Home Health + Comfort: Zoning Adds Vim to Bottom Line
August 23, 2010
These days everyone is looking for opportunities to add a few more dollars to each sale. One of the best ways to do this, according to many contractors, is to offer zoning to customers whenever it makes sense. While zoning can increase the comfort level of just about any home, houses with two or more floors are prime candidates, as are homes in which customers complain that certain rooms are too hot or too cold.
“We offer zoning just about all the time in retrofit situations,” said Greg Smith, president and owner, Quality Heating and Sheet Metal Co., Brookfield, Wis. “We sell it as a comfort option, which is definitely of interest to customers who have bigger homes with only one air conditioner and furnace. Zoning makes it easier for the customer to have a higher level of comfort in their home, and it’s a profitable add-on for us.”
TRY IT, YOU'LL LIKE ITMike Giordano, president, United Air Temp, Washington, D.C., started offering zoning after he experienced its benefits first hand. “In 2000, I was working in sales, and someone from EWC Controls came to tell us about zoning. I had a four-story townhouse at the time, and the upstairs was very uncomfortable. I was skeptical that zoning would really make a difference, so the sales rep gave me a zoning system to try out, and it worked perfectly. My wife was thrilled. We started offering it to customers, and it was a big hit. We have installed tons of it.”
While the initial sale of a zoning system is definitely a benefit, Giordano stated that the product also creates customers for life. “That’s one of the best things about zoning: It’s something we offer that people really appreciate. They notice it because it makes them comfortable. They think it’s us who made them this comfortable, rather than the zoning system, which is definitely wonderful.”
Educating customers about the benefits of zoning is pretty straightforward, said Smith. “Customers usually understand that having thermostats in different parts of the house will make them more comfortable. In our area, a lot of people have basements that they’re finishing off and turning into game rooms and theater rooms. What customers recognize is that basements are cold, and zoning makes the basements comfortable, so it’s an easy sell. There’s a lot of word of mouth, too, because people can feel the difference with zoning.”
While Smith does a lot of retrofit zoning, he would like the opportunity to sell it more often in new construction as well. Unfortunately, that opportunity does not arise frequently because builders rarely let him talk directly to customers. “We have a few builders who really understand how well zoning works. They understand that bigger homes with multiple levels need better comfort control, and zoning is a cost-effective way of achieving that control.”
Giordano is not involved in any new construction, but on the retrofit side, he takes every opportunity to talk to customers about zoning. The most common way he applies zoning to a home is to split an upstairs from the downstairs, but sometimes he’ll split the top floor into two zones as well. “A lot of people try to sell zoning as a way to save money, and while it does save some, customers won’t buy it based on that. You have to sell it on comfort.”
EASIER THAN EVERWhile zoning systems cannot be used in every home, they have become easier to install in recent years. According to Smith, ZoneFirst now offers a plug-and-play system that is one of the easiest systems he’s ever installed. “We were a little nervous about it in the beginning because you just plug it in like a telephone jack, and we thought that would be the weak link. However, this system never fails, and it installs really quickly. Everything comes with it, and the support is always there if we need it.”
Smith said that he can zone almost any home in his area, thanks to handy work-arounds. “In new construction, we size the ductwork a little larger to take care of any noise issues, but that’s not always possible in retrofit situations. If we can’t change ductwork or there’s a space problem, we use retrofit dampers, which work pretty well.”
Homes in Giordano’s area are often 50 to 75 years old, and they are not always good candidates for zoning. These homes - often Colonials and Cape Cods - usually have one main trunk going down the middle of the house with no exposed ductwork. If the ductwork in the basement is exposed, Giordano can use insertion dampers in order to make zoning work. “All you have to do is just drill a tiny hole in each of the trunks that comes off, and you put a little damper in each one of those, and that gives us another opportunity to offer zoning. It’s worked out well.”
Undersized ductwork is not usually a problem in retrofit applications because zoning slightly increases static pressure, which can actually help a system perform better. Zoning can also work with older forced-air heating and cooling equipment, although that is not an optimal situation. As Smith noted, if a customer has older equipment but wants zoning, he always explains the benefits of replacing the entire system to obtain the best level of comfort.
Zoning offers tangible benefits for both customers and contractors, which is why it has become such a popular add-on sale. As Giordano noted, “Customers look to us to solve their comfort problems, and with zoning we do solve those issues. That differentiates us from the competition, and it makes us more profitable.”
Publication date: 08/23/2010