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Zoning Systems Offer a Greater Level of Temp Control for Texas Homeowners

Zoning systems save energy and money while increasing comfort.If you’re like many homeowners in West Texas, you’d probably jump at the chance to lower high monthly cooling bills, and zoning systems can help you do just that without requiring an HVAC replacement. These systems use a combination of thermostats and ductwork dampers to individualize the temperatures in different areas throughout your home.

The idea behind a zoning system is that temperatures vary within a structure based on a number of factors, including orientation to the sun, room size, the floor the room is located on and occupancy patterns. Most homes are treated as one single unit with one thermostat. It can only control the temperature where it's located, usually in a central living room or hallway on the main floor.

How Zoning Systems Work

Each zone has its own damper that opens and closes based on that zone's thermostat setting. Each thermostat connects to a central control panel that triggers the cooling or heating system, and it will send conditioned air to the zone that requires conditioning. Each damper has a motor that opens and closes it automatically.

Homes That Are Likely Candidates for Zoning Systems

  • Multi-story homes. Heat always rises, and the second floor of two-story homes gets warmer as the day goes on. Between the sunshine beating on the roof and the heat generated in the first floor rising upstairs, many homeowners face higher summertime cooling bills just to keep the upstairs rooms cooler. 
  • Homes with different temperatures throughout. Since the sun is so intense in our region, it's not uncommon for homes with substantial south and west exposures to gain heat in the rooms that receive afternoon sun. A zoning system will keep those rooms cooler in the summer. Conversely, rooms that face east and north may be cooler during the winter, and zoning systems can solve problems associated with these cooler spaces during the heating season.

    Vaulted ceilings and homes with high ceiling plates in some areas are another good candidate for zoning. Large windows in some areas can create thermal imbalances throughout the home, as well. 
  • Houses with unused areas. An infrequently used area that houses a guest or a hobby room doesn't need to be conditioned when it's not being used. Instead of closing the room or rooms off, putting them in a separate zone saves energy. It's better than closing off a room by blocking the registers and shutting the doors. This puts more air pressure inside the ductwork and can actually damage the ductwork and air handler components.
  • Family members who have different temperature requirements. Not everyone in your household may be comfortable at the same temperature level. Very young and older people may be more comfortable with warmer temperatures. Zoning systems eliminate the need for space heaters, which can cost far more to use than a heat pump or gas furnace for family members who are uncomfortably warm or cold. 
  • Homes whose livable space is being enlarged. Finishing a garage to make it useful during the winter or summer usually requires a separate system. However, if you have ductwork near the garage, you may be able to extend it to condition this space. In addition, new additions or retrofit spaces may not be used all the time. A zoning system solves the problem of using a separate system or entire HVAC replacement to make these additional spaces more comfortable.
  • Homes with high conditioning costs. Instead of keeping your entire home uncomfortably cool in the winter or warm in the summer to combat high energy bills, a zoning system will keep the rooms you occupy most comfortable. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that zoning systems can save up to 30 percent on conditioning costs.

Laying out a Zoning System

You and your HVAC contractor can work out a design for your zoning system based on usage patterns, thermal properties and ductwork configuration. You need at least two zones and most systems are capable of supporting four zones. Keeping the upstairs on its own zone compensates for dealing with heat gain year-round. An unused area could have its own zone, as could the spaces you occupy the most. People emit heat constantly, so if your family members gather in a specific area frequently, you can adjust the thermostat to compensate.  

Choosing Thermostats

Although a manual non-programmable thermostat will work fine with a zoning system, the convenience that programmable units offer may make them worth the investment, since these have a proven track record for saving energy. Not having to remember to adjust the thermostats daily with a zoning system will help you maximize the energy savings that they offer. 

You can set the thermostat for zones you don't use often to a vacation setting and adjust it when you need to condition the area. Setting an upstairs thermostat when the rooms will be occupied at night to a more comfortable sleeping temperature and adjusting the first-floor zone for nighttime is a sure way to save energy. Installing smart thermostats will let you monitor your home via WiFi from a smart phone or the Internet.

Zoning System Considerations

It's always easier to install a zoning system during new construction or an HVAC system replacement. However, if your equipment is fairly new and running efficiently, an HVAC contractor can work with what you have and make adjustments. 

Retrofit kits are available that make it possible to add multiple zones to your home. Most of the adjustments will be to the velocity of airflow coming into each zone. Without an adjustment, the air pressure inside the ducts going to a zone may be too high, and eventually the ducts can leak, and some parts inside the air handler may fail as well. 

Airflow has a significant impact on the lifetime of your system because an incorrect flow of air can cause these problems:

  • Frozen evaporator coil in heat pumps and air conditioning systems. When the airflow is too low going over the evaporator coil in the cooling mode, the coil may freeze. If the system keeps running, the compressor may break down, necessitating an expensive repair.
  • Cracked heat exchanger. If the airflow is low with a gas furnace, the heat exchanger will stay hot longer, hastening metal fatigue. Cracks can form in the heat exchanger and may emit carbon monoxide into your home. Unless the warranty is active, a cracked heat exchanger usually calls for a furnace replacement. The labor involved in replacing the heat exchanger is fairly extensive and the part may take weeks to deliver.
  • Noise. Too much air flowing through one zone can increase the noise associated with forced-air systems. Air pressure that's too high can result in leaky ducts, which increase conditioning bills and reduce indoor air quality.

Possible Incentives

Periodically, local jurisdictions, manufacturers and utility providers offer homeowners incentives in the form of tax incentives, rebates or low-interest financing to improve their home's energy efficiency. Since heating and cooling accounts for approximately half of what the average homeowner in the U.S. spends on energy annually, there's a reason why these programs exist. Your HVAC contractor may know what kinds of programs are available in your area to help make your home more energy efficient with zoning systems and even programmable thermostats. 

Installing a zoning system is a project that requires technical expertise. You'll want to find a contractor who is NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certified, a sign of high distinction and qualification in the HVAC and refrigeration industry. 

To learn more about the benefits of zoning systems in West Texas, contact us today to help you find a qualified HVAC contractor near you today. 

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