Zoning Your Home

An inefficient heat pump or furnace can cost you a lot of money during cold weather, especially if you use it to heat rooms that you don’t always use. Zone-heating is one way to save energy and money by heating just the areas you need. It works especially well during Spring and Fall when your central heating system provides more heat than you need.

This zone-heating strategy is only effective if you understand the strategy and are willing to manage your heating system. The trick is to provide a small radiant or baseboard electric heater in a “warm room” like a living room or kitchen. This allows you to reduce the use of your central heating system.

When only a few family members are home, use zone heat in the rooms you use the most, while setting your central thermostat down to a lower and more economical temperature. Zone heating is best provided by permanently installed hard-wired electric heaters, though a portable heater is acceptable if it is used properly and has built-in safety features. Bathrooms can be equipped with a small radiant heater or heat lamp to provide comfort there.

Beware of cheaper and older portable electric room heaters, which are often not safe because of their red hot elements and limited safety features. If you do use portable heaters, follow these safety guidelines.

  • Use new room heaters with a tip-over switch to avoid fires.
  • Don’t use extension cords with portable heaters.
  • Make sure that you have a properly functioning smoke detector.

A final improvement is to install a programmable thermostat to control your central heating system. You can set this to provide a comfortable temperature throughout the house when everyone is home. This thermostat setting varies according to the thermal integrity of the house, but it shouldn’t be above 72?F. A programmable thermostat can then set the temperature back to a minimum of 50?F to 60?F at night or when most of the family is away at school and work. You can then leave your central system set to this lower level while you take advantage of zone heat provided in your warm rooms.

See The Homeowners Handbook to Energy Efficiency or Residential Energy: Cost Savings and Comfort for Existing BuildingsChapter 6 for more information.