Heating Zones: How to Create in Your Home
LESLIE: Doug’s listening to The Money Pit on KSRO. What’s going on at your house?
DOUG: Well, I live – and it’s fairly new construction – in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. And I live in a three-story home. It’s actually two stories with a walk-out basement. And the top floor has my kids’ bedrooms with its own furnace and air conditioning.
DOUG: And then the main floor has another separate furnace but the lower level walk-out is all hooked into the main floor thermostat.
DOUG: Needless to say, in the winter it’s cold downstairs when it’s nice on the main floor. And the question I had was isn’t there a way that I could break up the lower floor with the main floor on the main floor furnace to get separate heat?
TOM: Do you have – this is a forced air system?
DOUG: Yes, it’s gas forced air.
TOM: You can put zone dampers in but that’s going to require you to put some new ductwork in. You know, much like a hot water system where you have one loop of pipe for one area and that’s called a zone, in a ducted system you can also have a loop of duct and that could be a zone. And then you use a motorized zone damper to control the flow of air to that particular area.
This is a situation where you’re probably not going to have the best possible resolution because the house is already under construction. So let me ask you this. Is the thermostat sort of being fooled into coming on more than it needs to because it’s picking up a temperature in that walk-out space?
DOUG: Well, no. The thermostat’s actually up on – in the main floor in the great room.
DOUG: And so say when I have that at 67 degrees and it’s reached that temperature, if I’m downstairs in the family room, you know, it’s probably a good five, seven, ten degrees cooler down there.
TOM: Is the family room a place where you guys spend most of your time?
DOUG: That’s where we put the kids and all my exercise equipment’s there.
LESLIE: So to even get that to a comfortable temperature you’ve got to crank it up upstairs and then be sweating.
DOUG: Or put in plug-in heaters which, you know, of course I don’t want to do that.
TOM: Well yeah, I was going to say that this is a situation where some additional electric resistance heating units on a thermostat might make sense. Even though it’s an expensive form of heat, it really depends on how much of it you’re going to need to use. You’re going to need supplemental heat. No matter how you look at this, you’re going to need supplemental heat. Even zoning this I’m not so sure is going to do it.
I would say that probably the best steps are this. The first thing that you should do, Doug, is get an HVAC contractor in to determine how difficult it’ll be to zone that area. If it can be zoned successfully without a lot of – without a lot of expense, then go ahead and zone it. You’ll need a separate thermostat and you’ll need to make sure that it’s hooked up, of course, to the zone; the zone damper.
TOM: If that’s not possible, then you have to look at supplemental heat. Your options with supplemental heat would be electric resistance heat hooked up to a clock setback thermostat; not the kind that’s plug-in but the kind that’s permanently installed along the baseboard. Or a through-the-wall heat pump. Now a through-the-wall heat pump is a little bit like the kinds of heating units that you used to see in hotel rooms but they actually look a lot sleeker now. I have a through-the-wall heat pump in a part of my house that is sort of a distance from the rest of the house so it never heats or cools quite right. And the through-the-wall heat pump gives us just that little bit of makeup heat and makeup air conditioning that we need. And it’s about half the price to run that compared to electric resistance heat. A heat pump is an air conditioning unit that runs backwards.
DOUG: OK, OK.
TOM: You know with a wall – with a window air conditioning unit it’s always throwing hot air outside? If you can reverse that refrigeration cycle, now you’ve got a heat pump.
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