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HVAC Zone Controls & Zoning Dampers

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Fact or Myth? #HVAC #Zonecontrol can save energy

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SmartZone zone control

First of all, if you are not familiar with HVAC Zoning (Zone control) for your home you can click here and learn more about how it works.

Sometimes, zoning is pitched as a device that can be added to your current HVAC system that will "save you energy" because you are able to turn "off" heating and cooling to areas that are not being used.  Sounds good, right?  Well...there a "but."  This as actually a highly debated or more aptly put... highly contested claim among HVAC professionals.

The simple fact is that it isn't a simple answer but the simplest version is:  HVAC Zoning CAN save energy in some applications.

Not all applications of zoning are intended to save energy, some are set up to optimize comfort.  In these situations, energy savings may not the top priority but it can still be set up to help save energy when the comfort is not in demand.

Zoning puts the control in the hands of the user (homeowner) via the thermostats.  These thermostats can be set to optimize energy savings or comfort... or, most likely, somewhere in between.

Some believe the primary purpose of zoning is comfort & I would agree, but, SmartZone can be used in some applications to save energy by reducing necessary run-time.

As far as I have found there have been very few and NO independent studies on the energy savings capabilities of hvac zone control but I have personally been in the industry for 14 years and I believe I know why.  Every test I have seen is try to prove some % of energy savings and yet there is a flaw with even the question that is being asked.  The problem with this question is that it is looking for an automatic percentage saving when zoning is installed.  I think this gets to the heart of why the professionals that dispute zone control's ability to "save energy" do so. 

This is an IMPORTANT NOTE:  HVAC Zone Control by itself will NOT save energy.  However, it CAN be used to save energy.

A proper study to prove that zone control CAN save energy would be straight-forward.   Two identical houses with identical hvac systems, one with a 2 zone system & the other with a single thermostat.  On the house with zoning, set one thermostat to OFF 12 hours per day and the other thermostat to run a normal 24hr / 7 day schedule.  The thermostat schedule should be the same as the 24hr / 7 day schedule in the house with only one thermostat.  This study would show that zoning can save energy if used in certain ways.

SmartZone has been around since 2004 and we have over 200,000 installed in the field.  We have seen direct feedback that empirically shows energy savings, not just in isolated cases but in extremely high volume.  First hand, real-world experience shows that it can be done, but it also shows that in cases where comfort is the priority... energy savings isn't a guarantee with zone control.

Check out SmartZone at ZoningSupply.com

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2016 USER QUESTIONS - SmartZone Advanced

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QUESTION: I have two 9580 thermostats one in the office, the other in the main hangar bay (two zones).  When heating both zones or only the hangar, I need the furnace to go full blower with normal scheduling through stages 1 and 2.  When servicing only the small office area, I don't want the system to advance from stage 1.  Unfortunately, the office is so small and the modulating schedule of the furnace is still too much airflow for the office (the zone bypass when servicing the office is the main hangar modulating damper that is controlled via SPC (excess dumps into hangar)).  This damper will be wide open during call for hangar heat.  The main damper control logic is managed through a 3PDT  24 Vac relay. So, I need to block out stage 2 from only 1 zone (office).  The zone ramping schedule of the 9580 works well with the 100k modulating furnace control board, and would like to keep that capability. 

ANSWER: Configure the zone 1 thermostat connector STAT TYPE to G2 (conventional gas/electric) or H2 (heat pump) to allow the thermostat to control staging and use the hangar thermostat on zone 1. Wire only the stage 1 circuits (Y1 and W1) on the office thermostat to the zone 2 thermostat connector (Also connect R, C and G wires). Set dipswitch 4 to the LOCKOUT position. This will configure the zone controller to allow 2nd stage only when the hangar thermostat calls for 2nd stage regardless of whether the office thermostat is calling. When the office thermostat is calling and the hangar thermostat is not, SmartZone will not allow 2nd stage to operate.


I called last week to inquire about using this zone controller in a hangar that had a small office area and a large bay. I advised the call taker that I had Honeywell 9580. I also asked about the capability of the zone controller to handle the smaller office area’s lower CFM requirement and whether or not I could defeat the step-up from W1/Y1 to W2/Y2. I was told that the controller can be set up to defeat the stage step-ups.

After reading the manual, I found that there are no multi-stage inputs on the controller board from thermostats. So, basically, the capabilities of the Honeywell 9580 are wasted. Also, the stage defeat is for the whole system, not zone-specific as I need. It would be pointless to defeat stage increases while heating/cooling a large hangar space

ANSWER: The SmartZone controller typically controls staging based on the total system conditions which is the most efficient way to operate a multi-zoned multi-staged hvac system. However, the zone1 thermostat connector on SmartZone can be configured to allow the thermostat to control staging (refer to the top of page 10 of the installation manual). When the zone1 thermostat is configured for staging the ability to lockout 2nd stage with only 1 zone calling is disabled. With the thermostat controlling staging your ability to limit staging will be determined by the features of your Honeywell 9580 instead of the SmartZone control.


I have a honeywell mastertrol2 mm2, i wanted to update my thermostats but my zone controller has separate b and o wires going to thermostats . Will updating my zone controller to a smart zone 2 help this problem?

ANSWER: Updating your zone controller to a SmartZone 2 zone controller will allow you to use any 24VAC thermostat. SmartZone controls are designed to be universally compatible with 24VAC thermostats including WI-FI models used to control your thermostat remotely through the internet on your smart phone or tablet. You should be able to connect any 24VAC thermostat to a SmartZone control without any problems.


Do you have a digital thermostat that you recommend or sell to go with SmartZone?
From ecobee.com

From ecobee.com

ANSWER: ZoningSupply does not carry thermostats, however, SmartZone controllers are compatible with any 24VAC powered 5 or 6 wire thermostat. Popular brands our customers install with SmartZone include Honeywell, ICM, Braeburn, Nest, Ecobee, Aprilaire, Lux, Lyric,  and MANY others. We suggest you avoid using low priced 'power stealing' thermostats as they may cause intermittent issues if your utility power fluctuates. Power stealing thermostats are typically low priced and can be identified by the lack of a C (common) terminal on the thermostat wall mounting plate.
If you are looking for a WiFi thermostat check out this other article:

http://zoningsupply.com/blog/best-wifi-thermostat-for-zoning

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