HVAC dampers are a frequently overlooked part of an HVAC system. Many types of heating and cooling units don’t even use dampers. However, they can be very beneficial in certain situations. Learning about HVAC dampers will help you decide if you want a damper system in your home.
What Are HVAC Dampers?
An HVAC damper is a type of ducting component. HVAC dampers are most common in a zoned system, but some other types of ducts might also include them. A damper is simply a movable piece of metal that fits inside your duct. The metal plate can swivel in different directions to direct airflow. When the damper is in a closed position, you can stop treated air from flowing into part of the house.
Keep in mind that dampers are different from HVAC vents that open and close. When you close an HVAC vent, the air is still flowing along the duct. Meanwhile, dampers are positioned near the opening of a duct. Closing one will keep your HVAC system from even running cold or hot air through that duct. This allows you to regulate temperatures in your home without disrupting the air pressure in your ductwork.
HVAC dampers come in a few different styles. Butterfly dampers have a round shape with a hinge in the middle. The blades can bend towards each other to open or flatten to close the duct. Butterfly dampers are very useful for preventing backdrafts and reducing fire risks. Another helpful option is the guillotine damper. This is a single plate of metal that raises and lowers into place, so it can seal your ducts very tightly. The most common type of damper for a residential HVAC system is louver dampers. These dampers have a row of narrow, horizontal blades on a hinge. They fit a variety of duct shapes and block a lot of air.
The Benefits of HVAC Dampers
HVAC dampers play a very important role in regulating your HVAC system. When installed in a zoned system, HVAC dampers let you choose which parts of a home get heat or AC. You can close dampers to redirect air away from rooms that aren’t frequently in use. This helps you to save money on your utility bills. Instead of paying to heat or cool empty rooms, you can use just enough power to keep your home comfortable.
HVAC dampers also make it easier to accommodate different heating and cooling needs. Since you can have the dampers open, closed, or angled, you can finetune how much air any room gets. A person who runs cold could close the dampers in their bedroom, so they don’t get chilly while you cool the rest of their home. Dampers easily resolve any arguments about what temperature to use for your thermostat.
Compared to just manually adjusting an HVAC vent, dampers have some unique perks. Since the damper is close to the opening of the duct, closing it actually redirects air. Instead of swirling around by your closed vent, your hot or cold air actually goes to other parts of your house. This means that the effects of your HVAC system will be a little stronger in the other rooms. Ultimately, if your priority is saving money, dampers provide more benefits than adjustable vents.
The final benefit of dampers is that they provide better air distribution. If you notice that one part of your home is uncomfortably hot or cold, dampers can help. Adjusting their position can allow air to move through your home more evenly, so you don’t get weird hot spots or cold spots.
Manual vs. Automatic HVAC Dampers
If you are adding dampers to your system, you have a few different options for how to control them. Manual dampers are dampers that you toggle open or closed with a small handle. Adjusting this sort of damper often involves opening an access panel in your wall, going to the basement to poke around near your furnace, or climbing up a ladder to reach a duct. Though adjusting them takes a little effort, they have the benefit of being low-maintenance and affordable to install.
Your other option is automatic HVAC dampers. These attach to a motor that closes and opens your dampers according to your thermostat settings. Automatic dampers are a little more convenient to adjust. Though you have to pay more to get them set up, they make it easy to quickly reroute airflow through your ductwork. Some systems can even automate your damper movements to change airflow according to different types of weather.
How to Tell If You Have Dampers
If you’re installing a brand new HVAC system in your home, you’ll easily be able to tell whether your system includes dampers. However, things can be a little trickier if you have just bought a home with a pre-existing HVAC system. Dampers are not immediately visible, so many people can go years without realizing they have dampers.
If you suspect your home might have dampers, start by locating your furnace or your air handler. Next, take a close look at all the main duct trunks. Dampers are usually going to be somewhere between 2 feet to 6 feet away from your main duct. Look for a small metal handle, wingnut, or lever protruding from the duct. When you gently twist this, you should be able to hear an immediate change in airflow. To see which duct goes to which room, you will need to twist each duct closed and then check your vents to see whether there is any airflow.
Adjust Your Dampers to Get the Perfect Temperature
Once you’ve found your dampers, how do you control them? There are a few different things to consider when changing your damper settings. In a house where one person is always hot or cold, your damper adjustment might simply be closing off a single vent. Another common strategy for adjusting dampers is to close the dampers that go to rooms you barely ever use. If you have a storage room or extra bedroom that no one goes in, closing the damper and the door can save you money.
When adjusting your dampers for better air distribution, you have to take the weather and your home’s design into account. During the summer, the main problem is that cold air sinks, so lower levels tend to be chillier. Closing dampers to your basement will send more cold air toward your upper levels. This air then naturally settles, so even the lower levels of your home will still be cool. During the winter, you’ll need to do the opposite. Since hot air rises, you will want to close the dampers on the upper floors. This will send extra heat to the lower floors, and then it will gently drift upwards and warm your home evenly.
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