing heating or cooling to eliminate the over-conditioning of one zone of your home to make another comfortable. Other areas of the home are able to remain at the same temperature while the calling zone is receiving the conditioning it needs.
How HVAC Zoning Works
A zoning system is composed of three main parts: thermostats, dampers and a control panel. When a thermostat in an area “calls” or requires heating or cooling, it sends a signal to the control panel. The control panel then sends a signal to either the heating or cooling system, depending on what the thermostat needs to meet the set temperature.
The control panel will then open or close dampers which are placed inside your ductwork which is the pathway for the conditioned air. The dampers act like traffic cops directing airflow to areas of the home that need heating or cooling and block off areas that do not. Once the area needing heating or cooling reaches the desired temperature, the thermostat tells the control panel to turn off the equipment and open all the dampers. Opening the dampers helps increase air circulation throughout your home, but does not affect the temperature in the other zones. The process is repeated anytime a certain area in your home drops or rises above the temperature set on the thermostat, constantly ensuring maximum comfort.
Common Zoning Scenarios
While most homes can benefit from a zoning system, there are applications which frequently require zoning to correct comfort challenges.
- Multi-story homes: The most common challenge homeowners experience with multi-story homes is called air stratification. It is when the warm air rises and cooler air falls in your home and is the most common and well recognized need for zoning. Whether it is a sweltering second floor during the summer months or a basement that is always cold, you can’t stop heat from rising and cool air from falling to the lowest levels. Zoning eliminates this occurrence by pushing more concentrated air to the harder to condition spaces while closing off those which are already at a desired temperature.
- Changing lifestyles: As people’s lives change they tend to alter the way their home is occupied. The best examples are the empty nester, parents with a new baby or the family that welcomes an aging relative into the home. In each of these cases, not all family members share the same comfort needs or follow the same lifestyle pattern when occupying various areas of the home. For instance, temperature needs with the elderly or very young children can be more extreme and may spend the majority of their time in one area throughout the day.
- Home additions: As you look to improve your home by adding on living spaces, you may be faced with a new set of comfort challenges. Bonus rooms, sunrooms, finished basements and other similar room additions try to force more out of the existing heating and cooling system which may be unable to accommodate the new layouts. New additions tend to be better insulated than the original home structure, causing more air to be trapped and become stagnant. Zoning helps maximize operation of your equipment while improving the indoor air quality in new spaces by constantly circulating the air.
- Exposure to the sun: Depending on your home’s design, your heating and cooling can be significantly impacted by the movement and overall exposure to the sun. As the sun moves throughout the day, it heats up certain areas, while leaving others cooler. If your thermostat is in one of the sunny areas, the room temperature will be drastically different than in the unexposed rooms. The placement and size of your windows can affect the temperature throughout your home. Rooms with many windows can quickly cool off once the sun has moved for the day, forcing your system to work harder to satisfy the difference.