At today’s energy prices, warming a home or workplace through the winter months doesn’t come cheap and cooling it in the summer brings little respite. With no prospects of cheaper fuel prices anytime soon (as at the time of writing), improving a building’s energy efficiency is a sound investment.

The problem with many heating and air conditioning systems is that they were never designed to deliver the conditions you want where you want them. When they were being rolled out in the 1960s, electricity was cheap and predicted to get cheaper (because of nuclear energy). As a result, the idea of conditioning your entire home or building seemed like an affordable luxury.

It didn’t turn out quite that way; energy is expensive and predicted to get dearer; there are worries about oil and even bigger concerns about the environmental impacts of profligate energy consumption. These are serious enough for governments to enforce change through stricter building codes, electrical appliance rating systems, cleaner (but not cheaper) energy generation, and (occasionally) tax incentives.

The best way to improve your energy efficiency is by zoning.

What defines a zone?

Essentially, you define them. A sensible way to design or retrofit your ducted air supply is to consider which areas you need to provide with specific conditions at specific times, driven by the way in which you use the building. A zone is often one room, but it can be a cluster of rooms, or even a less clearly defined area within a larger space.

The ability to control these zones independently brings significant energy savings by eliminating expenditure on little-used areas, but it has a wide range of other benefits too.

Without zoning, an area you need to keep cool, for food storage perhaps, is warmed when you need more heat in a living area. When you need to bring down the temperature in a hot kitchen or work area, you end up making nearby bedrooms or offices uncomfortably cool. You usually end up settling on a compromise which is less than ideal everywhere. Zoning eliminates this problem.

Another advantage of zoned systems is responsiveness. It takes far less time to change the temperature or filter the air in a small space than a large one.

Zoning also gives you precise control and provides opportunities to automate. For example, you can control the thermostats and other types of air quality sensor in each zone from a unified central panel, programming the times of day and days of the week when you want a particular set of conditions.

With appropriate equipment in place, you can even control each zone from a smart-phone, adapting the settings as your plans change during the course of the day.

How zoned air conditioning works

In some cases, you may want to seal off your different zones from each other with more effective doors or other strategies, but very often this is not necessary.

A zoned air conditioning system consists of a pump connected to a network of ducts that delivers cooled air throughout the building. These pumps are designed to run quietly but in any case will be fitted out of the way, for example in a basement, floor void or ceiling. A variety of filters or heating and cooling coils can be added to your system if you want them, allowing you to use your ducts to heat, cool or purify air, in any combination.

Multiple thermostats or air quality detectors are located in each zone and often also within the ducts. The ducts also contain powered dampers to divert and regulate the air-flow exactly how you need it. All the sensors and dampers connect to a main control panel, but you can also provide each zone with local controls if you want to.

In operation, the sensors send signals that open and close the dampers for you, according to the conditions you program into your system.

If you already have a ducted air conditioning system, professional engineers can potentially create your zones through some simple alterations to your existing ducts. Whether you need extensive additional ducting connected to your air pump system will depend on your existing installation.

Ductless zoning

If you don’t want, or can’t have ducts fitted in your home or building, you can still enjoy the benefits of zoning. The usual alternative to extensive ductwork is an outside compressor linked to indoor evaporator units that fit on walls (or above a false ceiling) within each zone, apartment or room.

You can still have a central control panel to efficiently program your system, but wireless handsets can also be provided to control each indoor unit.

Both ducted and ductless air conditioning systems can be unobtrusive by channelling air through wall, floor and ceiling cavities. A variety of designs are available for any visible parts.

Modern zoned air conditioning is an opportunity to make your home more luxurious while reducing your energy bills at the same time. In places of work, there are additional benefits in improved workforce morale and productivity.

Still confused about air conditioning? Then why not check out our air conditioning glossary of terminology or better yet, give us a call and we’ll discuss your requirements.