Most homes in North America consist of multiple zones or spaces for different purposes. You probably have a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and maybe an office. All these zones have to be heated (or cooled) – but not necessarily at the same time.
When you get out of bed in the morning to make your first cup of coffee, you want your kitchen to be warm and inviting. But you may prefer that your bedroom remains at a cooler temperature. Similarly, when you go to bed at night you don’t need your kitchen or living room to be heated at all. We all go about our daily lives living in multiple zones, but most people treat their home as one single heating or cooling zone, regardless of their heating setup.
There are many benefits to dividing your home into multiple zones. You can optimize a comfortable temperature when and where you need it, while also saving energy and eliminating wasteful heating.
In this blog post we will introduce:
- The different ways you can set up heating for multiple zones in your home
- The impact of your heating system on your ability to create various zones
- The best thermostats to manage multi-zone heating
How to Create Heating Zones
In general, there are two ways you can divide your home into heating zones: sensor-based and system-based.
With sensor-based zoning, you use separate sensors to optimize the temperature in each zone. This works particularly well if you have one central thermostat controlling the temperature of your home (i.e. a central heating system).
Typically, a thermostat will read the ambient temperature of a room that it is in and heat/cool the room until it reaches its set point. The problem with this approach becomes apparent when your thermostat is in one of your larger spaces – like your living room. It likely takes longer to heat your living room than it does to heat your bedroom since there is more space to heat. So, trying to create a comfortable temperature in your living room can lead to an overly heated and stuffy bedroom.
Consider this simplified example:
- It takes 30 minutes to increase the temperature by one degree in your living room.
- In your bedroom, it only takes 15 minutes to raise the temperature by one degree.
- If you want to heat your living room by 1 degree, your bedroom will have warmed up by 2 degrees.
With sensor-based zoning, you place sensors in each zone you want to create. These sensors will measure the temperature of each specific zone and optimize it for your comfort, eliminating the stuffy-bedroom dilemma.
By design, system-based zoning is a simple concept to grasp. In this scenario, you have multiple heating zones in your home because you have multiple heaters that you can control individually, creating their own effective “zones”.
This means you have to have more than one thermostat. In fact, you’ll likely have at least one thermostat per heater or “zone”. This is by far the most efficient and precise way of achieving energy savings through zoning.
Setting Up Zones With Your Heating System
Generally, the voltage output of your heating system is the most important factor in determining your ability to create zones. Homes in North America typically run on one of two standards: low voltage and high/line voltage systems.
Low Voltage Heating
The Common Scenario:
If you have low voltage heating (furnace, radiator, forced air, etc.), you more than likely have a central heating system with just one thermostat to control your entire home. In this case, a sensor-based zoning system is likely your best option. If you did want to look into system-based zoning, it would probably result in a fair amount of construction since new circuits and fixtures would be required. You would also have to purchase a thermostat compatible with external temperature sensors. So, for low voltage central heating, a sensor-based system is a lot simpler to implement.
The Uncommon Scenario:
Sometimes, low voltage heating systems are broken up into multiple zones (through duplication of heat sources, or usage of dampers and ducts). Each of those circuits will require their own dedicated thermostat. If this is the case, we would recommend a separate learning thermostat for each zone. With this setup, you can save energy more efficiently without having to spend much time changing setpoints and temperatures for each zone.
High/Line Voltage Heating
The Common Scenario:
If you have high voltage heating, you likely already have multiple thermostats – as many as one per room. In that case, you’re already well on your way to system-based zoning. Simply replace your existing thermostats with WiFi or smart options that have zoning options and manually set your zones.
The Uncommon Scenario:
Even though a decentralized heating system is more common for high voltage heating, there are exceptions.
Fan coil heating is a high voltage central heating system, and unfortunately, no smart thermostat exists for this type of system. Fan coil systems would require a sensor-based thermostat, as there is only one thermostat controlling the entire home.
The Best Multi-Zone Thermostat
Rather than doing an elaborate write-up of why each thermostat would be the best option for different scenarios, we’ll keep it simple.
Use this decision tree to choose the best multi-zone thermostat for you – it takes into consideration everything discussed above. If you’d like to know more about the smart thermostats included, check out this article for a detailed comparison of thermostats designed for high and low voltage heating systems.
The Top Zoning Thermostats
The ecobee4 is best for when you have a central low voltage heating system with only one thermostat. You can wirelessly connect sensors to the echobee4 thermostat and it will make sure the rooms you are occupying are heated to your comfort level. The downside of this is that it won’t necessarily maximize energy savings. But it will maximize comfort!
If you have more than one thermostat for your low voltage system (for example, one upstairs and one downstairs), Nest’s Thermostat-E makes the most sense. Your home is already divided into two zones, and the Nest’s learning features will save you energy and ensure comfort.
Mysa Smart Thermostats work with high voltage electric baseboard and in-floor heating systems. As previously mentioned, homes with these heating systems typically have multiple thermostats and can have as many as one per room. Mysas allow you to control each thermostat individually, but also have the unique functionality of grouping thermostats together, easily creating individual heating zones. This is the optimal way to maximize energy savings and comfort for homes with high voltage heating.
Mini-Split Heat Pumps
We didn’t want to write this blog without mentioning mini-split heat pumps. If you’re not sure what they are, make sure to check out this article.
Mini-split heat pumps move heat, but they don’t create it. This makes them efficient parts of many modern homes and a great way to build zones. They are, however, quite expensive. Depending on the structure of your home, the placement you choose, and the quality of the heat pump, you are looking at a few thousand dollars per heat pump installed.
Creating separate heating zones within your home makes it possible to individually heat rooms to your preference and omit rooms that don’t require heating (like your unoccupied guest room). Using a multi-zone smart thermostat, it’s possible to not only create heating zones but also group zones that can be heated simultaneously with a single action or automation.
We hope you were able to determine the best multi-zone smart thermostat for your unique heating system and home. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments section below.