What is Zoning? (Occupancy Comfort)

Updated: July 2023
Boutique Lounge Hotel

Here’s the thing about conventional HVAC systems: they’re commonplace and most building occupants are unaware there’s a better way to heat and cool. We’ve become complacent to hot and cold spots, draftiness and excessively high energy costs during summer and winter. Fortunately, there’s a heating and air conditioning solution with no compromises involved.

Today, developers and owners of both residential and commercial projects are increasingly choosing Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) technology to meet comfort and efficiency requirements. Why? Zoning capability.


VRF Compared to Conventional Systems

Effective zoning is a hallmark of VRF technology differentiating these systems from conventional counterparts. VRF systems divide a building into zones customized by usage and comfort needs. Heating and cooling are provided by cycling refrigerant between an outdoor unit and each zone’s ductless or ducted indoor units. The technology fine-tunes operation to meet the desired zone temperature set point with the least amount of energy. For ducted configurations, ductwork is minimized as units are within or near the zone they condition. This allows for both increased efficiency and comfort for tenants.

In comparison, conventional technology such as a centralized system relies on an air handler located in a singular location to condition a whole building. Air is forced through long duct runs to each room. With this setup, comfort issues are inevitable. The air loses its heat energy as it travels long distances. Additionally, air is frequently lost through leaky ductwork and rooms far from the air handler receive less conditioned air than closer rooms. This is the culprit behind the battle over the thermostat.

Conventional HVAC systems rely on energy-intensive on/off cycles. How this plays out: The system runs until the desired temperature is reached, then shuts off. Within a short time, the temperature drifts from the set point, causing the system to rev up the compressor and start the cycle again. In contrast, INVERTER-driven VRF systems are better able to match desired load and run more consistently, keeping indoor temperatures in each zone steady. This method is more cost-effective and allows people in different zones with different comfort needs to enjoy customized set points.


Enter Heat Recovery

P-Series, single-zone, variable-capacity heat pumps are ideal for a one-room renovation or for eliminating a hot or cold trouble spot as they provide either heating or cooling. Most commercial projects, however, will require an HVAC solution for an entire building. Enter VRF zoning systems offering either heat pump (heat or cool) or heat recovery (simultaneous heat and cool) options.

Simultaneous heating and cooling is ideal for any building with diverse zones. Have a multifamily building with residences, a gym and a café underneath? All require heat recovery. Essentially, waste heat from one zone in cooling mode can be transferred to a zone needing heating. This seamless operation maximizes efficiency while also allowing the VRF system to provide multiple temperatures for the multiple zones in a building.


Flexible Operation

Another major benefit: zoning enables buildings to adapt as tenant needs change. For example, if a 100-key hotel is at half occupancy during a slow season, the unoccupied zones can be set back or fully turned off. This is a gamechanger in terms of cost savings.

In summary, VRF zoning represents the next generation of heating and cooling. With the technology’s unmatched comfort and efficiency, you can forget the technology of the past. METUS can help you determine the best system configuration for your building.

VRF Systems