What You Need to Know About Zoned HVAC Systems

How many times have you walked into an area of your home and found that it was uncomfortably hot, or very chilly? How often do you set and reset the thermostat to different temperatures, trying to close the temperature gap between the upstairs and the downstairs? For many homeowners, this occurs almost daily. For homes with zoned HVAC systems, these challenges are greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.

Instead of having temperature swings throughout the entire home, a zoned HVAC system allows you to create multiple “zones” to address unique cooling or heating needs relevant to your comfort settings. Each zone is controlled independently with its own thermostat, breaking up areas with similar exposure into manageable pieces to ensure best overall comfort. A home could have as few as two or upwards of four zones on a standard zone system. With some enhancements, as many as eight zones are possible, depending on the size of a home and on the needs of its occupants.

With the influx of energy efficient building practices in Arizona, the majority of new construction homes are designed with zoned HVAC systems.  Most existing forced-air systems can be converted or retrofitted to accommodate zone control as well. Here’s an easy guide to everything you need to know about zoned HVAC systems.

How zoned cooling and heating systems work

Zoned systems use electronically controlled dampers to manage the flow of cooled or heated air throughout the home. Dampers are valves that can be opened or closed depending on temperature demands, according to thermostat input.

The main components of a zoned HVAC system include:

Zone dampers

Zone dampers are installed in the ductwork. They regulate and control air flow to the designated zones in the home. Zone dampers are wired to a given zone by the control panel.

Bypass dampers

When air pressure in the ducts gets too high due to certain zones closing, bypass dampers can relieve it. Bypass dampers aren’t always needed but provide a valuable failsafe to protect the equipment and reduce noise.


Thermostats send a signal when the zoned area is too hot, or too cold, so that the control panel can adjust the temperature. Each zone has its own thermostat for enhanced control over the dynamic environment of the home.

Zone control panel

The zone control panel serves as the central command center for all zones. It handles communication between the dampers and thermostats, and the HVAC system itself.

The benefits

There’s a reason why so many new homes come equipped with zoned systems. Once you experience the upsides, it’ll be hard to remember how you ever lived without them. The benefits of a zoned HVAC system include:

Balanced temperature distribution

Most two-story or multi-level homes have uneven heating or cooling problems due to the fact that heat always rises, leaving the upper floors considerably warmer. These problems can be heightened by factors like window placement and the direction that the home faces. A zoned system can counter uneven heating and cooling by raising/lowering the temperature in areas that are prone to being too hot or too cold. Drafty home offices and stuffy guest rooms alike can stay comfortable with the help of a zoned system.

Energy savings

Rather than paying a premium to bring your entire home to a certain temperature, a zoned HVAC system allows you to lower your monthly energy consumption by putting the system to work heating and cooling the areas where it is needed, without having to alter the comfort level in the rest of the home.

Zoning strategies ensure that the system can cool or heat a home efficiently and effectively, reducing equipment runtime and energy consumption in the process. For example, it takes less energy to cool the east and north sides of a home versus the south and west sides. The more zones you have, the greater your control over the heating and cooling demands of your home, which increases your potential for energy savings.

Lower energy consumption means lower monthly energy bills. This can offset the initial costs of having a zoned HVAC system installed in place of your existing one. However, it’s important that your zoned HVAC system is both installed and maintained by a contractor who’s familiar with their ins and outs. Inexperienced contractors may install the system and its dampers incorrectly, which can lead to problems with efficiency.

The right home for a zoned system

The average home can greatly benefit from the enhanced comfort and convenience, as well as significant energy savings, which a zoned HVAC system provides. That said, some households stand to gain more from a zoned system than others. You should heavily consider a zoned HVAC system if:

  • You have large, drafty windows in your home
  • The top floor of your home always feels warmer than the lower floor(s)
  • Certain areas in your home always feel stuffy or chilly
  • You have specific areas, like a “thumb room” (a room that sticks out, with three sides exposed to the outside, and one interior wall), with greater exposure to the outside
  • Your home has large open areas with vaulted ceilings or lofts

Zoning vs Separate Systems

If you have a multi-level home, installing two systems, one upstairs and one downstairs, is an alternative to installing a zoned system. However, installing two systems isn’t always the best course of action. In fact, a zoning system can be less expensive to install.  With the ease of modern zoning solutions, and the benefits of greater energy savings not having to power additional appliances, zoning is an affordable and effective solution to many comfort challenges. Homes with two systems may also be effectively zoned to enhance the performance of the equipment and improve the general feel of the home without the added frustration of spending several thousands of dollars to achieve a desired level of comfort.

Chas Roberts: Zoned HVAC expertise

Many contractors and companies don’t have the experience and knowledge necessary to work with zoned systems. Instead of leaving your system in the hands of someone who may not know what they’re doing, trust the experts who have installed and maintained over one million units in Arizona. Chas Roberts offers and repairs the following zoned systems:

Whether you need help with your zoned system, are interested in upgrading to one, or have other HVAC questions, contact our Comfort Specialists today. You’ll experience superior service and unmatched attention to detail every step of the way, as we work to ensure your home stays comfortable for the whole family for years to come.