How to Create Heating Zones in a Hot-Water Heating System

Hot-Water Heating System

Zoning your home heating system is a vital upgrade that will allow effective control of heat distribution throughout your home. When you zone your home heating system, you split your home into separate and independent zones. In other words, you can control which part of your home gets the heat and at what temperatures. This also ensures evenly-distributed heat around the independent zones and your entire home.

To create zones in your hot-water heating system, you will need some tools and supplies. The procedure involves installing zone valves and new plumbing to control heat distribution. Some of its benefits include lowering heating costs, boosting efficiency, and enhancing comfort throughout your home. We’ve covered more on creating zones in your hot-water heating system below.

How Zone Heating Works 

The working principle of zone heating is simple. Imagine your home with electric bulbs and switches in every room or water faucets at every water point. When working in the kitchen, you can turn off the lights in all the other areas. You can also run the kitchen tap while the bathroom tap or other taps remain turned off. The same can happen for home heating, except that you won’t use manual switches but zone valves and thermostats.

Zone valves control water flow in a hot-water heating system. These valves are controlled by an actuator that opens or closes the valve, depending on the thermostat setting. The valves are available in various connection types and in either two- or three-way valve configurations. Zone valves can be normally closed (NC) or normally open (NO) and can provide varying flow rates based on the valve size. This allows homeowners to choose the best system for their floor plans and zone sizes.  

Creating Zones in a Hot-water Heating System 

Before adding zones to your radiant heat system, you’ll need critical plumbing tools such as a pipe tubing cutter, Mapp gas torch, pliers, pipe wrench, screwdrivers, copper-pipe sweating tools, etc. Some critical supplies you’ll need include the appropriate hot water and steam valves (shut-off valves and zone valves), brass fittings, copper pipe, and fittings. 

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Figure 1. Zone Valve Example 

Other supplies include:

  • Plastic wall anchors.
  • Wireless thermostat – one for each zone, or a smart thermostat with sensors. 
  • Wireless thermostat receiver and thermostat wire.
  • Pipe dope and copper-pipe sweating supplies.
  • Zone valve control module.

Adding zones to your home heating takes a couple of hours, and the project can be easy or complicated depending on your skills/expertise and the size of your home. To fast-track the installation process, you may want to enroll the help of a licensed and insured plumbing professional. That way, you’ll ensure everything works as expected. Below is a quick breakdown of the installation procedure.

  • Drain your home’s boiler system. Begin by turning off the gas to the boiler, then ensure the water-fill valves are closed. Turn off the electrical supply at the boiler switch and circuit breaker panel. Next is to drain water from the entire boiler system, preferably using a portable transfer pump.
  • Remove the old plumbing system. Since you’ll be installing the zone valve on the return side of the boiler plumbing, you need to create enough space for the fittings. Use a pipe tubing cutter to cut the boiler return pipes at the inlet and at the point the lines come close together, just above the boiler.
  • Install zone valves & new plumbing. Use the copper tubing pipes to build new return plumbing return lines. Install one zone valve on the return plumbing for every heating zone and remove electronic control before soldering. You should also install a new shut-off valve on each zone-return plumbing.
  • Install thermostats. Every new zone requires a wireless thermostat, or you can choose a smart thermostat with remote sensors. A wire thermostat can also work well, except the running wires can be quite a nuisance. Always choose a spot for the thermostat 5 feet from the floor. Also, avoid sun-lit areas, windows, or drafty spots that could affect the temperature reading.
  • Install the zone and thermostat controls. These controls include the wireless thermostat receiver module, zone valve control module, and zone control heads. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions and stick to the National Electrical Code specifications.
  • Refill the Boiler. To begin enjoying your new home heating system, refill the boiler and radiator system before turning on the electrical power to the boiler. Bleed the radiators, then ignite the burner’s pilot light. Set up your thermostats, and you are good to go. 

Choosing the Right Valve 

Hot water and steam valves come in various types and designs. When choosing zone and shut-off valves for zoning your home heating system, pay attention to the valves’ seal and housing material, circuit function, response time, and flow rate. Ideally, metallic materials like stainless steel for housing are highly recommended due to their durable and rust-resistant properties. 

On the other hand, EPDM or PTFE for seal material would work just fine. You also want to determine the max pressure and pressure differential, noting that indirectly-operated solenoid valves require a permanent pressure differential to function correctly.

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