“From the zoning perspective, what we’re seeing is a more integrated concept,” said Nitish Singh, general manager of system products, Bryant Heating and Cooling. “The focus is on making the product easier to install and contractor friendly, so contractors are not afraid of installing them.”
He cited a growing trend toward the replacement market rather than new construction. “Part of that is contractor familiarity, part of it is on the consumer side,” Singh said, especially in applications that had no zoning system previously (the add-on market), or those that warrant changing out the entire system.
“We’ve designed our zone control system to minimize cost and make installation as easy as possible,” agreed Justin Randall, product specialist for Aprilaire.
INSTALLATION, VENTILATION“We know that ease of installation is a key buying factor when the contractor makes a brand decision,” said Randall, “so we have put a lot of work into making the installation of our zoning products simple and efficient.
“With our engineered duct-sizing recommendations, the system features controlled system pressure relief that is built in,” he said. “This cuts down on cost because you don’t typically need to install a bypass damper for pressure relief.”
In the past, said Singh, contractors have been hesitant to install zoning systems because either they were not trained on it, or because it’s been complex in terms of wiring. “They’ve tried to stay away from it because it might create callbacks,” he said. “Obviously, the biggest challenge for contractors is on the installation side, making sure it’s set up right.
“What we’ve done is to address that exact issue,” Singh said. He said the company’s Evolution zoning control utilizes a simplified four-wire install “that takes a lot of the guesswork out. If they can hook up controls to the equipment, they could hook up this zoning equipment easily.” The system also includes automatic damper and sensor validation for the different zones, plus airflow and noise checks for each zone. “It makes the job a lot easier for the contractor,” Singh said. “It truly addresses the installation aspect.”
The control connects to the zone board and the equipment, he explained. Four wires (labeled A, B, C, and D) are wired to indoor and outdoor equipment. There are wires in the sensors and dampers as there would be in any zoning system. If the wires are crossed, it simply will not function.
The system also is self-configuring. “The system and control automatically recognize what size and model the outdoor and indoor units are,” said Singh, and then it automatically determines what the settings need to be. On the zoning aspect, it provides options of automatic duct assessment (how much airflow is needed for each zone), he said. “You can use the control to validate that the dampers are working correctly, and manage dampers for noise control.
“It definitely boils down to contractors getting over the fear and getting comfortable with it,” said Singh. “We’ve seen growth for quite some time now. Contractors are getting comfortable with it.”
MORE THAN COMFORTZoning also has a positive effect on energy consumption and equipment longevity, he said. “The system isn’t working as hard when only a section of the house needs to be cooled.”
“Zoning is a major contributor to both comfort and energy savings,” said Randall. “Our most successful and reputable dealers use zoning as an important part of their IAQ business strategy.”
According to Randall, “Most of the successful green builders out there right now zone the vast majority, if not all, of the homes they build. We are even starting to see more and more of our zoning products used on geothermal systems, making an already very-efficient system even better.”
Beyond comfort and energy savings, zoning can also be highly profitable for the contractor, Randall said. “For instance, rather then quoting two separate systems, quote one larger system and zone it. Oftentimes a high-efficiency single system will be less expensive than zoning two lower-efficiency systems, while still providing the comfort and energy savings the homeowner expects.” Of course, all the appropriate measurements should be taken to ensure sizing is correct.
“Further, because of the cost effectiveness of the aforementioned type of system setup, contractors are much more likely to get an accepted proposal.” In short, zoning one large system typically costs less than installing two smaller systems.
CRYSTAL BALLWhat is on the horizon? “What we’re going to see in the industry is that this push toward zoning is only going to get stronger,” said Singh. “A lot of it will get pushed by consumers, forcing contractors to start offering it.”
With current and upcoming product changes, “contractors can provide simplified solutions, especially in the retrofit-replacement market,” said Singh. “Technology will become a more integral factor in driving the simplification in the retrofit-replacement market. Technology is becoming so engrained in our day-to-day lives, it’s only natural that it will start creeping into these products.”
Training is needed first and foremost, Singh added, to make sure that all the service techs and installers are trained on the concept of zoning, and sales reps are familiar with what zoning can offer the consumer. “This is an incremental sale for contractors,” he said. “Most consumers are not familiar with the concept of zoning for the HVAC system.” They are, however, familiar with the concept of light switches. “Zoning is the same concept.”
There is still some product confusion. For instance, “It’s a common misconception out there that you can’t zone a variable-speed blower,” said Randall. “That is simply not true. Variable-speed blowers can be zoned; instead of the thermostat making a G call, the zone panel does, that’s really the only difference.”
There should be no misconceptions about the opportunities zoning systems offer contractors. “Zoning is a great way for the dealer or contractor to differentiate themselves,” said Singh. “If they make that offer as an option, and explain what the zoned system can do, most customers will swing toward the zoned system.”
For more information, visit www.aprilaire.com and www.bryant.com.