Single-Zone vs. Multi-Zone HVAC

Modern innovation has given us HVAC technology that is more advanced—and more energy-efficient—than ever before. This improvement in energy efficiency has had a multitude of benefits, both in terms of environmental impact and cost savings for the user. Among the most state-of-the-art heating and cooling technology is “zoned” HVAC, of which there are two main types: single-zone and multi-zone HVAC.

What’s the difference between these two methods of heating and cooling? Which one would be best for your home? If you decide that zoned HVAC is right for you, how do you go about getting it installed? We’ll try to answer those questions here.

What Is Zoned HVAC?

Zoned HVAC is so named because it allows you to control the airflow from your heating and cooling unit, directing it to specific areas, or zones” of the home. In this way, you can achieve unprecedented customization of the temperature in any given room. You’ll save money on your energy costs because, unlike more traditional HVAC methods, you won’t waste power heating or cooling rooms you aren’t currently using. Experts estimate you can reduce your energy usage by anywhere from 30 to 60 percent with these methods.

You can also avoid fighting with other members of your household about what the temperature should be: each of you can have a room set to your exact specifications.

Each room in a house has specific needs as well, and zoned HVAC can help to accommodate this. For example, a room on the top floor of a house is likely to get warmer than lower rooms, simply because warm air rises. Crank up the air conditioning in a traditional HVAC system, though, and the rest of the rooms will become unbearably cold. With a zoned HVAC system, however, you’ll be able to tweak the temperature of each room so that they’re all just as warm or just as cool as you would like.

Zoned HVAC systems are also smaller and less intrusive than older, outdated methods of heating and cooling the home. Traditional air conditioners are bulky and loud and use a ton of power. Zoned HVAC systems don’t have this problem.

How Does It Work?

A zoned HVAC system utilizes a condenser, which is the portion of an HVAC unit that collects heat in order to transfer it from place to place. It’s made from a condenser coil, which is usually made from copper, and contains a coolant of some sort. This coil is what absorbs heat in order to either heat or cool a room. A fan is then used to transfer the heated—or cooled—air into the room.

Traditional heating methods require some way to generate the heat they use, hence the need for bulky furnaces, powered by expensive fuel, and other intrusive equipment. Modern-day heat pumps, however, utilize ambient heat from the environment to achieve their heating or cooling effect. As a result, they take up far less space and use far less power while also being able to operate as both a heater and an air conditioner.

Single-Zone HVAC

A single-zone HVAC system is, as you might guess from the name, designed to be used for a single area of the home. It’s essentially an HVAC system for one area. It’s small but powerful enough to get the room to your desired temperature. It does not, however, have the ability to heat multiple rooms at the same time. You’ll have to buy multiple single-zone HVAC units in order to control the temperature of multiple rooms.

The biggest benefit of single-zone HVAC is for add-on rooms. By using one, you won’t have to go through the cost and trouble of connecting your other heating unit to that room. It’s also perfect for heating and cooling areas that don’t have ducts or where ducts would be too difficult to install.

Multi-Zone HVAC

A multi-zone HVAC system works in the same general manner as a single-zone unit. It utilizes a condenser to draw heat out of the air and then distributes heated (or cooled) air throughout the room. The primary difference is that a multi-zone unit must be connected to a system of ductwork in order to distribute air throughout several different regions in the home.

Because a multi-zone HVAC system has to affect multiple rooms, it must be more powerful than a single-zone system. As a result, the condenser must be larger and bulkier. However, you won’t need multiple condensers to heat multiple rooms, as you will with a smaller unit. The system can also be controlled by using one thermostat as opposed to multiple.

So, Which Do I Pick?

Choosing whether to opt for a multi-zone HVAC or a single-zone HVAC depends entirely on your individual needs. If you’re trying to heat a home that doesn’t have ductwork, such as an older home or an unusually structured building, single-zone may be best, since its installation won’t be invasive. On the other hand, if you already have an established system of ducts in your house, then a multi-zone HVAC can be installed in such a way that takes advantage of that.

Your preferences with regard to control also affect what type of HVAC system you opt for. Since one of the primary benefits of zoned HVAC systems is that you have individual control over the various rooms in your home, you might opt for a single-zone simply for the fact that you can just adjust the temperature in any room that has one, without ever leaving the room. Single-zone HVAC systems are also more individually powerful, meaning you’ll need to use less energy if you’re generally just heating one or two areas.

Who Can Install It for Me?

Installing HVAC units should only ever be left in the hands of the most highly trained professionals. Installed correctly, your zoned HVAC system can save you thousands of dollars over the course of its lifetime. But if your contractor doesn’t install the system in the right way, you may not be able to take full advantage of the benefits.

To ensure that your heating and cooling system is installed properly, contact a contractor from a reputable, licensed company such as Entek. They will ensure that you’re able to reap the benefits of your single- or multi-zone HVAC system for years to come.