Almost like clockwork, each spring and fall, homeowners living in houses with forced-air HVAC systems must adjust the dampers in the ductwork in an often vain attempt to balance the temperature from floor to floor and room to room. It is an inexact science, to say the least.
In an attempt to achieve balance and flexibility in larger homes, builders routinely install a second HVAC. But even that is subject to the vagaries of weather and the orientation of the house relative to the sun.
To date, HVAC systems have mostly relied on heft to deal with temperature imbalance. But this leads to the expenditure of more energy than is necessary and more money on more BTU-power than required. Most forced-air systems rely on one or two hall-mounted thermostats to control temperature. They don't help much when the bathroom is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
“It is truly amazing how archaic the temperature control of the house is,” says John Ott, vice president of marketing for Home Comfort Zones. “It routinely shows up very high on builder surveys of home buyer satisfaction.”
Although the primary benefit of the Home Comfort Zones system is its ability to maintain different temperatures in different rooms, an added value is that it can cut energy costs. The company estimates it can save up to 40 percent on heating and cooling costs, with the savings particularly evident in homes with more than 3,000 square feet where a second HVAC system often serves to balance temperatures across the home.
At a cost of roughly $7,500 to the builder, the system is an easy swap for that second HVAC system. It may be a bit harder sell to some buyers, but given the desire of most homeowners to keep the bathroom warm in the winter and the great room cool in the summer, as well as the need to keep energy costs down, the sell may not be all that difficult. According to Ott, the system can easily be installed at the point of sale, so builders can offer it as an option without having to worry about significant additional construction work.
“The system is a very quick install for new construction, and the [Home Comfort Zones] team works hand in hand with our HVAC supplier to install their system following HVAC installation,” says Roger Pollock, owner of Buena Vista Custom Homes, a Lake Oswego, Ore.–based builder of some 400 homes a year. According to Ott, the system monitors and balances airflow throughout the house, so there is no danger that output could be overconstricted.
The Home Comfort Zones system is not the only damper-based apparatus designed to control temperature room to room. The Lagotek whole-house control system not only regulates temperatures but also controls a number of other home systems including lighting and whole-house audio. It can be used with hot-water radiant systems as well. But its cost rises with its functionality.
Ott says Home Comfort Zones is exploring the expansion of its product line to deal with other forms of HVAC, but for now, it will remain for forced-air systems only. Builders, so far, seem impressed. The system was voted the “coolest” new product by builders who attended the 2006 Pacific Coast Builders Conference this spring.
William Gloede, BIG BUILDER'S Digital Home editor-at-large, lives and works in Camden, Maine. Email: billgloede@ adelphia.net