Unbalanced Heat, Hot Water or Hot Air


What are some of the possible reasons that your home is plagued by a heating system that just does not seem balanced?

What do we mean when we say unbalanced?

In many homes the heating system is split up into zones. A zone is an area of the home that has been selected to receive its own thermostat, allowing the heating to be controlled specifically for that area of the home. In many instances the upstairs is on a separate zone from the downstairs area of the home. If there is a separate master bedroom section of the home, this area could be zoned separately from the remainder of the house.

In all cases there will be separate thermostats, or controls that will allow the homeowner to control the temperature separately for each zoned area of the home.

If the home has a hot water baseboard type of heating system, then the thermostat for each zone, controls a separate circulator pump that moves the hot water from the boiler through the baseboard heating elements, located around the perimeter of the floor in that particular zone. The piping is configured to allow the hot water to only circulate within the zone that the circulator is piped for. In another type of hot water system, there could be one or two primary circulators and zone valves that turn on or off, to allow hot water to flow only into the zone that the zone valve controls. Each zone valve is connected to the appropriate thermostat, located in the particular zone that it controls.

If the home has a hot air system of heating, through ductwork that services each area of the home, the control of each zone is with a control damper. The control damper is located within the ductwork and is located at the appropriate branch of ductwork, off the primary trunk line, that serves the specific zone to be controlled. The control damper will either open or close to allow warm air to circulate, or to stop the warm air from circulating throughout the specific zone. In this manner, the temperatures are controlled specifically in that area.

If the installation of the heating systems, whether they are hot water or hot air is performed properly, the systems are balanced to allow the proper amount of either hot water or hot air to enter the appropriate zone, for proper balancing of the system. The resultant proper operation of the systems, whether hot water or hot air, is to have the thermostats control the valves or dampers allowing either hot water or hot air to circulate, and provide the required temperature in each zone.

What are some of the issues that can occur to cause an unbalanced system or failure of the heating systems, whether water or air, to properly distribute the required heat to each zone, causing an unbalanced situation?

Unbalanced in this instance means that the specific zones, are either too hot or too cold and not maintaining the temperature settings noted on the thermostats.

  1. The thermostat batteries have to be replaced. This is the simplest solution to your balancing issues. Make sure each thermostat has a fresh battery.
  2. The thermostat is not calibrated. Each thermostat is calibrated to properly measure the temperature of the air and turn the systems either on or off accordingly. If the thermostat, for any reason, is incorrectly reading the temperature, then it will not accurately turn the heat on and off properly. This can be determined by turning the thermostat up or down, and comparing what the thermostat reads with a separate independent thermometer to see if the two match. If not, then you will be able to adjust your thermostat setting either up or down, to correspond to the correct temperature. If your independent thermometer reads 78, and your thermostat reads 82, then you understand that there is a 4 degree difference and you can operate the system accordingly. If you do not want to calculate the appropriate temperature based upon the comparison, then a new thermostat should be purchased.
  3. Either the zone valves, for hot water, or the zone dampers, for hot air, are not properly responding to the independent thermostats. This could be a case of the valves or dampers being stuck in an open or closed position, or not opening and closing in full, as they are designed. In either case, a professional plumber, hot water, or HVAC, hot air, contractor will need to take the system apart and address the problem.
  4. In some instances, the blower motor or fan, or the circulator pumps are not functioning properly. However, this is not common, and the issue is normally with the thermostats, valves or dampers.

Residential heating systems are normally very reliable, and the mechanical function is extremely simple. Any issues that relate to an unbalanced system are normally not extensive or an expensive repair, and can be easily performed by either a professional plumber or HVAC contractor.

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