HVAC Residential Market / Residential Controls / Zoning

Selling Zoning With a Changeout

May 16, 2011
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A typical retrofit damper illustrated with the cutting template on the damper tube.


If you are a contractor whose livelihood depends on changeouts and retrofits, you know that your revenue stream doesn’t solely depend on your technical ability to remove/replace older air conditioners and furnaces. You are successful because you understand that when you approach customers, you have their needs in mind and know how to sell them heating and cooling solutions that make them more comfortable, and maybe even save them money.

Some easy-to-learn sales techniques can help you sell a zoning system to your replacement customers. In addition, installing a retrofit zone system is much easier to learn than all of the techniques you had to learn to get certified. In this article we will discuss how to identify good zoning prospects, how to sell zoning systems, and how to plan retrofit zones.

When you have convinced a customer to purchase a new furnace or air conditioner, why not get the most profitability out of the opportunity by upselling this customer to a zone control system? If you’ve already discussed with customers all of the virtues of a new furnace or air conditioner, and they have decided to purchase a new system, you have already covered energy efficiency, utility savings, and comfort.

System replacement is the time to talk to your customers about also installing a zone control system - they are already in the mindset to save energy costs, and they are thinking about comfort.

IDENTIFYING PROSPECTS

During the recent economic downturn, many contractors have refocused on changeouts and retrofits. By selling zoning, you add to your bottom line and increase customer satisfaction. Most furnace or a/c system changeouts range from $2,000 on the low end to $8,000 on the high end. Installing zone control system retrofits is easier than you think - and can add $2,500 to $3,500 to your sale.

The best part is that installing a zoning solution really benefits your customers. Zoning solves comfort problems. Multiple thermostats and dampers working in conjunction with one HVAC system enable zoning systems to eliminate hot and cold spots.

Zoning can save energy because rooms not used can be deeply set back for dramatic utility savings, while occupied rooms have temperatures controlled by a nearby thermostat. On average, zoning systems save 20 to 30 percent annually on energy costs, and normally gain their costs back pretty quickly.

Jerry Aizen, owner of A New Image Heating & Cooling (Warrensville Heights, Ohio), has transformed his business from new construction to retrofits. He estimates that his company does 20 to 30 zoning projects annually. His four-man sales team schedules meetings with prospective customers. Sales representatives conduct an audit by doing a walkthrough. Before the sales team talks about zoning with customers, they identify whether the prospect is a likely candidate for a system.

“Our first concern is the comfort of our customers by providing better balance throughout the house,” said Aizen. Listening to customers helps the sales team to qualify good prospects for zoning. “We know there is a need for a zoning system when we hear comments such as, ‘I hate to go upstairs to go to sleep in the summer.’

“We look for tell-tale signs that make them more likely to be interested in a zoning system. If we see electric heaters, we know there is a balancing issue,” Aizen said. Other physical characteristics of a home can tell you that balance issues can be solved effectively with a zoning retrofit:

Split-level homes. Split-levels create many opportunities for trapped heat from level to level and segment to segment in the home.

Inefficient room configurations. A common problem is a room on the west side of a house that can’t get the right amount of airflow. In the morning, with the sun in the east, the room gets too much airflow; in the afternoon, probably not enough. With zoning that room gets the right airflow.

Exposed ductwork. This provides easier access and reduces labor costs for the customer.

Occupancy. Additionally, think about the prospect’s stage in life. Good candidates for zoning systems are empty nesters. They probably don’t need to heat or cool the kids’ rooms at night, so isolating the airflow to their own room makes sense.

Jerry Aizen, owner of A New Image Heating & Cooling, Warrensville Heights, Ohio.

SALES TECHNIQUES

Once the prospect is identified, the next step is to convince them to purchase a retrofit zone system. A good guiding principle that drives A New Image’s sales strategy is to care more about the customer than making a sale.

“Our sales strategy is to bond with our customers. We make an extra effort to understand their comfort concerns and their budgetary pain points,” said Aizen. Once you see eye-to-eye about what’s making them uncomfortable in the house, you have an opening to suggest retrofit zoning as a possible solution.

Typical prospects do not understand how air flows through their homes. Your first step should be to address their situation by explaining how a single system controls the whole house, so they are paying to heat-cool unoccupied rooms.

A very common sales approach is to instill a minimal level of doubt about their current system’s efficiency as it relates to comfort, energy consumption, and utility bills. This can be done with subtle questions.

Once they understand how air flows, you can address their concerns. Most prevalent is comfort from room to room. Once you explain that you can install thermostats in multiple zones, they start to understand that they can cool these areas more precisely and with less run time. Then ask, “Why would you want to cool off the first floor while you are in a second-floor bedroom at night?”

If controlling energy consumption costs is the prospect’s predominant concern, explain how wasteful it would be to have only one light switch to control every light in the entire house. It lights rooms where there is no reason to light the room, and it wastes energy lighting those rooms. That’s what is happening with a single system that’s not zoned.

Explain that by restricting airflow with a retrofit zoning system, the prospect can get additional energy savings of 20-30 percent, with dampers applied to areas not in use. It’s just like the lights: use them when you need to, turn them off when you don’t. On average, HVAC is typically 75 percent of the prospect’s monthly utility bill. Talk about being able to reduce this part of their utility bill with zoning.

For those who are more focused on household finances, discuss the excellent return on investment of zoning. Compared to other investments, a zoning system’s ROI value generally exceeds investments such as savings accounts. In this instance, the investment is the cost of the system. The estimated annual energy savings represents the return.

Calculate for the customer how the system that costs $3,200 could save $350 in energy costs. Depending on the weather conditions and utility rates, 350/$3,200 = 11 percent ROI, all net to the customer, whereas the other venues charge taxes on savings. Zoning will produce a better ROI than almost anything that you can put your money into right now. Oftentimes, ROI can be used as an effective closing tool.

When you start to talk cost of the system, many sales experts recommend presenting a wider range of prices. Doing this, you allow yourself negotiating strength, especially if you know that the customer is getting competitive bids.

“One of our biggest sales tools is offering a money-back guarantee on all parts,” said Aizen. “In that way, customers feel more assured that we’ll stand behind our work.”

Your formal sales process should address each element of qualifying, convincing, and closing. Once you’ve developed a system that works for you, don’t deviate from it. After a project is complete, make sure you check back with the customer about their satisfaction.

Many zone control, thermostat, and damper manufacturers will train your sales and tech staff on how to sell, plan, and install a zoning system. Such training will serve you well. (Alan Manufacturing, for example, has an abbreviated afternoon seminar on selling and installing zone control dampers. It covers when to propose retrofits versus new tube dampers, how to properly cut ductwork to accommodate retrofit dampers, and how to wire dampers to thermostats and control systems.)

Additionally, manufacturers can make their literature available to your technicians and sales staff, so they have the proper support material when discussing a retrofit zoning system with the potential customer.

BASIC RETROFIT ZONING

In zoning, dampers are used to direct conditioned air from a single HVAC system to more than one area, as needed. In a two-story home, for example, a two-zone system will most likely have two dampers. Each one controls the airflow to a zone - one zone upstairs and the other downstairs. The zone control system controls the dampers and HVAC system to heat and cool each zone.

The standard residential HVAC system has a single thermostat controlling the entire HVAC system. A zone controller connects multiple thermostats to the system. The zone controller itself is a small box that mounts back in the HVAC closet. It has one connection for each zone (which goes to a thermostat located in the zone); it has a connection for the HVAC system; and it has a connection for each damper.

The dampers are the key to zoning. They open and close the air duct leading to a zone. Common zone dampers feature a two-position blade with a spring return. This design uses basic 24-vac two-wire motors to power the opening and closing of the gasketed blade. The damper allows the zone controller to force heating or cooling to a particular zone.

Zone controllers use standard thermostats. The thermostat thinks it is controlling the HVAC system directly, when actually it is just “suggesting” to the zone controller what the zone needs. The HVAC unit thinks it is being controlled by a thermostat; it heats and cools as directed, irrespective of where the air is being diverted by the zone controller.

ZONED SYSTEM DESIGN

The materials you will need for a retrofit zone system are:

• Five- or seven-conductor thermostat wire for connecting the thermostats.

• Two-conductor thermostat wire for connecting the dampers.

• Retrofit dampers for each zone.

• One thermostat for each zone.

• The appropriate zone controller.

Here are seven steps to get started with a retrofit zoned system:

1. Decide how the structure will be zoned and how many zones it will have. A two-story home is usually zoned by stories. Try to make each zone cover the same-size area. Avoid having very large zones, which can be more difficult to control. In small zones, consider using register dampers.

2. Retrofit dampers connect each zone to a separate branch of the main duct. Plan on using a damper that will be installed at the branch point to each zone.

3. Consider upsizing the ducting to accommodate the increased volume. Duct sizes are calculated based on all zones being open.

When the zone controller closes one or more dampers, you don’t want the back pressure to increase significantly; this could damage the HVAC system. The ducting for each zone should be large enough to handle the air volume of the HVAC system alone. So the rule of thumb is to increase the duct capacity by 25 percent in a two-zone system. In a good majority of cases, you will need to install a bypass or a barometric damper to let the pressure from the extra airflow out of the system. If you don’t, you risk overloading the fan.

4. Once a slot is cut into the duct, slip the motorized damper assembly into the slot, then secure and seal the opening by using self-drilling mounting screws in predetermined points on the template. In a warm climate, where a/c will be used consistently, set the damper default to “open” in the room most heavily used, and set the default to “closed” in the rooms where airflow will generally be limited.

5. Connect one thermostat directly to the HVAC system and make sure everything is working before you add the zone controller. (Alan Manufacturing dampers are nonproprietary, so they work with virtually every manufacturer’s thermostats and controllers.)

6. Run two-conductor thermostat wire to each retrofit zone control damper’s location from the HVAC area. You’ll also need to run 24-V power to the motor.

7. Decide on the placement of each thermostat (one per zone) and run wire from each thermostat location to the HVAC area. If wiring is problematic, consider using a wireless thermostat. Retrofit dampers with prewired motors can make the job still easier.

You are doing both yourself and your customers a service by talking about a zone control retrofit with a changeout. They are easy to install, your customers will be more comfortable and save money, and your profits will increase.

Sidebar: Training

Alan Manufacturing has an abbreviated afternoon seminar on selling and installing zone control dampers that covers:

• When to propose retrofits versus new tube dampers.

• How to properly cut ductwork to accommodate retrofit dampers.

• How to wire dampers to thermostats and control systems.

For more information, visit www.alanmfg.com.

Publication date: 05/16/2011

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