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Keeping Your Home in the Comfort Zone

April 01, 2001|JAMES DULLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: To heat my home more economically, I considered a setback thermostat, but our family's daily schedule is never the same. Also, someone is always too warm or chilly year-round. Is a whole-house zoning system the answer for us?

Answer: Adding a zoning system is the answer for almost any home, and I would not be surprised if it becomes standard equipment in every new home within 10 years. Installing a zoning system can cut your heating and air-conditioning costs by 10% to 20% while actually improving your comfort.

When you think about it, you would laugh at having only one light switch that turns on every light in your home. This is how your furnace and air conditioner work. Most homes have just one wall thermostat, so if the room that contains it requires heating or cooling, the entire house gets it too, needed or not.

The concept of zoning a home is very simple. Thermostats are installed in several areas (zones) of your home. It is possible to have a separate thermostat for each room; however, for most homes, the lower utility bills would not justify the cost. Two to four zones are usually adequate.

Each thermostat has a damper in its heating duct. If one zone needs more heat, but the other zones are warm enough, the one damper opens and the others close. The furnace starts to force heated air only to the zone that needs more heat.

The system is programmable. There is no need to keep the bedrooms toasty after everyone is up. You can set the bedroom zone thermostat to lower the temperature after 8 a.m. and warm it again at 10 p.m. and to lower the kitchen temperature at 10 p.m. and raise it at 7 a.m.

The best systems have automatic heating-cooling changeover for comfort and savings. If one zone needs cooling, the air conditioner cools only that zone. If another room is too cold, the furnace heats only that zone.

Many systems have mechanical dampers that slip into existing ducts. With these, only a small slot needs to be cut into the duct.

Another design uses compressed air instead of motors. Still another uses a balloon inside a short length of duct. This is inserted into the existing duct. To block air flow to a room, a small air pump fills the balloon.

Modulating dampers vary the air flow to each zone instead of being totally opened or closed, as standard dampers are. These provide the best comfort control.

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Write for (instantly download at http://www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 505, a buyer's guide to 12 home zoning system manufacturers, listing number of zones, type and size of dampers, control-comfort features and a utility bill savings chart. Please include $3 and a business-size, self-addressed stamped envelope and mail to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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