Savings rise when heat goes where it's needed


Wouldn't it be great if new technology would allow us to heat only a part of our homes rather than wasting energy and money heating the entire house?

What's that? You say you can do it now simply by closing the register in a room?

Not quite. Closing registers is not 100 percent effective. The heating/cooling system uses extra energy to push air through the ducts to that vent, and some air escapes through the registers.

That not only wastes fuel (read: money), it also wastes warm or cold air that just sits in the ducts between the heating/cooling device and the vent.

So what's the answer?

Zoning. It's the system that directs hot or cold air to selected areas of your home.

Until recently, zoning has been used for commercial buildings rather than homes.

The price of computer chips that power the main logic system and individual thermostats has dropped, making the zone systems more affordable, says John Staples, president of Southern California Air Conditioning Distributors of Los Angeles, the Carrier distributor for Southern California.

Mr. Staples said his company has installed zone systems in 300 to 400 Southern California homes in the past eight months -- about 25 percent of them retrofits.

"There's no doubt zoning is the wave of the future," he said. "Energy savings and saving money are reasons why this is growing, but people then find out that zoning provides more comfort."

New heating equipment operates at 94 percent to 95 percent efficiency, says Art O'Daly, a Southern California Gas Co. account executive who deals with heating-equipment manufacturers nationwide.

"Zoning may be the only technological direction left to take that will save more than that," Mr. O'Daly said. "It's like insulation was 25 years ago," he said. "Back then, it was hardly used here. Now every body uses it."

What usually passes for zoning is the use of two heating/cooling systems: one for a first floor and one for the second. That's what builders tend to use in large homes with more than 3,400 square feet and two or more floors.

But real zone systems can reduce heating and cooling costs from 10 percent to 30 percent. If your annual home heating and cooling costs total $600, some experts say your savings with a zone system could reach $180.

Another advantage to zoning is that smaller heating and cooling systems can be installed.

Many homes -- especially those built in the past 10 years -- might benefit from zoning.

Popular design concepts such as vaulted ceilings, open stairways, multiple levels, an abundance of windows and indoor spas are energy-wasters.

OK, so you're a homeowner and you're convinced that a zone system is for you. Is it difficult to adapt your present home?

"The ductwork is the same as that used by any forced-air unit," Mr. O'Daly said. "Microchips in your thermostat would close off air in the room or rooms that are empty. It would increase it in rooms that are occupied.

"The technology is there for anyone to use zoning in [his] home now," Mr. O'Daly said. "It's just price tags so far that keep builders from installing it and homeowners from using it. They're just looking at how much it will cost them right away. If they looked down the road, they'd realize a lot in savings."

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