Homeowners who want to save on utility bills and improve efficiency often turn to HVAC zoning. Another HVAC efficiency system that is becoming increasingly popular is the smart thermostat. Can you combine smart thermostats with zoning to double your energy savings? The answer to this question will depend on what sort of system and thermostat you are working with.
What Is Zoning?
HVAC zoning or HVAC zoned systems are a common way of reducing energy usage. In the typical household, not every part of the house is being used at once. Therefore, there is no reason to pay for heating and cooling every part equally. Zoning systems allow you to only heat or cool the part of the house you are actually in. They work based on the idea of dividing parts of your home into zones and adjusting your HVAC for each individual zone. This can greatly save on money and make your home more energy-efficient.
There are two different ways of handling zoning. One option is sensor-based zoning. This involves placing sensors in each zone. These sensors are then hooked up to a central thermostat that runs your central HVAC until an average is reached for all these temperatures or until the desired temperature for a specific zone is reached. This is a simple way to do casual zoning without having to replace your HVAC unit. For more fine-tuned control, you may prefer system-based zoning. This lets you install dampers within your HVAC system to control the flow of air or install individual air handlers in each room. This lets you get exactly the temperature you want in each zone.
Why Switch to Smart Thermostats?
Even if zoning is already giving you plenty of energy savings, a smart thermostat or programmable thermostat can still be helpful. A programmable thermostat can learn your habits, such as turning on the bedroom zone around 10 p.m. and then automatically handle the temperature change for you. Another convenient feature is that smart thermostats let you adjust temperatures from a phone, so you do not have to walk to the thermostat to change it.
Adding a smart thermostat to your system can provide energy savings of about 10% to 15%. The thermostat can do slight adjustments to your HVAC system, such as turning AC on when temperatures dip so that it runs less overall. A smart thermostat can also be set to turn off your HVAC when you are sleeping or at work, so you end up saving more money overall.
Should You Do Both Smart Thermostats and Zoning?
Whether or not you can do zoning alongside a smart thermostat will depend mostly on the types of systems you want to use. If you decide to use zoning sensors, you need to shop for a thermostat that is programmed to handle multiple inputs at once. If you want a damper zoning system, you need to carefully look at the wires used by the smart thermostat and see if they have the MISC and Damp wires needed for controlling dampers. It is often easier to find smart thermostats for damper zoned systems instead of smart thermostats for sensor zoning.
If your desired systems are compatible, then you can and should do zoning with smart thermostats. To get all the power-saving benefits of zoning, you need to carefully control and adjust the temperature throughout the home each day. A smart thermostat takes all the guesswork and effort out of this. By having another device handle all the temperature controls for you, you can get the most efficiency with the least amount of effort.
Potential Challenges of Doing Zoning With a Smart Thermostat
Ultimately, the primary challenge is just finding a zoning system and a smart thermostat that will work with each other. If you decide you want to do zoning alongside a smart thermostat, you need to choose your thermostats, sensors, and HVAC system carefully. You may need to consult with an HVAC professional before selecting your items. Another thing to keep in mind is that some types of zoned systems will require multiple smart thermostats to work correctly, so be prepared for the slightly higher expense.
Something else to consider is that smart thermostats rely on a little extra power compared to regular ones. The zone relay panels used in some zoned systems do not have enough power to keep a smart thermostat installed. Therefore, you might need to install a common, or “C,” wire to route more power to the thermostat.
How to Properly Zone With a Smart Thermostat
To get the most out of a zoning system, it needs to be properly designed. First, you need to start by examining your current HVAC system. If you have a system that is two-stage or variable-capacity with a variable speed blower, installing zoning is fairly easy. In some cases, your current HVAC system may not work well with zoning, so you may need to go ahead and have a new system installed as well.
Next, you need to identify zones. The average residential home will have two to four zones. A zone should be areas that are bounded by walls or that are in use at the same time of day. For example, you would not want your kitchen and guest bedroom to be in the same zone, since the guest bedroom is empty for days while the kitchen gets regular use. Most people set their living room, kitchen, and each bedroom as individual zones. However, if you have an unconventional layout, you may want to consider different settings.
Once you get the logistics of your zoning system set up, it is time to carefully program your smart thermostat. This is the most important step because you cannot save power unless your thermostats are set wisely. Think about the way you use your home, and then set up the thermostat accordingly. Areas that are not used for hours or days at a time, such as extra bedrooms, can be set 10 degrees higher in the summer or 10 degrees lower in the winter. While you sleep, all the rooms besides the bedroom can have their temperature adjusted. You should also remember to set your thermostat to turn up the AC when you leave throughout the house. By taking the time to program each zone separately, you can experience huge savings. Some fancier smart thermostats might seem a little confusing, but you can usually find helpful video tutorials and online guides that will show you how to set it up.
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