Residential zoning has seen considerable growth over the last several years, but there are still significant, untapped opportunities. Just ask the folks at Air Controlled Environments 72 Degrees Air Conditioning & Heating.
The Chatsworth, Calif.-based contracting business, which specializes in residential HVAC replacement in the Southern California market, serves many customers who live in two- and three-story homes that feature a single HVAC system. In the eyes of Ronald Young, president of Air Controlled Environments, all of these houses would significantly benefit from zoning. However, the contractor is quick to point out that, in his estimation, the challenge is always installation.
For instance, the downstairs ductwork in many of these area homes is usually hidden behind walls and ceilings. In Young’s estimation, this makes the required reducting and mechanical damper installation particularly difficult and invasive. At the same time, he said installing a zone system can require multiple cuts into soffits, walls, and ceilings.
To top it off, Young said the installation of the additional thermostats generally requires cutting into walls and/or time-consuming wire fishing. It is not unusual to have the air handler installed in the interior space, making installation of a bypass challenging or impossible, he added.
“As a result of these difficulties, we have not been able to offer zoning to as many of our customers as we would like,” said Young. “When we can offer it, we are usually limited to a simple two-zone, upstairs-downstairs system.”
WHAT TO DO?Air Controlled Environments faced some of the above-mentioned problems with one of its long-time clients, Marc and Jill Allaria of Westlake Village, Calif.
“Marc and Jill had a house with a particularly severe, although not uncommon, upstairs-downstairs temperature control problem,” Young explained. “In fact, during the summer, their upstairs bedroom was so unbearably hot that they had started sleeping downstairs. They would have been a perfect candidate for traditional zoning, or for the installation of a second HVAC system, except that the architectural characteristics of the house severely limited cost-effective options.”
After further inspection, Young found out the specific issues with the Allaria’s home included:
• No direct access to split the existing ductwork for either a two-zone system or for separating the ductwork for a second system.
• Significant physical space limitations as the system’s air handler was located in the equipment closet, which also doubled as the laundry room.
• The upstairs was too small to adequately support a second HVAC system, as it only had four ducts.
In addition, the Allarias were expecting their first child. As a result, Young found out the homeowners had a renewed urgency to resolve their temperature problems and to improve comfort for their new baby. They were also particularly sensitive to the dust and debris associated with an extensive remodel.
TO THE RESCUEIt just so happened that before Air Controlled Environments took on the client’s complex home project, the firm became an authorized contractor for MyTemp, which Young described as “an innovative type of residential climate control system.”
According to its manufacturer, Home Comfort Zones, MyTemp is designed to provide room-by-room temperature control using wireless temperature sensors for every room and a pneumatically controlled damper system, designed to control the airflow to every vent.
According to Young, the homeowner can choose between multiple control modes (basic thermostat, programmable thermostat, and zoning), set temperature schedules, and review system performance with the system’s touch-screen display. Young especially enjoys the fact the system can be easily installed as a retrofit in most existing homes.
“We had a three-person installation team at the Allaria’s installation,” said the California contractor. “Total installation time, including customer training, was under seven hours,” equating to 20 total labor hours.
Using specialized installation tools from the manufacturer, Air Controlled Environments was able to install pneumatic dampers and air tubes in 14 vents and/or ducts, without cutting any holes.
“We set up wireless temperature sensors in every room; creating 12 distinct zones of control,” explained Young. “The master unit and air pump unit mounted easily in the available space around the air handler and MyTemp’s plenum sensor and dynamic algorithms, monitoring temperature and pressure, allowed us to avoid a bypass.”
SAVING ENERGY, TOOIn addition to improving indoor comfort, the Allarias were looking to reduce home energy consumption. Their goal was achieved thanks, in part, to the new climate control system.
“MyTemp has cut our energy costs and made our home a joy to live in,” said Jill Allaria. “The system’s touch screen display is very easy to use. Every room in our house is comfortable at all times during the day.
“We have created a separate zone for our nursery, and we were particularly pleased with Air Controlled Environments’ quick and clean installation.”
Young could not have been happier with the final results, either. “MyTemp is the most exciting new residential HVAC product that has been introduced over the last several years,” he said. “It requires investments in specialized tools and training, but it is worth looking at if you have experience in zoning or if you have customers with significant temperature control problems. I am very excited for the opportunity to offer this product.”
Sidebar: About the SystemA few years ago, Stellar Processes - a Portland-based independent company of consulting engineers specializing in energy economics, measurement, and verification - conducted an energy study. It reviewed energy bills of 50 Home Comfort Zones’ customers. It found that, as a whole, some participants were able to reduce energy use by up to 40 percent thanks, in part, to the MyTemp™ system.
According to Home Comfort Zones, there are six ways its room-by-room temperature management system helps homeowners reduce their heating and cooling energy consumption.
•Room-by-room control:It said each room gets the right amount of heating or cooling, “eliminating uncontrolled over-conditioning.”
•Smart Circulation™:Before initiating a heating or cooling cycle, MyTemp is designed to try to balance the temperature between warmer and cooler rooms using only the furnace fan.
•Away mode:The manufacturer said this mode “instantly sets back” the conditioning level for the entire house and “automatically restores” the conditioning level at a determined time with focused recovery.
•Saver mode:This mode is designed to reduce conditioning in rooms “that are unoccupied for long periods of time, such as guest rooms,” said the manufacturer.
•Scheduling:This allows a reduction in conditioning when the entire home is - or certain rooms in the home are - unoccupied during a regularly scheduled period of time, it said.
•Energy history:MyTemp is designed to display how much heating, cooling, and circulation each room in the home receives during a 24-hour period. This information is designed to help determine whether there are specific rooms that constantly initiate conditioning cycles.
“We sell the system for its comfort, and tell customers the return on investment is better than air conditioning,” said Hal Alles of Home Comfort Zones, adding, “All of the study homes were retrofit using their existing HVAC equipment and ducting. The energy savings possibilities are much better for new homes where the equipment and ducts are designed to fully exploit the capabilities of the system.”
For more information, go to www.homecomfortzones.com/my temp.htm.