That’s Not How Zoning Works!

how zoning works

How Heating and Air Zoning is Supposed to be Used

I find that some technicians don’t know how to explain to their customers how to properly use their zoned heating and air conditioning system. They tell their customers to just set the temperature to 75 on both floors and leave it. That’s not how zoning works! If you wanted to have both floors or both zones at 75 degrees, why not just cool the whole house at once? Why do we even need zoning at that point? On today’s blog we’re talking about the do’s and don’ts of zoning.

Heating and air zoned houses, or houses with two or more thermostats, are usually found in homes that have two floors, or in sprawling ranch style homes. In this blog we’re going to talk about older homes that have had zoning added to their now oversized system. We’ll also talk about what kind of lifestyle fits best with a zoned system. And finally, we’ll be discussing how to use zoning to save you money, which is really why zoning in a home is even a thing.

Many homes in the Sacramento area are big enough to support families of 2 to 6 people. Such a home will have a designated living area that includes the kitchen, dining, family rooms, common area restrooms, entryway and other common areas. The other part of the house consists of the master bedroom, master bathroom, larger closets, the kids’ bedrooms, their bathrooms and sink areas, and the laundry room. You could easily break this home down into two “zones” with a thermostat to control each one.

The System is Oversized

To illustrate my point, let’s just say you have a typical 1950 sq. ft. home of conditioned space. This doesn’t include areas of the house like the closets, pantry, and other rooms that don’t have registers supplying air to them. This hypothetical house is two stories and originally came with a big 4-ton air conditioner that would satisfy the whole house at one time.

Ten years later, the owner adds a thermostat to the upstairs area, so they’ll have two zones; one for upstairs, one for downstairs. Another 10 years goes by and the system is now 20 years old.  Because it no longer cools as it should, the new owner is ready for a new system.  He doesn’t understand why he’s being told the new system should be smaller — much smaller! Because that’s not how to use zoning.

Heating and air zoning is an excellent idea!  But keeping that big, old 4-ton system there is a big mistake. If a 1950 sq. ft. home is divided into fairly similar sizes — 1150 sq. ft. downstairs and 800 sq. ft. upstairs, for example — then only one zone is calling for cooling.  That big 4-ton system (which remember, was designed to cool the whole house at one time) is overwhelming the temperature change in that one zone.  That’s half of the house!  It’s over pressurizing the ducts for that zone.  It’s sending a high velocity of air through the registers of that one zone. This is generally putting a big strain on the entire system, with the exception of the unused zone.

High Blood-Pressure Isn’t Good, Right?

This strain is similar to high blood pressure for the human body. You can run on high blood pressure for a while, but if it’s not regulated, the body can suffer and fail earlier than usual. The same goes for the compressor which is a lot like the heart of the human body. It pumps refrigerant to and from the indoor coil and outdoor coil. Too much short cycling, turning on and off quickly, makes the motor see an enormous amount of damaging heat and energy on every start-up, time after time after time.

When your system is twice the capacity that it needs to be, because only one zone is needing air, it’s going to satisfy that one zone way too fast. On/Off, On/Off, all day long. See, your AC wants to run for longer periods of time at less amperage to cool your house effectively. One to two degrees change for every 15 minutes is not unusual according to Honeywell. But 2 to 3 degrees in five minutes is too fast. I won’t get into this too much as I have several YouTube videos for customers on this topic, but we want to condition the whole room, not just the human. This is how we keep proper humidity levels and prevent wide temperature swings in the room.

What Is the Right Size Unit, Then?

If we were just conditioning that first floor at 1150 sq. ft., what size would we need? Without getting too technical, we would need about a 2.5-ton system. There are factors that would make it smaller or larger, but again I’m trying to keep this short and simple. And what if we were trying to cool just the upstairs bedroom areas at 800 sq. ft? We would need about a 2-ton system. Now, what if both zones happen to be calling for air at the same time? This is where it can get tricky, but for God’s sake, we are NOT doubling the size of the system.

When it comes to heating and air zoning , my rule for our technicians is to size the system a half-ton larger than the largest zone in the house.  In this case it’s 2.5 tons, so we will size the whole system at 3 tons. This is a full ton smaller than the original one installed, which surprises some prospective buyers.  But it’s correct. Because of sizing issues already mentioned in this blog, I can stomach a 3-ton system blowing through the smaller 800 sq. ft. zone without doing major damage to the new system over time, especially if some bleed off dampers like the new Honeywell ARD dampers are installed. This allows the correct amount of air to get to the small zone and any extra bleed-off to the other zone in very small amounts.

Proper Heating and Air Zoning

What happens when both zones reach a point in the day when they are both calling at the same time? That extra half-ton will satisfy one zone or the other first. When that happens, that’s zone closes its damper and allows the other zone to continue until it’s satisfied.

We’re not talking about the laws of thermodynamics to the letter, here. And nothing I say is absolute. Of course, there are variables that your technician will have to take into consideration when it comes to your home, but an experienced installer will know what is right and what’s not when it comes to zoning your house.

For a deeper dive, you may want to view our videos:  What Temperature Should I Set the Thermostat in My House? and What’s the Best Way to Cool My Two-Story House?  Both have a lot of good information you may not have known about your AC system, so I hope you enjoy them.

When Two Zones Don’t Make Sense

Let’s talk about certain lifestyles where it doesn’t make sense to have a two-zone air duct system. I just had a customer who has a nursery and kids’ playroom upstairs while the caregiver and other relatives occupy the downstairs portion of the house throughout most of the day. What’s more is their demand for cooling is considerable given that they like it to be 72 degrees upstairs during the day for the kids and would like it to be 70 to 72 degrees downstairs at the same time of the day for those downstairs. And they expect those temps even on the hottest days of the year. That’s not the way zoning works.

Here’s How Heating and Air Zoning Works

As I mentioned in the video about How to Cool Your Two-Story Home, the typical home we work on is one where a parent stays home with a child, or retirees that don’t have to go to work anymore, so there is usually someone home most of the day. I tell people in these homes to focus on running the AC downstairs where they typically are throughout the day. So, if you like it 75 degrees in your normal living areas, make it 82 upstairs, in the area you’re not using. Run the AC primarily throughout the day downstairs at whatever temperature you’d like, until about 6 or 7 pm. Then, shut the thermostat off for downstairs and have the upstairs start cooling off so that by the time you get to bed, it’s cool enough upstairs to sleep for the whole family.

It’s already 75 degrees downstairs when it shuts off, so it won’t quickly warm up and make it uncomfortable for you.  Set the downstairs to be 82 degrees, where no one needs the AC running. It won’t get there overnight, but at least the system doesn’t come on downstairs, so the AC can focus its efforts on cooling down your second story as quickly as possible.

Saving Money with a Smaller System

You can set it up however you’d like on your thermostat’s schedule. If you need help with that, call or text us and we’ll get out to you and set it up. The main reason for having two thermostats is simple.  The system is not sized big enough to cool the whole house at once.  Because it’s designed to cool one floor, or one zone at a time, your home’s two-thermostat AC system is designed a little smaller.  We save money with smaller systems.  Efficiency is a huge concern for lots of people around the Sacramento Valley.  The smaller the system, the less we pay for the electricity used to run the AC.  When we don’t try to cool the entire house at once, we also save money and energy.

Summary

I hope this helps explain a little more about heating and air zoning, and how to use it properly. The intent was to enlighten folks that running both zones at 73 degrees all day isn’t the way zoning works. Think of it as two separate zones that we are conditioning at two separate times of the day. If both zones happen to call for cooling at the same time, a properly sized air conditioner will manage its way through it.  It will satisfy one or the other zone first, and then give the full system to the lagging zone.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog post.

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Benefits of HVAC Zoning

Have you heard about HVAC zoning?  Wondering if it would be worth it to retrofit your heating and cooling system with a zone control system? Read on and discover some of the key benefits which technicians at Fox Family Heating and Air attribute to zoning the HVAC system in your residential or commercial property.

Enhanced Comfort

The primary reason why HVAC systems are installed is to give building occupants comfort. HVAC zoning takes this comfort to a higher level. This is because every zone or section of the building can have its temperature controlled independently. For example, the rooms upstairs may be warmer than those on the ground floor. HVAC zoning allows the people upstairs to lower the thermostat settings without causing any inconveniences to those downstairs who don’t want that lower temperature.

Reduced Energy Consumption

HVAC zoning also reduces the amount of energy which is used to cool or heat the premises. These energy savings arise due to the adjustments made for each zone based on the needs of the occupants. For example, you can increase the heating to the bedrooms upstairs during the cold months while reducing the heating downstairs since no one will be in the living room or kitchen at night. You’ll get energy savings by not heating unoccupied rooms downstairs.

If all the lights in your home were controlled by one switch, you’d get similar results. Such a situation forces you to leave lights on in the unoccupied rooms, wasting energy. Zoning prevents such wastage. These energy savings can even offset the investment you made to your Sacramento heating and air conditioning company to install HVAC zoning in your premises.

Convenience

More convenience is another benefit of HVAC zoning.  You may need to walk downstairs in the middle of the night to adjust the settings of the thermostat. With heating, cooling and air conditioning controlled from a central location, buildings without HVAC zoning will come with such inconveniences.

Zoning brings convenience since the thermostats of the different zones will be located within those zones. Consequently, you will take a shorter walk to adjust the settings on the thermostat regulating the conditions in the affected room.

Prolonged Equipment Life

Your HVAC equipment is likely to experience less wear and tear if you installed a zoning system. This is because there will be few occasions when the system will be operating at full capacity. For example, the bedrooms may require less heating or cooling during the day.  This is when most activities in the home take place in the living room and the kitchen. Similarly, the living room and kitchen will require less heating or cooling at night while you sleep. This phased demand for heating or cooling allows the HVAC system to operate at less than full capacity during most hours of the day. You will, therefore, have a reduced need to pay for air conditioner repair (Sacramento).

As you can see, HVAC zoning will enhance the value you get from your heating or cooling system. However, those benefits can only come if the zoning system is installed correctly by an experienced professional, such as those at Fox Family Heating and Air.  Get a professional assessment of your requirements before choosing the best HVAC zoning system for your home.

HVAC Zoning: What You Should Know Before Retrofitting Your Home

Are you dissatisfied with the level of comfort provided by the HVAC system in your Sacramento home or business premises? Read on and discover some helpful information from Fox Family Heating and Air which will enable you to decide whether HVAC zoning would fix the problem.

What Is HVAC Zoning?

HVAC zoning refers to the creation of different sections/zones within a building so that the settings of the HVAC system can be customized for each of those zones. For example, you can divide your home into three zones. Each of those zones can have different heating or cooling settings from the other zones even if the entire building is served by one HVAC system.

Think about zoning as the installation of different light switches for each room in the home. You don’t have to switch on the lights in the entire house because you want to read late at night. Similarly, you don’t have to lower the temperature of the entire house just because your bedroom is too hot for your liking.

What Are the Required Zoning Components?

The zone control panel.

This is the “brain” of the entire zoned HVAC system. This control panel receives the requests made by the different thermostats and triggers the execution of those requests.

For example, the thermostat in the kitchen may call for extra cooling as someone is cooking. The zone control panel receives that request and opens the damper to that kitchen wider so that more conditioned air can be directed to that part of the building. The zone control panel is like a choir director who ensures that everything is working seamlessly.

Thermostats.

You will need as many thermostats as there are zones in the building. The thermostat in a given space allows the occupants of that space to select the desirable temperature settings.

Zone Dampers.

Think of zone dampers as “valves” which regulate the flow of conditioned air and heating into a zone/room. The damper executes the instructions sent by the zone control panel after getting information from the thermostat in a given zone/room. For example, the damper will close and reduce the flow of conditioned air if the room/zone has reached the desired temperature.

The dampers can be placed inside the ducts (in-line dampers) or they can be placed on the air registers. In-line dampers are usually preferred in case a new HVAC system is being installed. The dampers are usually placed on the air registers during retrofit applications in which access to the ductwork is difficult or expensive.

By-pass damper.

A by-pass damper is a special kind of damper which is used to get rid of the excess pressure in the HVAC system. This happens during when most zones have signaled (through the thermostat) that no heating or cooling is currently needed. The conditioned air of the HVAC system would overstrain the remaining zones which still require heating or cooling. The by-pass damper deals with that excess pressure/conditioned air by channeling it to the return air register or directing it to a common section of the building, such as a hallway.

Is HVAC Zoning Recommended for All Sacramento Buildings?

HVAC zone control isn’t a requirement for all buildings even if every building can attain benefits from this upgrade. The situations below represent examples of those who would reap the greatest benefits from HVAC zoning.

Buildings with extensions. HVAC zoning can be helpful if an extension, such as an additional bedroom or finished basement, was added and has unique heating, cooling and air conditioning requirements. For example, a room added above the garage may be hotter than other bedrooms in a home. Zoning addresses the unique needs of such an extra room.

Multiple levels. Buildings with multiple levels need HVAC zoning since each of those levels is unlikely to have the same HVAC needs. For instance, the ground floor may be cooler than an upper floor during the summer.

Different occupancy levels. Buildings with sections that are rarely used can benefit from HVAC zoning. This is because the areas which aren’t used a lot can have their air conditioning turned off. Rooms with lots of occupants can also have their HVAC settings adjusted to address the needs of that larger number of people who may feel hotter than those who are in a room with fewer occupants.

Single-level homes may not require zoning unless a Sacramento HVAC professional inspects the building and recommends that zoning is necessary.

How Can HVAC Zoning Be Done?

The way in which HVAC zoning is done in Sacramento depends on two key factors. First, what zoning system have you selected? Secondly, when is the zoning being done?

HVAC zoning can be done by installing different HVAC systems for the different “zones” created in the building. Zoning can also be done by redesigning an existing system so that different rooms/zones can be controlled independently from other zones. Ductless air conditioning systems can also be used to zone a building.

The timing of the project also impacts on how it can be done. For example, a new building can have the zones designed prior to the selection of an HVAC system. In such a case, the ductwork will be installed with the zones in mind. However, retrofit situations may dictate that the least intrusive method. Such as installing dampers on air registers instead of inside ducts. Your heating and air conditioning professional in Sacramento can assess your specific situation and advise on how zoning should be done.

HVAC zoning can deliver numerous benefits, such as increased equipment life and lower energy bills, to homeowners in Sacramento. Discuss your needs with an HVAC replacement technician so that the best approach can be designed to zone the system in your home.