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AskDirk: What is a zoned HVAC system?

Zoned air systems divide sections of your home into different areas or zones, which are then each controlled by separate thermostats. In contrast, a standard heating system treats your home with all of its rooms as a single area and is controlled by a single thermostat. Based on your home’s size, floor plan and level of comfort desired, either option could be a good fit for your family.

Here are some benefits of zoning:


Assuming everything is working correctly, a home with a standard heating and cooling system will bring the entire space to roughly the same temperature. But what if your home is multi-storied or has one side that gets more sun than the other?

With a zoned system, you have control of your zones and their individual temperatures.

Because heat rises, a two-story home will usually have a warmer upstairs than downstairs—especially in the summertime. Placing a zone on each floor could allow you to set different temperatures on both levels, meaning you wouldn’t need to over-cool the downstairs to maintain a bearable temperature upstairs.

It would work similarly in a home with an east/west orientation that gets a full day of sun on the south side of the home and none at all on the north side. Naturally, the south side would need more cooling in the summer and less heating in the winter. A zoned system could help balance the needs in both seasons.


Because you can control the temperatures in each zone, you’re not wasting energy to heat or cool all of your space endlessly. Instead, your system is working more efficiently, saving energy and potentially reducing your utility bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, homeowners can save up to 30 percent on their heating and cooling bills.


A zoned air system relies on a network of electric dampers within your ducts to open and close to deliver air to the desired areas. Depending on the set temperature in each zone, these dampers will open and close as needed to reach and maintain the climate.

Zoning a home with a standard system already installed can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. If it’s something you’re interested in, give us a call and we’d be more than happy to walk you through your options and the installation process.

2020-03-04T10:28:58-08:00February 7th, 2020|

Ask Dirk: Why do I need to have my furnace serviced?

It’s that time of year again, where temperatures are dropping, and we set our thermostats to heat, only to consider turning the AC back on a few days later, which makes it a great time to think about having your furnace serviced for the upcoming cold weather.

We rely heavily on our furnaces to keep us safe and warm during the cold season, and it can be a major inconvenience when they break or aren’t working properly. Regular, preventative maintenance to your system can help prevent those situations, potentially lower your energy bill, and protect your family.

I’ve discussed HVAC maintenance in a prior column “What happens during my HVAC maintenance service?” but there are some additional items we check off when servicing your furnace:

Igniter/Pilot light

Gas units utilize an ignitor or pilot light to light the gas and start the furnace burners. If either the pilot or ignitor is dirty, loose, or damaged, your furnace could shut down or fail to cycle on. Your technician will perform an inspection of these parts, clean and check connections to ensure they are working correctly.

Inducer Blower

The inducer blower is one of the most important pieces of your furnace. It draws the air used for combustion into your furnace and sends dangerous gasses created by the combustion process outside through the flue pipe. It starts before the rest of your furnace does, so if there’s a problem, the safety system will prevent the combustion process from starting and you will have no heat. Your technician will check for proper operation of the inducer subsystem.

Heat Exchanger

The heat exchanger is the part of your furnace that actually heats the air blown into your home. Once the burners ignite, the hot gases pass through the inside of the heat exchanger and make it hot. Your main blower blows air over the outside of the heat exchanger, heating the air that is then sent into your home via your duct system. Your technician will check the heat exchanger for cracks or damage that could cause carbon monoxide or other gases to pass from the inside to the outside of the heat exchanger and into the air that enters your home.

Additionally, the technician will also check your filters, look for any obstruction near your furnace and wipe the unit down.

I recommend getting your HVAC system serviced twice a year, once prior to or during cooling season and once prior to or during heating season.  That way, you’ll know your system is up to the task when you need it. Regular maintenance will alert you to failing parts, keep your system clean, and help you know when your system is due for replacement. Above all, preventative maintenance will keep you comfortable and your family safe.


Regular maintenance is the best way to prevent furnace problems, but there are signs you can look out for that may indicate an issue. Call your HVAC servicer if you notice any of the following:

  • Unusual noises
  • Higher than normal utility bills
  • A persistent dirty or dusty smell
  • Frequent on and off cycles

If you have a question or comment, I’d love to hear from you. Please send it to me at and I’ll try to answer it in an upcoming column.

2019-11-20T14:10:38-08:00November 17th, 2019|

Ask Dirk: Are portable air conditioning units a good alternative?

The summer heat has many looking for relief, but of all the options available, the portable AC unit doesn’t rise to the challenge.


Their packages and advertising show them without hoses and purported as no-installation needed, making portable ACs seems like a quick and easy solution to your cooling needs. However, portable units might not be just as portable as their name suggests.

For starters, the size of these units might deter users from wanting to actually move them. One of the smallest units on the market weighs 40 pounds in comparison to their heavier counterparts at more than 80 pounds. Additionally, if you plan to move the unit from room to room, an exhaust method is required in every room you wish to use it in.

Energy efficiency

The measurement for the amount of heat an AC unit can remove from a space is measured in BTUs (British thermal units). Generally speaking, a larger space or warmer climate would require a higher BTU AC unit to cool effectively. Unfortunately, the advertised BTUs of portable air conditioners aren’t always accurate.

Central air conditioners and window units use coolant to move heat from inside the home to its coils outside where the heat is then exhausted. A portable unit works similarly, except the warm air must get pushed through a hose and through the window vent before it gets outside. The mechanical components of portable units create heat as they operate. About one-third of the cooling power is consumed to make up for the heat the unit creates.

Most portable units are one-hose units. These units use air from the house to exhaust the heat to the outdoors. Any air that is exhausted from the house must be replaced. Typically, air will infiltrate into the house around doors or through other small openings to the outdoors. A two-hose unit is slightly more efficient than one-hose units because they use a hose to bring in air to cool the coil and another to vent the air outside. The window kit that comes with two-hose models to route the hoses through the window and block outside air from coming in often puts the two openings too close together. This causes some of the exhausted air to be drawn back in, so the air to cool the hot coil is warmer. The typical fix is to make a custom window adapter with openings for the two hoses separated as much as possible, but this fix might not be possible for all users.

Condensate draining

A portable unit collects condensate which must be periodically emptied. Depending on conditions, this can happen several times a day. Most units will detect that the container is full and shut off before it overflows. Draining the unit several times a day can be time consuming and reduce the run time of the unit.

Talk to your trusted technician to find an alternative that works for your budget and your comfort.

2019-09-11T14:38:52-07:00September 10th, 2019|