Pros and Cons of HVAC Zoning Systems

HVAC Zoning system with text overlay

High energy bills and battling over the thermostat can be really frustrating. An HVAC zoning system lets you take back control by cooling or heating different parts of your home, meaning you won’t need two (or more) separate units to satisfy everyone’s temperature preference. 

However, zoning systems can be expensive and difficult to install. We’ll unveil the major pros and cons of HVAC zoning systems to facilitate your decision-making process.

Heating or cooling particular rooms instead of the whole house can reduce energy waste. However, not having a backup plan in the case of severe malfunctions can leave you freezing or loathing the extreme heat. A zoning system is just like any other HVAC unit, mixed with positives and flaws that might appeal or deter different homeowners.  

What Are HVAC Zoning Systems?

HVAC zoning systems allow you to set different temperatures in different parts of your home, or zones. Your home can have up to four different zones, with each containing one or several rooms. With the help of an accurately programmed thermostat, each zone maintains an ideal temperature that suits each member of your family. 

Experts on HVAC systems will inspect your home to determine the number of zones it needs. If your house only requires two zones instead of three or four, it would put less strain on your central unit and maintain its longevity. 

Once installed, an HVAC zoning system can help reduce energy consumption and maintain a comfortable home, no matter the outdoor temperature. 

Pros of HVAC Zoning Systems

girl changing temperature with a thermostat
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Why are zoning systems a tempting idea to many homeowners across the US? To keep you from guessing, here are the main positives to HVAC zoning systems:

Better Energy Efficiency

With a zoning control system, you won’t waste any energy heating or cooling empty rooms. The HVAC unit will direct more conditioned air to the zones (rooms) that need it the most, resulting in shorter heating or cooling cycles. This type of controlled air distribution can be good for your bottom line and the environment. 

Lower Energy Bills

Is it surprising that lower energy consumption results in lower energy costs? Not so much. A high-efficiency zoning system lowers your home’s energy consumption, and in turn, energy bills. However, it’s not like you would be saving hundreds of dollars every few weeks. In the case of HVAC systems, energy savings are typically measured on an annual basis. 

Low Operating Costs

Zoned HVACs allow you to combine heating and air conditioning units under a single control panel. The panel won’t allow conditioned air to be released in rooms that don’t require any. 

By controlling the flow of hot or cool air, the central unit won’t overwork and waste energy to meet your entire home’s demands. A zoning system with lower output contributes to lower operating costs. 

Enhanced Comfort

A zoned HVAC system will bring an end to thermostat wars, and everybody in the house will be happy with having control over each room’s temperature. No one will argue about the number displayed on the sole thermostat, nor will a family member complain about the lack of hot or cold air. Each zone will have its own thermostat to ensure maximum comfort. 

Better Air Quality

With a zoned HVAC, you’ll control the airflow and keep the air inside your home fresh and healthy. Segregating your home into zones will also reduce circulation of dust, dirt, and other debris. Healthwise, it will also reduce respiratory problems and serious skin conditions. 

Improved Temperature Balance

Heat naturally rises, so it can often feel hotter upstairs than downstairs in a 2- or 3-story home.  A zoned HVAC system allows for more even temperatures in homes that experience such fluctuations. It permits you to set different temperatures for each level, and keep every family member comfortable in their respective rooms. 

Prolonged Lifespan

Since your HVAC unit won’t have to work so hard to maintain a consistent home temperature, your unit may outlive its original lifespan and require less regular tune-ups. 

Increased Customization

If you’re taking a long weekend trip, you can adjust the thermostat to work less than usual and save energy. By installing smart or programmable thermostats in each zone, temperature control will be a lot more convenient and efficient. Some thermostat models even allow you to make adjustments via an app on your smartphone. 


Out of sight, out of mind. HVAC zonal systems rely on dampers that are hidden in the ductwork, so they won’t ruin your home’s interior aesthetics. With the ductwork system tucked away behind the walls, guests will take a second guess as to how your living room maintains the perfect temperature. 

Cons of HVAC Zoning Systems

HVAC Zoning System
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

We would’ve loved to stick to the positives, but it’s important for you to know the drawbacks of installing a zoning system in your home. 

High Upfront Cost

On average, an HVAC zoning system will cost you between $2,400 and $9,400. The cost can vary greatly depending on your home size, type of system already installed, and the complexity of installation. Setting up a zoned HVAC with control panels is not a DIY project and requires HVAC pros. 

Costly Repairs

Zoned HVAC systems have more complex components than basic units, such as the zoning control panel and automatic dampers. Vital components can get damaged or worn-out if you don’t hire pros for regular maintenance. You won’t be saving money by neglecting tune-ups, but end up spending a lot more on repairs or replacements. 

How to Maintain HVAC Zoning Systems

Though you should let the pros handle the installation process, there are some DIY-friendly maintenance tasks that you can perform. Here are ways to keep your zoned system in good condition:

  • Check on the thermostat’s batteries and controller to ensure accuracy and functionality
  • Change air filters every 30 to 90 days to maintain clean airflow
  • Finally, schedule a professional maintenance service. It’s smart to get a tune-up or inspection, ideally twice a year. 

What Are Some Alternatives to HVAC Zoning?

Ductless Mini Splits AC in a room
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Your home may not have a ductwork system pre-installed, which means you’ll have to add them before installing a zoned HVAC system. This will most definitely raise the total cost of installation. If you don’t wish to go through such a project, here are some HVAC zoning alternatives: 

  • Ductless mini-splits: Like central systems, ductless mini-splits have an outdoor compressor and indoor air handling unit. You can have as many as four indoor air handlers connected to one outdoor unit, with a thermostat controlling each indoor unit. They are easy to install, but have high upfront and operational costs. 
  • Window units: These are small, efficient cooling devices that don’t require permanent installation. They’re simply mounted on windows. Window units cannot cool an entire home, but are perfect for individual rooms. 
  • Portable AC units: If you don’t want blocked windows, portable AC units are the ideal choice. The installation kit allows for an easy, quick set-up. Most models will come with wheels, so you can move it around different rooms that need cooling. 

Is an HVAC Zoning System Right for Your Home?

Despite having multiple advantages, HVAC zoning systems are not suitable for every home. The high upfront cost or risk of breakdowns may dissuade many homeowners from installing a central zoning system. However, there are occasions in which a zoning system is highly recommended, especially to provide more efficient heating and cooling:

  • Multi-level home (2- or 3-story)
  • Home with high ceilings
  • House with large windows, such as picture or bay 
  • Multiple empty rooms, such as for utilities and guests
  • Temperature fluctuations or imbalances

FAQ About HVAC Zoning Systems

How can you measure the size of each HVAC zone?

Setting up a zoning system requires HVAC contractors, so you won’t need to confuse yourself with all the math. But if you’re as curious as we are, each zone’s ductwork has to have a similar CFM (cubic feet per minute) measurement. CFM measures the cubic feet of airflow through the central HVAC unit. Let’s say your home requires 3 different zones, then each should have a ductwork to equipment capacity of approximately 35%. 

Contractors will often use special calculating tools or softwares to get the most accurate measurements for your home. 

What are the differences between automatic and manual dampers? 

Dampers are movable plates located near the opening of the air distribution box or plenum, controlling the amount of air distributed throughout your home. Dampers come in various shapes and sizes, mainly depending on the pre-existing ductwork system. 

Dampers can be split into two categories:

  • Manual: These dampers need to be adjusted using the valves outside the ducts. You’ll need to manually move valves up or down to open or close the dampers. 
  • Automatic: They use a motor to open or close the valves and plates. Automatic dampers are able to self-regulate when the temperature changes. They can also be controlled remotely, which makes them more convenient than the manual ones.

What is the role of control panels in HVAC zoning systems?  

The zoning control panel is an electronic board that reads all of the thermostats’ signals and decides whether a particular zone needs cooling or heating. In other words, it receives temperature data and instructs dampers to open or close, depending on their particular zone. 

Do Away With Temperature Fluctuations

When considering the pros and cons, you’d hope that the positives would overtake the negative points. Such is the case with HVAC zoning systems. Each family member can make their own adjustments based on their own comfort levels. You get to heat up the living room when watching a movie, while someone else enjoys a cooler atmosphere upstairs.

With multiple thermostats strategically spread across key areas of your home, you won’t experience any temperature imbalances no matter the exterior weather conditions. 

Installing HVAC zoning systems is not DIY-friendly, so it’s best to rely on trained experts to set up the right amount of zones for your home. To get the job done quickly and efficiently, connect to a local HVAC professional.   

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Jeffery Keusseyan

Jeffery Keusseyan is a writer with a knack for research and handiperson skills. He enjoys writing about home improvement projects and efficient ways to maintain your home exterior.