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One unit or two for two-stories?

Posted: August 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Editor’s note: This is the 260th column from Robert Lamoureux and Your Home Improvements. That’s a total of five years of helpful advice dispensed to Santa Clarita Valley homeowners. “We look forward to more questions and working with our readers in the future,” said Lamoureux.

Hi Robert,

My wife and I look forward to your article in The Signal each week and feel you give very good advice.

We were going to have our air ducts cleaned but the company indicated they wouldn’t since the ducts were of the old variety and could be damaged by the cleaning unless we took the responsibility.  

They also determined a couple of the ducts actually were opened into the attic. We therefore are looking into replacing our air ducts which were originally installed in our two-story 2,340 square foot 1969 home.

We replaced the furnace and air conditioner in December 2011 with a 5-ton unit which we’ve been told is the correct size for this house and number of registers so are not interested in putting in two units.  

We have gotten three estimates for replacing the air ducts and two are in the same ballpark with the third somewhat lower (a newer company wanting to establish a customer base).

One of the higher ones indicated they don’t just replace the existing ducts with the same size but actually do a design analysis and would put in what would be most effective.

They also suggested that a two zone system might be desirable for our two-story house which included (I think he said) a new plenum (it’s not stated in the estimate) to be controlled by two thermostats rather than just the one we currently have downstairs.  

This sounds like a desirable option even though it costs more, but we weren’t sure about the effectiveness.

Can we keep the downstairs during the summer cooler during the day and upstairs warmer and vice versa at night and the reverse during the winter?  

Does this cause a problem with the HVAC system?  This decision needs to be made now since the design would be different for the two cases. Thanks for any insight you can give us.

Robert B.

Hi Robert,

Let’s say you have two zones with VAV (variable air volume) dampers which open like doors when you call for demand.  

When zone A reaches the desired temperature setting, the damper closes and stops the cold air from entering that zone. Since the damper for zone B works independently, you could keep both floors of your home operating year round at different temperatures. This would be no problem for your HVAC system.

The most cost efficient way to cool your house would be to leave both thermostats on at 77 or 78 degrees when you’re not home. If you turn everything off when you leave, the heat has a chance to penetrate your mattresses, furniture, floors and walls.  Waiting until you get home to turn everything ends up costing more money.  

Economically, what you’ll pay up front for a split zone system is well worth it.  I am 100 percent behind having the ducts sized correctly.  There are also velocity meters that can be used to gauge the amount of air going into different sized rooms. This meter is placed on each register so dampers can be adjusted accordingly.  

Hello Robert,

I know this is not an emergency but more of a nuisance for us. The problem is the switch for our garbage disposal is too far away from the sink.  

Whenever we want to use it, we have to go back and forth to sidestep and reach over to the middle of our counter and flip the switch which ends up getting our new counter all wet.

I know it might not sound like a big deal but I guess part of it is the poor engineering that upsets me. Another thing is we just had granite countertops put in and I didn’t even think to have the switch moved during the installation.  

So now I feel like we’re stuck.  Is there anything that can be done without having to rewire? Thank you,

Colin T.

Hi Colin,

You can put in a pneumatic switch without having to rewire the electrical. All you have to do is find where the garbage disposal plugs in under the sink.  

Plug the pneumatic switch into the receptacle and the disposal into the device.     

Next you would run the pneumatic tube which has a button on it, from the device up through the counter top and mount.  To core through the countertop, you’ll want to use a round concrete coring bit.  The installation instructions will call out what size to use.  

To core, attach the bit to a drill, or preferably a roto hammer. The bit comes with a pilot bit that will core into the top of the counter as a guide, followed by the round bit which will slowly start coring into the countertop.  

After the counter is cored, install by basically sandwiching the switch with a nut and bolt. Make sure to caulk up under the switch so you don’t get a leak.  

Coincidentally, I have one of these in my home. I personally had the same situation and one of the first things I did after moving in was install a pneumatic switch for my garbage disposal. It works like a charm.      

Hi Robert,

We have a telephone entry system tied to our front gate. For the last few months whenever a guest calls us to open the gate, I have to keep pushing nine or so times before the gate opens. Instead of hiring a gate technician, I wanted to check with you to see if it’s something we can address on our own. Thank you,

Reza H.

Hi Reza,

You’re probably using a cordless phone. Sometimes they don’t emit the same tone as a landline phone that is connected to a wall jack.  

We find this is the problem 99 percent of the time.  Use a landline if you have one, or purchase a different phone.

There are many phone manufacturers and the number tones should be a universal constant, but some are more easily recognizable by the circuit board in your telephone entry system.  

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Send your questions to


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