Is It Worth It To Install a Zoned HVAC System?

For most homeowners, only two things matter when it comes to their home’s HVAC system. The first is whether or not it works. If they set the thermostat to a particular temperature and the system delivers it, they’re happy. The second is whether the system operates efficiently. That’s a bit harder to gauge. Plus, there’s not much you can do to influence an HVAC system’s efficiency other than maintaining it or upgrading it to a newer model.

There is one other way to improve an HVAC system’s efficiency, however. You can choose to install a zoning system to more precisely control how and where the HVAC sends its airflow.

How a Conventional HVAC System Works

Most conventional HVAC systems are relatively simple. They have a central indoor unit that circulates air through your home and generates heat in the winter and an outdoor unit that expels heat from your home in the summer. The airflow generated by the HVAC system travels through a system of ducts in your home’s walls to get where you need it. Then, another set of ducts pulls in air from around your home to deliver to the indoor unit. Essentially, that creates a loop that pulls in unconditioned air and returns it conditioned to create the temperature you desire.

A conventional HVAC system also has a single thermostat controlling its operation. In most installations, you can find the thermostat for a central HVAC system on an interior wall in a central room that you use often. You won’t find a thermostat too near a window, door, or air vent because they’d influence the thermostat’s temperature reading. That’s also why you’d never place a thermostat too close to a home’s kitchen, where the appliances generate heat.

In many homes, such a simple system is efficient and provides excellent comfort. In larger homes, however, it can be wasteful. For example, if you own a large home but have extra rooms you’re never in, you’re paying to heat and cool them anyway. Since you only have a single thermostat to work with, you can only turn the system on or off for the entire home. That’s where a zoned system can make a huge efficiency difference.

What Is a Zoned HVAC System?

A zoned HVAC system is the same as a conventional system that’s described above, but it has two major differences. First, the ductwork in a home with a zoned HVAC system includes motor-driven dampers that divide the ducts into independent heating and cooling zones. In residential zoned systems, it’s common to create a single zone for each floor. This provides the homeowners with the ability to set different temperatures for each floor depending on their use of the space and their personal preferences. For example, homes with bedrooms upstairs don’t need those rooms heated or cooled during the day when everyone is out.

That leads us to the second difference you’ll find in a zoned HVAC system: Each heating and cooling zone comes equipped with its own thermostat. Each thermostat in a zoned system will be in a central location within its zone, following the same placement rules detailed above. That makes it possible to get an accurate temperature reading for each zone.

The thermostats in a zoned HVAC system communicate with the central indoor unit as well as the ductwork dampers in their respective zones. In practice, this leads to a variety of heating and cooling combinations.

For example, if your first floor needed heat but your second floor didn’t, the downstairs thermostat would instruct the central unit to provide heat and the upstairs thermostat would close its ductwork’s dampers to keep that heat out. And each thermostat can instruct its dampers to open partially if its zone needed minimal cooling or heating. As a result, the system would only heat and cool where you wanted it to and use less energy in doing so.

When Is a Zoned HVAC System a Good Idea?

In theory, any home can benefit from a zoned HVAC system. However, because of the added costs involved in installing the wiring and hardware needed to support one, a zoned HVAC system makes the most sense in a few specific situations.

The first is when you’re trying to heat and cool a multi-story home. Since heat rises, it’s almost impossible for a single-zone HVAC system to keep multiple floors at the same temperature. With a separate zone for each floor and individual thermostats for each zone, that problem disappears.

Another situation when a zoned HVAC system makes sense is if the layout of your home doesn’t lend itself well to constant airflow throughout. In that situation, a single-zone HVAC system will inevitably leave hot and cold spots throughout the home. A zoned HVAC system eliminates that problem by delivering more or less airflow through the appropriate ducts to compensate for the lack of natural airflow.

Zoned HVAC systems also work well in homes that have rooms with large bay windows or that have rooms that get more sun than others. In that scenario, you can create a zone for the sunnier rooms and another for the rest of the home. That way, you get the heating needed in the darker rooms in winter and the cooling needed in the sunny rooms in summer with less wasted energy.

Should I get a zoning system for my house? 5 scenarios where the answer might be “yes”

  1. You’re thinking of installing a second heating and cooling system. If for some reason or another you were considering installing a second heating and cooling system in your home, a zoning system might be a better option. A zoning system will give you the same effect while also allowing you to save money on installation and energy costs.
  2. You have a multi-level home. In almost every home, the temperature levels will vary depending on what floor you are on. The main floor (where your thermostat is located) might be perfectly comfortable, while your upstairs might be too warm or your basement too cold. With a zoning system, you can give each floor its thermostat and control them individually.
  3. Your home suffers from hot and cold spots. Do you have certain parts of your home that are always too hot or too cold? This can be due to several different circumstances (location, windows, etc.), and adding a zoning system will help even out the temperatures in your entire home.
  4. Your family members have different temperature preferences. Nobody likes to fight over the thermostat, especially when it comes to nighttime sleeping temperatures. With a zoning system, you can make everyone in your family happy because they can each have control over the temperatures in their section of your home.
  5. You have unused parts of your home. Do you have rooms or entire sections of your home that go largely unused? There’s no reason to waste energy on keeping those sections as comfortable as the more frequently-used parts of your home! A zoning system will allow you to use energy-saving temperatures in unused parts of your home that can be adjusted to more comfortable levels during those times that you do use them.

Will a Zoned HVAC System Save Money?

Since no two homes are alike, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much money a zoned HVAC system might save in a given home. However, the U.S. Department of Energy studied the performance of zoned HVAC systems and compared the data to the performance of single-zone systems in similar homes. They found that zoned HVAC systems offer between 30% and 35% energy savings on average versus comparable single-zone systems.

Of course, achieving such savings is only possible when you have the appropriate zone design for your home. Otherwise, you’d end up with higher installation costs and far less operational savings. Designing zoned residential HVAC systems is one of the things the team of experts here at Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning specializes in. So when you trust us to determine how best to install a zoned HVAC system in your home, you’ll be certain to gain the greatest efficiency benefit possible.

The Zoned HVAC Specialists

If your home needs a new HVAC system, or you’re interested in finding out how well a zoned HVAC system might work in your home, there’s no better place to turn than Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning. We’ve served homeowners in St Peters, MO and the greater Saint Louis region since 1977. In that time, we’ve served over 50,000 customers and have built a reputation for excellence and premier customer satisfaction. We’ve done it by following one simple guiding principle: We aim to earn your trust — and keep it. So, whether we’re installing, maintaining, or repairing your home’s HVAC system or assessing the air quality in your home, you’ll always be our number one priority. If you’re interested in a zoned HVAC system for your home, get started today by contacting Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning so that we can design the perfect solution for your needs!

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