HVAC zoning, or zoned HVAC, refers to a single HVAC system that serves two or more separate zones within the same home or structure. By dividing your home’s interior climate into separately controlled sections, zoned HVAC eliminates the issue of compromising your comfort based on where you are in your home.
In addition to making frigid basements and stuffy second floors a thing of the past, zoned HVAC systems offer a number of other benefits. When designed and installed correctly, zoned systems can improve your home’s climate control, increase your overall energy efficiency, maximize your home’s comfort and drastically reduce your HVAC costs.
The main components that make up a zoned HVAC system are the HVAC system itself (typically consisting of furnace and AC or heat pump and air handler combo), the ductwork that controls your home’s air flow, several motor-driven dampers strategically installed to modify the distribution of your air from zone to zone and, finally, a combination of sensors, control panels and thermostats used to monitor and modify the climate settings in each respective zone.
In a zoned system, the motor-driven dampers are purposefully placed throughout a system’s ductwork to separate, isolate and redirect your home’s air flow into two or more distinct climate control zones. These dampers are connected to sensors in each respective zone that are connected to and controlled by one or more corresponding thermostats. Using the data from the sensors and the input settings from the thermostats, these dampers close, open and adjust as needed to achieve the desired climate in each zone.
There are a few different types of zoned hvac systems that can accommodate a variety of setups. However, more often than not, a standard zoned system refers to one that uses a series of dampers throughout the ductwork of a traditional centralized system, as described above.
Standard zoned systems can be controlled via separate thermostats in each respective zone, or by a multi-zone thermostat that uses several sensors installed strategically throughout the home. Upgrading to smart thermostats can increase convenience further by allowing you to control each zone remotely via your phone or tablet.
Zoned systems can either be retrofitted to upgrade a pre-existing non-zoned system, or built from scratch into brand new systems. While the latter allows for more efficient overall design and damper placement, initial costs for a brand new zoned system are a lot higher than the retrofit option, especially if you have to remove and replace an existing system in order to build it.
While not referred to or technically classified as zoned systems, ductless mini-split AC units can also be installed to achieve a similar effect in some circumstances. These mini-split units can be mounted in virtually any room as a means of supplementing existing ducted systems (zoned or non-zoned) or replacing them entirely, depending on the size of the space in question and the needs of the homeowner.
By specifying and increasing the effectiveness of your air flow, you drastically reduce the amount of air that would otherwise be wasted in a non-zoned system. Zoned systems allow you to concentrate air flow and energy use on the zones you occupy most frequently, and vice versa. By using more conservative settings and less power in unoccupied areas of your home, you can save tons of energy.
Without a zoned system, your entire home’s climate control is based on very limited data from a limited area – while it may feel like 68 in the kitchen where the thermostat is, the basement, foyer, second floor bedrooms, etc. may not feel so temperate. Zoned systems eliminate this problem by allowing you to completely customize your home’s climate from floor to floor, wing to wing or even room to room depending on the number of zones.
Increased energy efficiency and customizable climate control means that no matter where you are in your home, you can do whatever makes you most comfortable without feeling guilty for wasting energy or interrupting the comfort of different zones and their inhabitants. Additionally, you can rely on the increased efficiency of zoned systems to get the job done when you need it most and fast.
With so many added benefits, you may assume zoned HVAC systems come with much higher operating costs than traditional systems, but actually the exact opposite is true. Initial installation costs can be anywhere from $1,500 – $4,500 depending on whether you’re retrofitting, modifying or building a new system (HomeGuide). Regardless, with the amount of energy and money you’ll save from month to month, it’s only a matter of time before your zoned system pays for itself. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, zoned HVAC systems save homeowners an average of 30% on their overall annual utility costs!
If you’re considering investing in a zoned HVAC system, the first factor to consider when determining what (if any) type of zoning setup you need, is the size and layout of the home, building or space you’re looking to accommodate. Smaller living spaces like ranch homes, condos and apartments for example, may not have the square footage to justify zoning in lieu of more cost efficient options.
Once you’ve determined that you have enough space to justify zoning, the next thing you need to consider is the number of zones you want or need. The more zones you add, the higher your installation costs will be. It’s also important to keep in mind that the exact specifications you desire may not be economically or mechanically feasible in every case. Getting separate zones for your master bedroom, master bath and walk-in closet, for example, may not make sense in terms of the logistics. Either way, it’s important to know what you want, what you need and what’s possible.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest determining factors with regard to initial installation costs is whether you’re retrofitting an existing system or building a new system. Even if you’re retrofitting an existing system, you may need to modify that system drastically in order to accommodate the zones you desire.
When installing a zoning system of any kind, it’s crucial to outsource the job to a trusted professional who will ensure proper installation. If your zoned system isn’t installed properly, it won’t function properly, which means higher operating costs, decreased climate control and decreased energy efficiency, as opposed to the opposite. Hiring the right installer could ultimately determine whether or not you get your money’s worth out of your upgrade.
To recap everything we’ve covered thus far – zoning, or zoned HVAC, divides your house into two or more distinct zones with separate climate control for each respective zone via a series of dampers installed in your ductwork. Zoned HVAC systems provide a number of benefits to homeowners, including increased energy efficiency, better climate control, maximized comfort and drastically lower utility costs. If you’re thinking about upgrading your home’s HVAC system to a zoned system, it’s important to consider the size of the space in question, the number of zones you need, how adaptable your current system is and who you’ll hire to ensure proper installation.
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Ready to get in the zone but still looking for the best possible HVAC company to handle the installation? If you live in Delaware and want someone who will get the job done right the first time, look no further. Here at Maichle’s, our trusted HVAC pros have the tools, training and expertise necessary to handle all of your zoning needs from start to finish without cutting corners or running up costs.
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