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HVAC Zoning Systems: Pros and Cons and How They Work

Published May 20, 2024 by Tony Spezza


You know the feeling– you go to turn on your heater, and it makes the basement toasty while you are shivering in your bedroom! What gives?

If your home suffers from poor HVAC ventilation, you are throwing away your hard earned cash with inefficient heating and cooling. Luckily, there is a solution that allows you to target your HVAC to certain areas of your home: zoning HVAC systems. 

An HVAC zoning system is the cutting edge of HVAC technology, using ductwork, dampers and minisplits to make your home more comfortable while actually lowering heating and cooling costs. If you’re tired of paying high utility bills for subpar HVAC, read on to learn more about how zoning HVAC systems may be part of the solution.

hvac zoning system

Table of Content

What Is an HVAC Zoning System 

So, what are zoning systems in HVAC? 

First, you have to understand a standard HVAC unit. 

Most homes have ductwork with multiple “arms” or runs that go from a single furnace and/or A/C unit. Fans are used to push this hot or cold air up through the ductwork and into various parts of the home. If the ducts are clogged or old fans cause air to be pumped unevenly through the ducts, you will end up with uneven heating and cooling. For these homes, a residential HVAC zoning system will use dampers and improved ductwork to target the hot or cold air to the desired part of the home

HVAC zoning is a broad term in the HVAC profession and it can refer to a few different HVAC systems. For example, most modern large homes already have some kind of HVAC zoning system. An easy way to tell is to look for more than one programmable thermostat. These different thermostats allow you to adjust the temperature in different areas of the house. 

But HVAC zoning systems are not just for large homes or even multi level homes. Many homes have multiple HVAC systems that run independently of each other. Usually, mini-split heaters and A/C’s that only work for the room in which they are installed. Even though there is no ductwork with a mini-split, it is still considered an HVAC zoning system. 

How Does an HVAC Zoning System Work?

Basically, an HVAC zoning system gives you more power over what areas of your home receive HVAC. This is achieved by diverting hot or cold air through a series of air dampers in the ductwork. 

For example, if you have a duct system that goes out from a main furnace or A/C, an HVAC zoning system can be installed that puts dampers in certain ducts, and those ducts can be closed to the areas of the home that are not in use. This is all done remotely via a programmable thermostat

These remotely controlled ductwork dampers can be set to work in tandem so that one area of the house or the other can receive HVAC at certain times of the day. They can also be set to run on timers, so you are only heating or cooling rooms that are in use, saving you from having to heat or cool your entire home. 

Is HVAC Zoning Worth It?

It is true that any home upgrade costs money. But it is also true that HVAC zoning saves money over time by customizing your utility usage. An HVAC zoning system allows you to customize the temperature in different parts of your home, such as cooling the living room during the day and your bedroom at night. 

Almost all homes and businesses can benefit from HVAC zoning, but it is especially useful for large homes, multi-level homes, or homes with sunrooms and high ceilings. Zoning HVAC systems are also great for homes with drafty windows, or homes that have seasonal use areas like a gym or a loft. 

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What Homes Benefit from HVAC zoning?

Here is a list of homes and businesses that might benefit from the installation of an HVAC zoning system: 

  • Homes with lots of tall windows or sunrooms
    • We love windows – but they can make a home hard to heat and cool. If you find that you are losing a lot of HVAC power in one or two areas of your home, HVAC zoning can help divert A/C and heating away from those areas 
  • Homes with old furnaces and ductwork
    • An HVAC system is really only as good as the ductwork and insulation. If you have a large drafty house and an old furnace, you may benefit from an updated HVAC zoning system or even a mini-split. 
  • Homes with lots of levels, such as basements or lofts
    • Why cool a room no one uses? If your home has lots of different floors that are unoccupied during certain times of the year, such as a guest suite or a basement, you might be a good candidate for an HVAC zone system.
  • Homes with areas of poor insulation
    • A lack of insulation is one of the leading causes of drafty, uncomfortable homes. By diverting the HVAC only to areas that are insulated, you can save money in a more comfortable environment 

Pros and Cons of Investing in an HVAC Zoning System

hvac zoning system

Still weighing the pros and cons of installing an HVAC zoning system? Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of HVAC zoning systems. 

Pros of HVAC Zoning Systems

Increased Energy Efficiency

HVAC zoning systems allow homeowners to choose what part of the home is heated or cooled and when. Using programmable thermostats, you can choose to turn off the HVAC for unused parts of the home, or to heat/cool the house for a certain amount of time. 

With smart thermostats, you can even choose how to run the HVAC system remotely. All of this helps conserve fuel and electricity, saving you money on utility bills.

In fact, the US Dept of Energy has stated that an HVAC zoning system, when properly used, can save the homeowner up to 30% in heating and cooling bills! 

Increased Air Quality

By limiting areas in your home where air is diverted, an HVAC zoning system improves air quality. Any dust that might escape your HVAC’s filtration won’t get circulated through the entire house.

In addition, zoning systems make it easy to locate and replace any clogged filters in the HVAC ductwork. With regular maintenance, an HVAC zoning system not only makes your air more comfortable but also safer! 

Temperature Control and Comfort

The ultimate goal of any HVAC system is to make your home comfortable. By installing an HVAC zoning system in your home you can customize the temperature of different “zones,” keeping the HVAC where you want it. 

This is all managed through programmable thermostats, which can be set to turn the HVAC zoning system off and on during certain times of the day. 

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Cons of HVAC Zoning Systems

hvac zoning system

Cost of Installation

As with any home project, the cost of a new HVAC zoning system will depend largely on your home and how much ductwork is already in place. 

If you only want one or two HVAC zones and your home or business already has the ductwork required, it may be less expensive than if there is inadequate ductwork present. 

However, even then the installation of the dampers and the correlating control panels involves labor and equipment costs. It is important to note that the cost of an HVAC zoning system installation is usually offset by savings in utility bills over time. 

How Much Does an HVAC Zoning System Cost?

Because HVAC zoning systems are custom, there is no one answer to how much an HVAC Zoning system will cost. It depends on how many HVAC zones you want installed, as each zone needs a programmable thermostat connected to air dampers, and that is assuming your home has proper ductwork already in place. 

The best way to find out what an HVAC zoning system would cost is to reach out to a trusted HVAC professional, such as AAA Heating and Cooling! Serving the greater Portland metro area for over fifty years, AAA Heating and Cooling offers HVAC repair, maintenance and installation at reasonable prices. 

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HVAC Zoning System Maintenance and Updates

In addition to the costs of installation, HVAC zoning systems do require regular maintenance to continue to function properly. This maintenance includes:

  • Updating smart programmable thermostats
  • Replacing clogged filters 
  • Cleaning the vents
  • Repairing and updating ductwork

If done regularly, this maintenance is not that costly. But if it lapses and breaks,your HVAC zoning system may be even more expensive to replace. 

Ductwork Might Be Required

Ductwork is complicated and depends heavily on how your home is built. If your home is relatively modern, it may already be set up for zoning with dedicated ductwork for different areas of your home.

 However, if your home is older, it may require more work to adapt to an HVAC zoning system, driving up the cost of installation. 

Using Ductless Mini-Splits for HVAC Zoning

If you are intimidated by the high cost of installing a duct based HVAC zoning system, consider instead a mini-split HVAC zoning system. 

This method of HVAC zoning involves installing a heater and AC directly into the areas that you want to heat or cool. The mini-split can be mounted directly onto the wall, onto the ceiling (this is called a “cassette” mini split) or onto the baseboards. These mini-splits disperse HVAC directly, without ductwork. They are controlled by programmable smart thermostats and are a great HVAC Zoning option for homeowners who do not have the ductwork needed for other HVAC zoning methods. 

Ready to learn more about this modern and cost effective HVAC zoning solution? Check out AAA Heating and Cooling. Talk to the experts on all things heating and cooling. The HVAC professionals at AAA are happy to help you decide which route is best for your home. Contact AAA Heating and Cooling today to learn more or receive a quote.  

AAA Heating & Cooling Can Help With the Installation and Maintenance of Your HVAC Zoning System

Home maintenance and improvement can be very overwhelming. With all the incurring costs of home ownership, it may be hard to feel like you are getting a good deal from contractors. When working on your home, you want the best service at the best price from a name you can trust. 

Enter AAA Heating & Cooling. Our Oregon based, family owned business has been providing service to Portland and the surrounding neighborhoods since 1961.

AAA Heating and Cooling provides quality HVAC services, repairs and installations as well as maintenance and diagnostics. If you are considering HVAC zoning systems for your home or business in the Portland, Oregon area reach out to AAA Heating and Cooling for a free estimate! 

hvac zoning system