Keeping your home at a comfortable temperature throughout the year can be quite costly, and this is especially true if your home is larger, has multiple stories, high ceilings or lots of skylights or large windows. Any of these factors can result in your heating and cooling systems having to work much harder and run for longer in order to keep your home at the desired temperature. Having lots of south- or west-facing windows can be especially problematic as these areas will tend to stay much hotter due to the increased heat gain from the windows. Converting from a single-zone to a multi-zone HVAC system can be a fantastic option in any of these situations as it will both improve your overall home comfort and reduce your air conditioning and heating costs.
Single Zone vs. Multi-Zone HVAC
Also known as zone-control, a multi-zone HVAC system works just like a standard central heating and cooling system. Both systems still use ductwork and a central air handler to circulate heated or cooled air throughout the building. However, a standard central HVAC system is only a single zone, which means the conditioned air always has to circulate throughout the entire property.
With a zone-controlled system, the building is divided up into separate zones with each zone being as large or as small as needed. Most commonly people will set up individual zones for their sleeping and living areas or a zone for each floor. You could also divide up the ductwork so that every room is its own zone. The choice is really up to you and depends on how your home and your ductwork are laid out as well as your specific goals or what issues you’re trying to overcome.
It is important to note that the more zones you want to create, the more the price of the system will increase. Not only will you need to pay to install additional equipment for every zone, but you may also need to have your duct system reworked or completely replaced depending on how it is currently set up.
To create the various zones, dampers are installed in different parts of the duct system to control the air flowing to each zone. Each zone also has its own individual thermostat, which enables you to control how hot or cold that zone is. When that zone’s thermostat registers that a zone is above or below the desired temperature, it sends a signal to the main control panel. In turn, the control panel opens the dampers so that hot or cold air can be pumped into that zone. Once the set temperature is reached, the thermostat signals that no more hot or cold air is needed and the dampers then close.
There are also multi-zone systems that use manual dampers instead of automatic ones. However, this type of setup is rarely used nowadays since it requires you to manually open and shut the dampers as needed. This type of system does tend to be quite a bit cheaper since it only uses one central thermostat, but it also doesn’t provide the same level of convenience or all of the benefits of an automatic zone-control system.
Overcoming Air Pressure Issues
With a zone-controlled system, the dampers block off different parts of the duct system. This means that the air only flows to those zones where it is currently needed instead of circulating throughout the entire building. This works in a similar way to shutting the supply vents in some parts of the home but without the drawbacks.
When you close a vent, air will continue to flow into that branch of ductwork where it will essentially become trapped since it can’t exit out of the vent. This can affect the pressure inside the ductwork and create numerous issues. If the pressure isn’t balanced, it usually causes more conditioned air to flow to the rooms closest to the center of the system. This means that those rooms or areas furthest away will usually not receive enough air and will stay hotter or colder.
A pressure imbalance also makes it more difficult for the system to circulate air throughout the ductwork, which typically means more wear and tear and higher energy costs. In some cases, the pressure imbalance can even cause the joints in the ductwork to blow out and start leaking air. By sealing off the entire section or branch of the ductwork where it connects to the main duct, a zone-controlled system provides improved control over your heating and cooling without affecting the air pressure inside the system.
Benefits of a Zone-Controlled System
The biggest benefit of a zone-controlled system is that it provides you with much better control over your heating and cooling and, thus, your home comfort. This is directly tied to the other major benefits, namely reducing the strain on your HVAC system and lowering your air conditioning and heating costs. Since you’ll no longer have to provide heating or cooling to the whole building if you don’t want to, it will reduce how often your system runs and how much you pay in energy costs.
If you have some areas or rooms that you very rarely use, you can adjust the thermostat so that you’re only cooling or heating that zone when you’re actually using it. For instance, if your bedrooms are rarely occupied during the day, you can program the thermostat so that the system only starts heating or cooling that zone, or zones, in the evening before you go to bed.
You can also program the system to provide more or less heating and AC to rooms or areas that are always warmer or cooler than the rest of the home. Kitchens and bathrooms tend to be warmer so you could set up separate zones so that those rooms receive less heating in the winter and more AC in the summer. You can also do the same for any areas or rooms that have skylights or large windows and experience high heat gain or for areas like basements that always stay cooler. All you have to do is adjust the thermostat controlling the zone to a higher or lower temperature than the other zones, and the system will automatically take care of the rest.
Multi-zone systems are also great for families since not everyone likes the same temperature. If each bedroom is its own zone, you won’t ever have to listen to complaints about it being too hot or too cold since each person can adjust the temperature in their room to be as warm or cold as they want. This same factor also applies to commercial buildings since each person can adjust the temperature of their own office.
Professional HVAC Installations, Upgrades, and Services
At Bel-Aire Heating & Cooling, our HVAC technicians are ready to help you decide if a zone-controlled system is the best choice for your property. We are experts in multi-zone HVAC and can design your system in the most efficient way and professionally install it so that everything works just as it should. We have been providing professional heating and cooling installation, repair, and maintenance services to residential and commercial customers in Portage, Grand Rapids, Three Rivers, and other Western Michigan communities for more than 60 years. Contact us today to learn more about HVAC zone control and whether it’s right for you.