October 20, 2020

Traditionally, American residences have had an air conditioner and/or furnace that provides cooled and heated air to the entire home through a duct system. In these scenarios, a single thermostat has a target temperature that it maintains for the entire house. This approach can be less than ideal both in terms of comfort and energy consumption and cost. Setting your preferred sleeping temperature, for instance, means that you are paying to heat or cool entire areas of your home that will go unused for hours.

The alternative to this whole-home approach is zoning. A zoned HVAC system has two or more discrete sectors that can have their own temperatures and other comfort settings. It allows you, for example, to maintain the upstairs cooler than the downstairs or vice versa. One of the modern HVAC innovations enhancing this concept of zoned heating and cooling is the smart thermostat.

What Equipment Is Required for Zoning?

There is no one-size-fits-all HVAC zoning implementation. Your configuration will depend on a number of factors, including the unique layout of your home and whether the home is new construction or an existing building that is being retrofitted.

There are two basic approaches to zoning. One uses a single air conditioner and furnace but features an advanced variable-speed air handler that can adjust the pressure balance in the system as zones are fully or partially opened or closed. The second approach has an air conditioner and a furnace but an additional heat pump and usually a variable-speed air handler.

Two zones are most common in both cases, but many more are possible, and larger homes can have even more equipment than the configurations described above in order to meet the needs of the home. A smart thermostat is not absolutely necessary, but it does make zoning more convenient and efficient.

How Does a Smart Thermostat Enhance Zoning?

Basic thermostats require you to have a dedicated thermostat for each zone. If you have an upstairs zone and a downstairs zone, two separate thermostats may not be a major downside, but having to go downstairs just to change the temperature in that zone can be a tad inconvenient. A smart thermostat can provide you access to the entire home from any interface. You can still have multiple thermostats for convenience, but they can control any zone in the home. They can also allow you to control them remotely such as from your phone while you are lying in bed and getting ready to turn in for the night.

Support for Multiple Zones

Many of the most popular smart thermostat models on the market provide support for at least eight zones, and you can get support for even more if needed for a large home. Smart thermostats let you have recognizable names for your zones and provide separate settings for each. As zoned systems have become more advanced, so have smart thermostats. You can, for instance, control the second-floor zone as a whole but also control the bedrooms as a subzone, which helps to conserve even more energy.

Controlling Your Thermostat Remotely

If you are going to invest in a zoned cooling and heating system for your home, it is highly recommended that you invest in Wi-Fi-capable smart thermostats as well. Smart thermostats with Wi-Fi capabilities can connect to the Internet via your home network. Most such thermostats have a dedicated app that you can use on your smartphone and other devices. This feature lets you adjust the zones in your home while on the couch watching TV, at the office, or riding the train on your way home from work. Mobile support also makes alerts and geofencing possible. Geofencing allows your system to adjust temperatures automatically when it senses that no family members are currently home.

Reduced Energy Consumption and Costs

Zoned systems allow for greater comfort. It allows different people to use various areas of the home for distinct purposes to choose a temperature that best suits those situations. They also allow you to reduce your energy consumption and thus your costs. The EPA estimates that the average home can cut energy costs by 10% to 30% through the use of a smart thermostat. Having a zoned system makes it easier to maximize those savings because you are providing the thermostat with even more potential.

Behavioral Learning

The EPA advises that even a programmable thermostat can achieve those estimated savings, but the problem with a basic programmable thermostat is that you have to program it. In other words, its performance is only as good as the effort you put into analyzing your energy consumption. Many smart thermostats employ behavioral learning. They track your usage and employ algorithms to recognize patterns. The thermostat can then adjust the programming for you based on those patterns. It can also adjust to exceptions, such as when you work a half-day and return home in the middle of the afternoon.

Logging and Reporting

Another useful feature of many smart thermostats is the ability to log data. If you have a Wi-Fi-capable smart thermostat, it can store that data in the cloud, which eliminates local storage space concerns. Modern smart thermostats have an onboard chip dedicated to analyzing that collected data and providing you reports. These reports can show you how you are using and wasting energy, and having a zoned system enriches these reports by allowing you to see this usage on a more granular level.

Air Quality Monitoring

If you have a zoned system, then you probably have CO2 sensors. It is, after all, code in most jurisdictions. But modern smart thermostats allow for even more sensors. You can have sensors, for instance, that detect pollution levels in the home, and your thermostat can provide alerts when danger levels are reached. You do not need zoning to have this kind of monitoring, but this is another case where it enriches the technology. You can see where the problem areas are and target them specifically.

Interfacing With Other Smart Devices

The smart thermostat may be the original smart home device, but these technologies have evolved at a staggering pace since the early 2000s. There are smart home assistants with speakers and displays, smart outlets, smart light switches, smart security cameras, smart ceiling fans, and so on and so forth. When these devices are Wi-Fi capable, they can communicate with each other either directly through an ad hoc mesh or through your home network. This exchange of data allows for even greater possibilities. Imagine your HVAC system enabling smart ceiling fans and receiving data from a smart shade that has just closed because the direct sunlight had gotten too intense.

Your Cooling and Heating Zoning Experts

If you are considering zoned heating and cooling for your home or want to pick out new smart thermostats for an existing system, Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating in Hanover is here to help. We are a locally owned and operated HVAC company that has zoning and smart thermostat experts on staff and offers a full range of heating, cooling, and indoor air quality services. Call us today or contact us online with any questions about zoning and smart thermostats or to schedule an appointment!

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