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Zoned Heating and Cooling Systems 

From the first blast of winter through the dog days of summer, it is a domestic power struggle more fierce than the competition for the television remote control. When one thermostat controls the temperature for an entire house, it produces predictable results that pit husband against wife and basement playroom against upstairs office in "The Battle of the Thermostat". 

Good CentsThe war begins when dad turns the thermostat down because the family room is too warm. A few minutes later mom turns up the thermostat because the bedroom is too cold. Eventually, someone is opening a window or closing a vent to get the temperature just right, and no one is really comfortable. But there's a better solution than family feuds or dressing in layers. 

Zoned heating and cooling systems allow you to control the temperature of each room individually. By using a series of motorized dampers and thermostats that work independently, zoning can eliminate hot or cold rooms found in almost every home, while cutting energy by up to 25 percent, according to Anne Drake, a spokeswoman for Honeywell's zone control systems. 

    "People like to save energy, but they don't like to sacrifice comfort," said Drake. "Energy savings used to be the key thing in people's minds when it came to air conditioning and heating, now comfort is also a major consideration. When you sit down and explain to people what zoning does from a cost efficiency standpoint, you are basically them comfort in their home."
Zoning IllustrationSimple laws of physics illustrate why it is virtually impossible to keep an entire house at a consistent temperature without zoning. Warm air rises while cold air sinks, leaving upstairs rooms six to ten degrees warmer and basements six to ten degrees cooler than ground level rooms. A single thermostat keeps the temperature balanced in the room where it is located, but can't tell if the temperature has changed in other rooms of the house. Zoning helps maintain a consistent temperature throughout the house by providing different levels of air distribution to different areas of the home. 

Zone controlled systems divide a home into areas with common heating and cooling needs during specific parts of the day. Air flow is controlled in each area by a separate thermostat. Instead of sending the same amount of heated or cooled air into all room every time the furnace or air conditioner is turned on, the system sends conditioned air only to the zones that need it. Temperaturs can be kept at an ideal comfort level when the family is up and about, then changed to an energy-saving temperature overnight or when the family is away. 

For example, in a typical two-story house, the main floor with the living room, kitchen and dining area, is usually occupied during the evenings. Bedrooms are occupied mostly at night and in the early morning. With zoning, you can cool or heat one area of the house at a time. You can also select different temperature settings for each zone of the house. In most homes, a two or three zone system is sufficient. Rarely does a home equire more than three zones. 

Most homes can be zoned according to room occupancy, but unique exposure factors may require a different zoning strategy. A room with large amounts of glass facing south or west will have more heat gain than other rooms in the home. A separate zone might be required for that room alone! 

At an average price of $1,200, zone control systems provide a cost efficient alternative to dual air systems that require separate air conditioners and furnaces for different areas of the house, according to Ron Reinhardt of Research Products Corporation. "It justs makes sense. You become more comfortable in your home, and you save money." 

Zone control is especially effective in homes that have multiple levels, spawling designs, large glass windows, or large open areas such as an atrium or solarium. Existing homes with finished basements, attic spaces and additions are also good candidates for zoning. Almost all forced air systems can be converted for zone control, according to Reinhardt. "A control panel, thermostats, dampers and the proper duct work are all it takes." 

Builders are still learning about zone control systems, even though HVAC contractors have been installing them for the last five years or more. Zoning is still be introduced in some regions of the United States and has been well received by the home-buying public. 

    "Almost every time I sat down to write contract with a home buyer, the first thing they wanted added to their home was zone heating and air conditioning," said Dennis Belk, a division manager for Dobson Builders in Greenville, South Carolina. Dobson has made zoned controlled heating and air a standard feature in homes priced over $120,000.
While still in it's infancy, zoning is to heating and cooling what the light switch is to lighting. Virtually all homes come equipped with more than one light switch, and one day soon, homes may come with more than one thermostat. 
Sharon Ray is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Ga.

Copyright © 1996-99 Good Cents Energy Services 

UDA Idea Workshop Journal

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