In the technology age, consumers have grown accustomed to being able to customize just about every experience in their lives, from how fast their online shipment will arrive to how strong their morning coffee, ordered via an app, will be. But many homeowners are missing out on an excellent way to optimize daily comfort and energy efficiency: zoned air conditioning.
Basically, zoned air conditioning allows a homeowner to cool some parts of the home more than others. This may not sound like such a big deal, but consider all of the parts of your home that you don’t regularly visit: laundry rooms, half baths, finished basements, studies or home offices. Chances are, your lifestyle keeps you frequenting some rooms more than others. What’s the benefit, then, in cooling all rooms equally? There isn’t one! Enter zoned air conditioning.
Instead of accessing one main thermostat, a homeowner with a zoned air conditioning system can access several thermostats throughout the home. You can adjust each thermostat to a different temperature, giving you a great deal of control over the indoor environment in your home both day and night. This is achieved by the presence of zone valves, which as Donna Boyle Schwartz writing for BobVila.com explains, “[control] the flow of water in a hydronic heating system. Inside the valve, an actuator opens and closes the valve based on the thermostat setting for that zone. Zone valves are available in two- or three-way valve configurations and in various connection types… allowing homeowners to customize the system for different floor plans and different-size zones.” Zone valves, she continues, can be used with a large variety of hydronic, or hot water, heating systems.
But fear not: if you have a forced air system, dampers installed in ductwork can produce the same effect, making a zoned heating system a possibility for your home, too. Some homes are equipped with two separate air conditioning units to achieve zoned cooling. This is most common in smaller homes, and the two zones are often comprised of the first and second floors of the home. This is sufficient for smaller spaces which heat and cool quickly. Larger homes or homes with unique architectural features benefit from a single air conditioning unit eqiupped with several thermostats throughout the home that all communicate with a main control panel. This panel signals the opening and closing of various dampers in the ducts in order to redirect air flow.
While zoned air conditioning has a high potential to make any kind of home more comfortable, this approach to cooling your home is particularly useful for certain homeowners. AngiesList.com provides a helpful overview of which homes might benefit the most from zoned air conditioning: “homes with certain architectural features often see the biggest energy savings. Some of those features include: High (cathedral) ceilings; Above-garage room or apartment; Lots of large windows; Basement or attic living space; A loft or sunroom; Multiple stories” Zoned air conditioning might also be a real plus if you live in a home with multiple family members or roommates who have strong temperature preferences or who often disagree about what temperature the home should be.
While it is obvious that greater control over the temperature of each zone of your home will lead to a more comfortable indoor environment, what may be less obvious is the energy savings that a zoned heating system can bring. By controlling the flow of hot air and directing it only toward the areas of your home that really need it, you will use less energy and lessen the burden on your HVAC system. Both of these benefits add up to long-term savings, whether you are looking at your lowered energy bill or enjoying a well-functioning HVAC system that lasts longer and requires fewer service calls repairs.
Beyond the creature comforts of being able to adjust each room’s temperature, zoned cooling introduces significant energy savings. The ability to restrict air flow to rooms that don’t need it doesn’t just mean less overall energy use, but increased ability for your AC unit to cool other rooms more efficiently. All of this adds up to a system that is not taxed as heavily as a traditional AC system, and that means fewer service calls and repairs and more peace of mind. On the other hand, zoned systems are more complex than traditional ones. So, installation is more costly. Also, more parts can mean more expenses should a repair be needed.
Zoned air conditioning might be just what the doctor ordered for your home cooling needs. If not, check back next time for another approach to keeping your indoor living space cool and comfortable this summer!
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Robert W. Vaughan,
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Thomas J. Weaver,
Master Plumber Lic # 9521