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When designing a commercial HVAC system, it’s typical to think about zoning. Zoned HVAC systems have multiple thermostats, distributed in different parts of the building so that it’s possible to control the temperature for those “zones” separately. Often, these zones will be distributed on different floors or in parts of the building with different functions. For instance, a building that has office and warehouse space will probably require different temperature zones for those various components. Some of the most frequently asked questions in the HVAC world pertain to these zoned commercial air ducting setups. How do these systems work? How should they be maintained? You should be investing in air duct cleaning how often? Read on for the answers to these questions and others.

How Zoned HVAC Systems Work

AC Technician cleaning vents and ductsThink about the way that warm or cool air makes its way from the HVAC unit to the individual rooms or spaces throughout your commercial building. The air is flowing from the system, through the ducts, and out the vents. In a non-zoned system, the HVAC system is working to respond to a single thermostat somewhere in the building. It will blast warm or cold air until it thinks it has achieved that temperature. The problem is, in a large building or space, this strategy will typically cause problems with temperature balance. Employees in one part of the office might complain that it’s too hot while people in another part might think it’s too cold. Furthermore, you could be wasting energy to heat or cool space that isn’t being used as often or areas that don’t have the same temperature demands.

A zoned system provides a solution. In most cases, zoning works through the use of what are called zone dampers. Dampers are installed into the duct network itself, at crucial junctures where air splits off to go toward multiple parts of the building. The dampers can open or close, depending on the heating or cooling needs of a specific segment of your space. If a damper is closed, then the air will flow directly past that roadblock toward a different part of the building. The result is that less hot or cold air is directed to areas that isn’t calling for it. The air can then go to where it is needed more quickly and efficiently.

Each zone damper is connected to a different thermostat somewhere in the building. Each thermostat can be set separately from every other thermostat, which could allow one room to be 65 degrees and another room to be 72. When the HVAC system switches on to heat the building, the room with the cooler temperature is going to take less to heat than the one with the thermostat set at 72. As such, when that first room hits 65 degrees, the thermostat can signal its corresponding zone damper to close. Once shut, the damper is preventing hot air from being directed toward that room. Zone dampers can open and close individually, as necessary, when their thermostats are calling or not calling for hot or cold air.

Dust Mites in your HVAC Ducts

The Benefits of Zoned Systems

We’ve already touched upon a few of the benefits of zoned systems, but here’s a quick and easy list that explains why these systems are so crucial for most commercial buildings:

  • More comfortable workspaces: No matter the type of building, it’s highly likely that different parts of a commercial space are going to have different temperature demands. In a restaurant, for instance, the chefs in the kitchen will probably want a cooler environment than the guests in the dining room. The same is true for offices, retail spaces, facilities that include factory and warehouse space, and virtually any other commercial environment you could imagine. Zoned systems allow for this more nuanced, tailored temperature control. 
  • More efficiency: A non-zoned system is not going to be very efficient. Inevitably, most commercial buildings have spaces that are used less than others—be they big conference rooms or entire floors. You aren’t going to want to spend money heating or air conditioning these spaces as much as you would for high-traffic areas. Zoned systems help save energy, lower utility bills, and deliver better temperature balance (and reduced humidity issues) throughout the building or space. 
  • Better consideration of natural factors: In the morning, the east side of your building might be catching a lot of sunlight. In the evening, the west side of the building is getting the full blast of the sun. These factors and the radiant heat they bring can affect interior temperature and influence what you require of your HVAC system. Zoned ducting allows you to consider factors such as this so that you can maintain maximum temperature comfort throughout the day.

Air Duct Cleaning: How Often for Zoned Systems?

For air duct cleaning, how often should you be calling your HVAC technician for a zoned system? 

Ideally, you should at least get your ducts checked once a year. Your HVAC tech will be able to let you know how they look and whether they are due for a clean. In general, annual duct cleaning will ensure maximum airflow, air quality, and HVAC performance. So, if you are asking the air duct cleaning/how often question, just plan to have your ducts cleaned each year as part of your annual HVAC checkup/maintenance call. For zoned systems, regular cleaning can help avoid dust and debris buildups that may impact the ability of the dampers to open and close freely.