The COVID pandemic of the last two years has made consumers gain a newfound interest in their homes. With that comes comfort, and a lot of homeowners are realizing that they don’t have to live uncomfortably — if they invest a little money into zoning, they could have complete control over the temperature in their homes while also saving money in the long run.

If zoning technology was available before all the lockdowns, why has it taken so long for it to become an option that homeowners now consider?


Remote Work and the Opportunity for Home Improvement

With the influx of remote work during the pandemic, people’s homes are quite literally becoming their home bases. Tom Jackson, chief executive officer at Jackson Systems, says because homeowners are always in the same space now, they’re starting to research ways to improve their IAQ, temperature control, and general HVAC systems. Zoning is one of those systems. It’s rare for a household to agree on an ideal temperature because many people have different expectations for their individual comfort.

“If you're at home and your kids are at home, it's quite often that the parents want a different temperature than the kids. The perfect solution to that is zoning,” said Jackson.

According to Jackson, remote work also offers the opportunity for people to move from larger cities to smaller towns, which leaves them with more money to invest in their new homes. This extra money can be attributed to the convenience of lower living costs. Jackson explains that if you're moving from a large city like Los Angeles to a small suburb in Bozeman, Montana, you can get a much nicer home for a lot less money. That extra money is what would allow homeowners to invest in their personal comfort by upgrading their HVAC systems and installing zoning.

When people are buying new homes in smaller towns, Jackson says they are bringing with them the knowledge of what it takes to be comfortable. That knowledge becomes especially useful when investing in new construction.

“One of the big differences between new construction and doing [zoning] as a retrofit or add-on after the home is built is you can lay the ductwork out properly from the beginning,” said Jackson. If a homeowner is looking to add zoning to an existing home, Jackson says sometimes the ducts aren’t optimized for that kind of work. It might take some extra dampers and a little extra ductwork to make it all work out, which adds to cost.

“Before COVID, people weren’t really selling [IAQ accessories]. Contractors say, ‘Nobody ever asked me for it.’ Well, did you ever tell them about it?”
— Dick Foster
President ZoneFirst

Individual Comfort and Convenience

When walking into a home, where can the thermostat be found? Usually, it’s in the hallway. Dick Foster, president of ZoneFirst, says this is a common problem within the HVAC industry — placing the thermostat in rooms where people are not living.

“They think the whole house is going to maintain the same temperature and it just doesn’t do that,” said Foster. “When the thermostat is always put in this middle part of the house, it doesn't handle the two extremes. When you’ve got the sun in the south side of the house and no sun in the north side of the house, you're going to have a room that's 80° and another room that's 60°. And when the air gets back to the middle of the house, it's 70° and that creates discomfort.”

Foster said a lot of homeowners might believe their house is not big enough to zone, but he tells them to compare their house to a small car — almost every car is zoned so the driver and passenger can adjust the temperature to their liking. A small home shouldn’t be any different. With all the extra time spent at home now, discomfort is no longer something homeowners can ignore. If people are not comfortable, then they are not going to be productive, so one solution is to install zoning systems and prioritize individual comfort at home.

“When you got the kids in their bedroom virtually learning, mom and dad virtual working at various places in the house too — you’re feeling uncomfortable in a lot of places because you're fighting over the same thermostat,” said Foster.

Foster suggested the popularity of zoning is overdue and attributes some of this to a lack of information given to homeowners. He said homeowners usually don’t think to buy a new system or invest in an upgrade until something is broken — the immediate need is what draws them in.

“Think about other accessories. Air cleaners these days are starting to grow because of COVID, but before that, people weren't really selling air cleaners,” said Foster. “Contractors say, ‘Nobody ever asked me for it.’ Well, did you ever tell them about it?”


Advocating for Zoning

Although offering zoning systems to homeowners can bring more income to an HVAC business, many contractors are hesitant to do so. Mike Reilly, president of EWC Controls, believes some of this hesitancy stems from a lack of training opportunities. If they don’t know anything about zoning systems, why would they offer it to their consumers?

“We as a zoning industry have not been able to get out and train enough of the guys. They’re busy — they’re usually small business owners, and some of them only have so much time that they can spend on going to these training classes,” said Reilly. “I think we just haven't been able to have a big enough reach in our training capabilities.”

Reilly added that another reason why some contractors might shy away from zoning is understanding the airflow with zoning packages. He said some newer technologies address this issue and are geared toward controlling the airflow and bypass air created with zoning systems. Smart bypass dampers are one of these technologies, and Reilly explained that they take a lot of the guesswork out of the setup process because they will automatically set up gears towards the operating static pressure of a duct system.

Training and education is not only centered on zoning technology and its installation process — it also involves learning about the benefits of zoning. Reilly said with the pandemic, a lot of the focus was on individual comfort. Now, that focus has shifted, due to a rise in heating costs.

“Over the last 18 months or so, we were training and educating contractors on talking about the comfort of zoning, the convenience of having thermostats in separate locations. But now, our sales team and our trainers are starting to transition over to focusing more on energy conservation,” Reilly noted. “Some of the reports that are coming out are saying that the heating season this year is going to see a drastic increase in prices for people to heat their homes. So it's easy for us to change our conversation points — now we are focusing more on the energy savings aspect of zoning.”

Whether contractors are pushing for individual comfort or energy efficiency, zoning is something they should think about offering to their customers — especially given the current trends in home improvement.