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We’ve all heard about smart thermostats as a way to save energy and minimize costs for residential and commercial HVAC, but what about smart HVAC vents? Smart vents offer many of the same benefits (and same overall controls) as smart thermostats but impact a different part of your HVAC system. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what this technology does and why it could be a smart investment for achieving greater energy efficiency in your home or business.

How Do Smart HVAC Vents Work

Technician using power drill to install vents above headSome consumers have a difficult time wrapping their heads around smart vents, simply because they think of vents only as the little grates in their walls that bring airflow from the furnace or air conditioning unit. How could these vents be “smart” in the same way that a thermostat—a clearly tech-based device—could? 

The idea behind smart HVAC vents is essentially that they offer more nuanced control over how your building is heated or cooled. In a basic HVAC system design, the air flows from the furnace or AC unit through the ducts and out of all the vents in your home or business. The ducts act as a wide-open highway, carrying the air to each vent and heating or cooling the entire building simultaneously. The problem with this design is that it can often mean that less-used or unused parts of the building are heated or cooled to the same level as high-traffic areas.

One way of resolving this problem is zoning. A zoned HVAC system includes 1) multiple thermostats in different parts (or different “climate zones” throughout the building, and 2) dampers in the ducts that can enable airflow to bypass a particular zone depending on which zones are calling for hot or cool air. In a zoned system, people in each climate zone can enjoy control over the temperature in that space, even though they are linked to the same HVAC system as every other climate zone in the building.

Smart vents are similar to zoning but go one step beyond it. In a zoned HVAC system, particularly in a home, you will likely only have one climate zone per floor. There isn’t necessarily room-by-room nuance to temperature control. Instead, zoning breaks up levels or major sections of the building so that less-used parts can easily be set at different temperatures than parts where people live, work, or pass through regularly. Smart vents take this concept and make it possible to apply it to every single room individually. 

The vents themselves are equipped with a range of technology. Some of that tech is aimed at allowed homeowners or building managers to set different target temperatures for each room. Most of it is motion-sensing or proximity-sensing technology, which can detect whether someone is in a room or not. (Thanks to the sensors, smart vents are sometimes referred to as “sensor-enhanced ventilation.” Finally, there is a motor in the vent that enables it to open or close on its own. If the room is already at its target temperature, or if the sensors don’t detect anyone present in that space, the smart vents will close (or stay closed). If the temperature is too low or too high, or if someone enters the room, the vents will open. This design helps direct airflow where it is needed while conserving it in situations where a room doesn’t need to be heated or cooled.

Dust Mites in your HVAC Ducts

Are Smart Vents a Worthwhile Investment?

Are smart, sensor-enhanced HVAC vents the right choice for your home or business? The answer will depend on the size of your building, the design of your current HVAC system, and your current energy consumption for heating or cooling. In theory, you could install smart vents in each room, which would, in the long run, provide a significant energy efficiency boost for the building as a whole. However, it is also important to note that smart vents are fairly sophisticated technology and carry a markedly higher price tag than any manual open and close vent. You’ll want to weigh the potential energy savings of having these vents against the cost of purchasing them and getting them installed. 

Furthermore, if you already have a zoned system, the added benefit of using sensor enhanced ventilation may be relatively small. If there are numerous rooms in your home or business that you don’t use regularly, it’s possible that smart vents would provide more effective temperature control—and more substantial savings—than zoning, but it’s difficult to assess without seeing the building and knowing more details about the HVAC system. The best recommendation is to contact your HVAC contractor and ask for their advice regarding smart HVAC vents. A skilled HVAC professional will be able to determine which solution is best for helping you save energy, reduce utility costs, and maximize overall return on investment.