Do You Need a Zoned HVAC System?

by Michael Franco
close up image of an blue module attached to hvac ductwork  The module reads  45 degree rotation

For many homeowners, maintaining a constant, comfortable indoor temperature can be a bit of a challenge. Whether it’s a particular room that’s too hot or too cold, or an entire section of your house that just feels like it’s never getting enough airflow, temperature imbalance can be a tricky problem to solve.

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In addition to negatively impacting your overall comfort level, a temperature imbalance signals a decrease in your home’s overall energy efficiency, ultimately meaning that you’re spending more on energy bills than you should.

Enter HVAC zoning. It’s one of the most effective ways to fix the problem of temperature imbalance, while offering other benefits as well.

What Is a Zone-Control HVAC System?

In simplest terms, zoned HVAC systems separate your heating and cooling system by rooms or “zones” in order to deliver distinct temperature levels to different areas of your home. Unlike traditional HVAC systems, zoning allows you to set individual comfort levels for each section of your home, helping conserve energy in the process. For example, zoning allows you to keep your bedrooms cooler at night, while focusing your AC’s efforts on the living areas during the day.

How Does a Zone-Control System Work?

To make all of this great customization possible, zoned HVAC systems rely on a number of electronically controlled dampers installed either in your air vents or AC ducts. Depending on what zone is in use, the HVAC zone dampers will open or close to deliver airflow to a particular zone, on an as-needed basis. Because each zone utilizes its own thermostat, you’re able to customize the comfort level for each section of your house as you see fit. All you need to do is control the thermostat in each zone, and the electronic dampers will do the rest. If you use smart thermostats, you can adjust the temperatures at any time from a central location.

Benefits of a Zoned HVAC System

The main benefit of a zoned HVAC system is personalized comfort levels. Zoning will allow you to control each section of your home independently. Do you find yourself at odds with your other family members as to what temperature is most comfortable? Well, zoning your HVAC system can help keep everyone in your home happy and comfortable by allowing you to adjust temperatures in each section of your home accordingly.

But the advantages of a zoned HVAC system don’t end there: Zoning your HVAC also helps conserve energy. By diverting air away from areas that don’t always need it, you’ll be using less energy without sacrificing comfort. Where in the past you may have relied on closing air vents in particular rooms to adjust comfort levels, the electronically controlled dampers allow for a much tighter seal, adding to the overall increase in energy efficiency.

Last (but certainly not least), installing a zoned HVAC system helps create a more even temperature throughout your home. By addressing temperature levels by zone, this system allows areas that are naturally colder or warmer to get the extra airflow they need without allowing airflow into other parts of the home.

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Disadvantages of HVAC Zoning

HVAC zoning, as compared to a traditional HVAC system, is a significant upfront investment. While owning a zoned HVAC system will ultimately help you save on energy costs in the long run, the upfront costs might prove prohibitive to many homeowners, costing anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 (CAD 2,700 and CAD 4,100), according to Forbes.

Additionally, because of their inherent complexity, a zoned HVAC system requires professional maintenance to keep things running smoothly. Not only that, but as you can expect from a system with more equipment and moving parts, repairs can be costlier and more time-consuming.

Are Zoned HVAC Systems Worth It?

While zoned systems can be installed in nearly any home with an existing HVAC system, zoning isn’t always necessary. For example, in larger, two-story homes with plenty of space to section the home into zones, this type of system works best. If your home has a basement, an attic living space, high ceilings or rooms above a garage, HVAC zoning might prove beneficial. However, if you have a smaller home where zoning doesn't really make sense, you might be able to forgo the expense of installing such a system.

Whether a zoned HVAC system is worth adding to your home depends on a number of factors, but in the right situation, it can really change the game for the overall comfort of your home.