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In the interest of improving efficiency and occupant comfort, such systems are commonly divided up into multiple zones. For example, in a house, the main floor may be served by one heating zone while the upstairs bedrooms are served by another. In this way, the heat can be directed principally to the main floor during the day and principally to the bedrooms at night, allowing the unoccupied areas to cool down.
This zoning can be accomplished in one of two ways:
- Multiple circulator pumps, or
- A single circulator pump and zone valves.
Zone valve construction and operation
Zone valves as used in home hydronic systems are usually electrically powered. In large commercial installations, vacuum or compressed air may be used instead. In either case, the motor is usually connected to the water valve via a mechanical coupling.
For electrical zone valves, the motor is often a small shaded-pole synchronous motor combined with a rotary switch that can disconnect the motor at either of the two stopping points ("valve open" or "valve closed"). In this way, applying power to the "open valve" terminal causes the motor to run until the valve is open while applying power at the "close valve" terminal causes the motor to run until the valve is closed. The motor is commonly powered from the same 24 volt ac power source that is used for the rest of the control system. This allows the zone valves to be directly controlled by low-voltage thermostats and wired with low-voltage wiring. This style of valves requires the use of an SPDT thermostat or relay.
Zone valves can also be constructed using wax motors and a spring-return mechanism. In this case, the valve is normally closed by the force of the spring but can be opened by the force of the wax motor. Removal of electrical power re-closes the valve. This style of zone valve operates with a perfectly ordinary SPST thermostat.
For vacuum- or pneumatically operated zone valves, the thermostat usually switches the pressure or vacuum on or off, causing a spring-loaded rubber diaphragm to move and actuate the valve. Unlike the electrical zone valves, these valves automatically return to the default position without the application of any power, and the default position is usually "open", allowing heat to flow.
Comparison with multiple circulator pumps
Multiple zones can be implemented using either multiple, individually controlled circulator pumps or a single pump and multiple zone valves. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.
Multiple pump system
- Lower total cost of ownership when zone valve failure and repair costs are taken into account.
- More robust and reliable system.
- Simple mechanical and control design ("SPST thermostats")
- Redundancy: If one zone pump fails, the others can remain working
- Far superior method of linking multiple heat sources. Such as gas and solid fuel in one system.
- Higher initial installation cost. Circulator pumps cost more than zone valves
- Higher power consumption. Operating circulators draw more power any time the zone is actively heating. Zone valves, by comparison, draw little power at any time and many designs only draw power while in transition from open to close or vice versa.
Zone valve system
- Lower initial installation cost.
- Lower power consumption.
- Ease of maintenance certain models.
- Zone valves are inherently more unreliable and prone to a very high failure rate. Zone valves operated by electric timing motors aren't "fail safe" (failing to the "open" condition).
- No inherent redundancy for the pump. A zone-valved system is dependent upon a single circulator pump. If it fails, the system becomes completely inoperable.
- The system can be harder to design, requiring both "SPDT" thermostats or relays and the ability of the system to withstand the fault condition whereby all zone valves are closed simultaneously.
Typical manufacturers of zone valves
- Valemo Controls
- Bell & Gossett
- Mut Meccanica