Conservation + Comfort: Indoor Air Quality Monitors Prompt Higher Sales

September 29, 2008
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A technician from Kaminer Heating and Air Conditioning places a monitor in a home for 48 hours, which gives an hour-by-hour breakdown of what’s in the air.

Nowhere is the saying “What you can’t see can hurt you” more evident than when discussing IAQ. Consider what could be floating around in just about any home or building. There might be mold spores, which are invisible to the naked eye; radon, which is a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted; and/or dust mites, which are too small to be seen, but are found in mattresses and bedding materials. Then there’s pet dander, volatile organic compounds, pollen, carbon monoxide (CO) … the list of invisible, potentially harmful components in the air is practically endless.

Obviously, not all indoor pollutants are created equal, as the presence of radon or CO in any building is a serious health threat to the occupants and should be addressed immediately. Other pollutants may cause irritating, chronic conditions such as headaches, runny noses, coughing, and itchy eyes. The good news is that all these issues can be corrected if the proper IAQ equipment is utilized.

Some may question how an HVAC professional can determine what kind of remediation efforts are needed if all these airborne irritants are invisible. The answer is to use an IAQ monitor, which can measure and record even low levels of various gases and particulates in the air. The report generated by the monitor will definitively state what IAQ problems exist, helping the HVAC professional determine the correct solution for the application.

RESIDENTIAL USE IS GROWING

Using an IAQ monitor in the residential market has definitely been beneficial for Kaminer Heating and Air Conditioning, Columbia, S.C. The company started using the monitors in September 2007, and sales of IAQ equipment increased enough in the first three months to pay back the $9,000 that was originally invested in three AirAdvice monitors.

“The monitor is especially helpful when we make a recommendation for an IAQ product and a customer isn’t sure about it. Then we’ll suggest setting up a monitor to test the air,” said Todd Kaminer, IIAQC, service manager and IAQ specialist, Kaminer Heating and Air Conditioning. “We place the monitor in the home for 48 hours, and it gives us an hour-by-hour breakdown of what’s in the air.”

Most customers are open to having the monitor placed in their homes, especially after Kaminer and his crew share their personal experiences. “All of our employees have tested their own homes, and they each carry a copy of their personal monitoring results. They show customers how the monitor works, what it does, and what the printout looks like,” said Kaminer. “When customers see that, it puts them a little more at ease. And once they see the results, any skepticism leaves pretty quickly.”

Customers can see the monitor is accurate because the report will demonstrate spikes in temperature, humidity, or particulate load depending on the activity in the home. The report makes it possible to show the customer that someone was probably showering at 7 a.m. because the monitor detected an increase in humidity. Or perhaps someone was vacuuming at 3 p.m., because the monitor shows a spike in airborne particulates.

Kaminer charges $100 to set the monitor for a 48-hour period of time, and that becomes a credit towards the purchase of any of the IAQ recommendations made by a Kaminer comfort consultant. If customers choose to not purchase anything, the credit is kept on the books in case they decide to buy something at a later date.

While most customers want the monitor placed in their homes so that IAQ issues can be identified and mitigated, others like it for peace of mind. “We actually had a customer who was selling his house, and he wanted the monitor placed in his home, so he could show realtors and potential buyers that his house had a clean bill of health. I thought that was a great idea. It cost him $100, but it probably made him $1,000,” said Kaminer.

If the monitor shows an IAQ issue and the customer chooses to have Kaminer fix it, he automatically places the monitor in the home - at no charge - after the installation to show the difference in air quality. “We want to make sure they don’t need anything else. People spend a lot of money on filters or other IAQ equipment, and we want to make sure we fixed the problem. Most of the time we know things are better because homeowners will call us a day or two after we put in a filtration system or an air cleaner and tell us what a dramatic difference there is. They can tell.”

The IAQ monitors have been great for business, and Kaminer also likes them because they differentiate his company from others in the area. “We’ve cornered the market here. There are a lot of companies that sell IAQ products, but they have nothing to back up their claims. We can actually visit a home, monitor the home, and give the homeowners a sheet of paper that shows we can improve their IAQ. We have proof.”

Bryten Sorenson from NW Ventilation, Vancouver, Wash., places an AirAdvice monitor in a customer’s home.

COMMERCIAL NEED FOR MONITORING

Joseph Williams, regional manager, AirCom Mechanical Inc., Milpitas, Calif., also extols the virtues of IAQ monitoring, only he sees its benefits in the commercial market. “When we go to a building, we often don’t have any documentation on how the mechanical system was engineered or set up. We have no way of knowing if the customer is getting the proper amount of fresh air, or if there is anything inside that could be generating carbon monoxide fumes. The monitor documents any IAQ problems, so we know how to solve them,” he said.

This is particularly important to building owners and property managers, who want to make sure any IAQ issues are addressed promptly and correctly. Owners and managers who fail to respond to tenant complaints about IAQ issues are leaving themselves open to litigation, so the monitor becomes part of the due diligence process.

When a tenant or building occupant complains about a building’s IAQ, the owner or manager often calls Williams to evaluate the problem. He will look at the area in question, as well as interview those who have complained about a particular problem to see if he can determine what might be causing the issue. Responsible building owners and managers want to make sure their tenants are happy, so more often than not, they will request that the space be monitored if there have been several IAQ complaints.

AirCom Mechanical doesn’t own its own monitoring equipment, instead it rents DirectSense IAQ monitors whenever needed. “We do IAQ monitoring about once or twice a month, so we rent the equipment for about a week and do three or four clients at a time. We like renting because we never have to worry about calibration. It’s very simple for us to rent it when we need it, consolidate the monitoring at one time, and then return it in good shape,” said Williams.

Williams likes the portability of the DirectSense IAQ monitor, as well as the fact that it comes locked and contained in a hard-sided case. This is important for when he needs to leave it in an area to collect data for 24 hours. Other times, he just needs to spot test an area, particularly when tenants complain of problems at a specific time of day. “We try to test the areas of complaint, and then we test some areas that don’t have complaints, then we compare those results and that helps to isolate the issues.”

After the monitoring is finished, the report is printed out, and the client is notified of any findings. If there are problems, remediation is discussed, which may include installing proper filtration, setting up a fresh air system, or fixing an exhaust system. After improvements are made, Williams sets up the monitor again to make sure the problem is solved. “Having proof that the IAQ problem was identified and fixed is a very big deal in California,” said Williams. “In our state, whenever a building is sold, the building owner has to present documentation showing that all IAQ problems have been addressed, assessed, and resolved.”

The monitor provides this documentation, so building owners can rest easy that the problems have been fixed. “People look at us to be the experts. If they’re having an IAQ problem with their building, they know we’re going to provide them with the highest quality solution, and monitoring is part of that solution,” said Williams.

Publication date: 09/29/2008

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