Demand For Zone Control Grows

February 20, 2004
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WYOMING — In-floor heating systems and forced-air zone control systems seem to be growing in popularity in West Michigan.

Glenn Ver Murlen, president of Michigan Building & Mechanical Inc., said his company is seeing a lot more interest in both systems among clients from Cedar Springs to Gun Lake and Ionia to the Lakeshore.

A forced-air zone control system allows a homeowner to set different temperatures for different rooms or levels of the house so heating or air conditioning is delivered at the desired temperature when and where the homeowner wants it. 

With the zoned system, a homeowner can control the basement’s temperature without having to dial up the rest of the house to 85 degrees, Ver Murlen explained.

Similarly, homeowners often complain about problems cooling the second floor of the house. He said forced air zone control can remedy that. 

Ver Murlen suspects the surge of interest in the zone control system stems from the fact that a lot of people are finishing their basements, as well as using them more often.

A zone control system can be incorporated into most conventional heating and cooling systems — as long as the duct work is accessible — because a trunk must be run from each zone to the furnace, he explained.

On average, a zoned system adds about $2,400 to the heating and cooling system’s cost, but studies show that homeowners reduce their monthly heating and cooling bills by 25 percent, he pointed out.

The average homebuilder or homeowner tends to want a two-, three- or four-zone system, typically to regulate temperatures separately for the basement, main floor and upper level.

Ver Murlen said a fourth zone is sometimes requested for the master bedroom.

“What we would do is run a trunk from the furnace to the upstairs, a trunk from the furnace to the basement, and a trunk from the furnace to the main floor, and put a damper in each trunk and a thermostat in each space.”

Michigan Building & Mechanical recently installed 20 zones in a single home.

That particular installation gave the homeowners control over every room in the house, so they only have to heat the rooms they use at any given time, Ver Murlen explained.

“They have a lot of control so they have a lot of energy savings, because they’re not paying for heat or air they’re not using.”  

Forced-air zone control is used a lot in both residential and commercial buildings, but are really gaining popularity in the residential market.

“Everybody building a house is always looking to cut something to get something else. Typically, they’ll cut in the HVAC area and that’s one of the biggest mistakes they can make. They regret it later.”

The same zone controls can be applied to in-floor heating systems, as well.

In-floor or “radiant heat” systems appear to be generating the most interest, he said.

In-floor heating keeps the heat at floor level, while a conventional system circulates air at the ceiling level.

“From my experience, it’s been a lot more efficient than the forced air. Customers I’ve installed it for are amazed at what their gas bills are coming out to.”

Any floor treatment — wood, tile, carpet — can be put on top of an in-floor heating system. 

Most of the in-floor systems Michigan Building & Mechanical has installed have been in new homes under construction, typically in the $200,000-plus range.

In-floor systems are more expensive because of the material used.

And since the in-floor system provides only heat, a duct system has to be installed to provide for air conditioning, he said.

The largest in-floor system Ver Murlen’s company installed was for a 22,000-square-foot home that required just slightly more than four miles of under-floor tubing, Ver Murlen recalled.

The owner of that very large home, which has 27-foot ceilings on the main floor, has reported gas bills of $264 a month in the coldest month of winter, he noted.

“The end product, over time, pays for itself and it’s a lot more comfortable than a forced-air system. The customers are a lot happier with the way it heats.”

The in-floor heating system is gaining ground primarily in the residential market.

“There is some commercial work that’s being done, but I think the cost of it drives that market away.

“On the commercial side what you’ll see most often is snow-melt systems, where they’ll tube the sidewalks and driveways so they don’t have to worry about people slipping and falling.”

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