Conservation + Comfort: New Homes Benefit From Accessories

August 25, 2008
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The residential new construction boom of the last few years has definitely come to an end. However, that doesn’t mean all building has stopped or that new home buyers are only looking for the cheapest HVAC solution. Consumer research shows that homeowners are willing to pay more for a higher level of comfort, which can include the installation of zoning and IAQ accessories. New home builders have often been reluctant to offer additional HVAC accessories such as ultraviolet (UV) lights, programmable thermostats, and electronic air cleaners, for fear that the new home buyer may be priced out of the market. However, customers are demanding more HVAC and IAQ options, and manufacturers are responding by providing products that meet the new home buyer’s needs.

ZONING A POPULAR OPTION

There is no doubt that homeowners want comfort, and they want technology that puts them in charge of their environment, said Dennis D. Laughlin, president, Arzel Zoning Technology Inc., Cleveland. Zoning definitely gives homeowners the ability to match the delivery of conditioned air to the use pattern of their home. Controlling temperatures in critical areas means more efficient energy use, occupants are happier and more comfortable and feel better about the responsible use of resources.

“Contractors have often presented the zoning option to their builders as a way to offer the benefits of increased HVAC control,” said Laughlin. “The age-old question is how much are customers willing to pay. If contractors can quantify their need and discover their pain, then the numbers may be more relevant. It is a function of value, warranty, and reduced energy usage capitalized over some period of time.”

The challenge is getting the home builder to give contractors face time with the home buyers, so they can find out more about the customer’s lifestyle and comfort requirements. As Laughlin noted, “Builders hold the keys to the customer vault in this particular portion of the market.”

And while building may have slowed over the last year or two, the issues of comfort and IAQ are still there. Laughlin sees an increased emphasis on offering features such as zoning to new home buyers, and he thinks builders would be receptive to contractors offering accessories because everyone is struggling for differentiation.

“Builders are all about features, not so much about equipment,” said Laughlin. “The most effective piece of knowledge for the builder is that any room is capable of having a thermostat. Effectively, this helps the builder’s salesperson tap into the way a homeowner envisions living in the home, which is a huge step to getting them toward the decision of buying the home.”

Zoning gives homeowners better comfort and the ability to put them in charge of their environment. (Photo courtesy of Arzel Zoning.)

UPGRADING THE THERMOSTAT

Lux Products, Mount Laurel, N.J., has a full line of programmable and nonprogrammable thermostats that are suitable for both new and existing homes, said Steve Millheiser, vice president of marketing. However, upgraded thermostats are particularly well suited to new construction, he noted, because houses are being built more tightly than ever.

“As new homes are being built with tighter construction and more insulation, Lux Products can offer its patented Clean Cycle™ feature, which addresses moving air past IAQ accessories such as UV lights and high-MERV filters. This helps eliminate particulates and VOCs [volatile organic compounds] that might be trapped in a highly insulated space.”

The Clean Cycle feature is offered on all of LuxPro’s Pro-Fit™ Series of programmable and nonprogrammable thermostats. With this thermostat, the air handler blower is put on a separate relay, which allows the homeowner to program the blower to operate for a certain number of minutes each hour, even when the thermostat is not calling for heating or cooling. This means air can move past the air cleaners, filters, etc., which improves IAQ even when there is no system requirement for heating or cooling, and it is not necessary to keep the fan running all the time.

The slow housing market doesn’t mean demand for upgraded, programmable thermostats has come to an end. As Millheiser stated, “There are still plenty of high-end homes being built, and there are a lot of sophisticated buyers out there, looking for the right thermostat to control their systems.”

Dan Joyce, channel marketing director North America, Honeywell, Golden Valley, Minn., agreed, noting that energy-saving programmable thermostats are by far the most popular upgrade selected in new housing. “Beazer Homes recently standardized on Honeywell’s FocusPRO 6000 programmable thermostat as part of its eSMART program. It is just one example of how home builders are differentiating themselves through HVAC products.”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Working in the residential new construction market is all about relationships. Basically, both manufacturers and contractors must have good relationships with the home builders in order to be able to offer upgraded equipment and HVAC accessories.

Honeywell, for example, has placed a dedicated focus on the new construction market for well over a decade. Its team of builder specialists works directly with new construction contractors to drive higher HVAC standards with top builders.

“We’ve built relationships with top home builders and have helped develop the market and improve energy savings, air quality, and comfort for home buyers,” said Joyce. “As a support to our contractor partners, we work with home builders to provide education, support, and information to drive product sales and boost profits. We are dedicated to continuing that focus even as the housing market slows.”

Another important relationship is that of the contractor and the home buyer, and as Laughlin noted earlier, a face-to-face meeting is key to ensuring the success of this relationship. It’s no surprise that the most successful contractors get to meet directly with home buyers during the selection process.

A great example of this success, said Joyce, is Gary Southern, sales manager, Four Seasons Heating and Home Comfort Solutions, Denver, who meets with home buyers in order to go over all of the IAQ, comfort, and energy-savings options for their home. “This educates the homeowners, and homeowners usually choose to buy products from programmable thermostats to IAQ to zoning, etc.,” Joyce noted.

This education process is critical, as more and more home buyers are learning about improved IAQ, comfort, and energy efficiency from the Internet. Some of the information they find may not be accurate, so it’s up to contractors to show buyers exactly how to improve their energy savings, achieve greater operational efficiency, and add to the comfort and value of the home.

As Laughlin noted, “Contractors need to be aware that home buyers are searching the Web at increasing rates, and today’s consumer is much better prepared to buy upscale products than ever before. The down side to that for contractors is that if their salespeople are not prepared to talk intelligently on these subjects, they lose tremendous credibility in the eyes of the customer.”

To help better educate salespeople, Arzel Zoning has initiated its Comfort College®, which is a two-day school that deals with design, application, and opportunity recognition. “We are constantly in front of contractor and distributor groups, educating them on the benefits of offering zoning to their customers,” said Laughlin.

Honeywell also focuses on education by providing free, customized consumer literature to all of its channel partners, distributors, contractors, and home builders. “Honeywell has dedicated builder and contractor sales specialists in addition to our distributor representatives,” said Joyce. “All of this helps us drive market opportunity to propel the HVAC industry further, faster.”

Contractors should take advantage of any and all of these educational opportunities, as new home builders will continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves during the downturn in new housing construction. Offering the latest and greatest IAQ and comfort products to home buyers is also a great way for contractors to differentiate themselves from the competition, and this will result in a growing number of customers who will be thankful that their new houses are comfortable and energy efficient.

Publication date: 08/25/2008

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