Home Health + Comfort: A Breath Of Fresh Air (Can Be Profitable)

March 22, 2010
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Energy recovery ventilators are frequently used to ventilate homes and reduce energy costs. (Courtesy of Aprilaire.)


Proper ventilation is necessary to ensure that pollutants in a home do not accumulate to levels that can cause health and comfort problems for the occupants. One of the best ways to lower the concentration of indoor air pollutants is to increase the amount of outdoor air coming into the home through the use of mechanical ventilation.

There are numerous types of mechanical ventilation equipment available that can introduce enough fresh air to mitigate most IAQ problems. These products include everything from exhaust fans that intermittently remove air from a single room, such as bathrooms and kitchens, to central air-handling systems that continuously remove air from the home and then replace it with filtered and conditioned outdoor air.

The majority of homes in the United States do not have adequate ventilation. Most lack ventilation completely, or else they have unducted ventilation or inadequate ducted ventilation. This is a prime opportunity for contractors, as those who take an aggressive approach to helping their customers address their ventilation issues will be rewarded with profitable add-on business.

LOW ON AIR

The reason why most homes do not have adequate ventilation is because, in the past, building codes did not require ventilation fans if the bathroom had a window, said Jim Shelton, Southeast regional manager, Panasonic Home & Environment Co., Palm Harbor, Fla. “Even if the local code required the installation of a bath fan, the fan only had to be a 50-cfm model which, in most cases, is not large enough to remove the moisture out of the bathroom. These 50-cfm fans are also quite loud, and the homeowner may not even turn it on due to the noise.”

Most contractors are aware that ventilation is a key component in the overall IAQ equation; however, the issue is not always discussed with homeowners until a secondary condition arises due to improper ventilation, said Dennie Plomedahl, product specialist, Aprilaire, Madison, Wis. “A recent cold snap generated many consumer phone calls regarding condensation that had formed on the inside of their windows. While proper ventilation practices would have prevented the majority of these occurrences, contractors now have a great opportunity to improve their customers’ IAQ. Contractors could head off most of these issues by discussing ventilation and other IAQ products in general.”

Talking about ventilation provides a huge opportunity for contractors, said Patrick Nielsen, marketing manager - ventilation fans, Broan-NuTone, Hartford, Wis., as they can make sure that their customers (e.g., builders, homeowners) are fully aware of the negative impacts of poor IAQ. “Not only are there quality fans available that move more air, they also have other benefits to the occupants such as quieter operation, energy-efficient operation for lower ongoing electric bills, automatic operation such as humidity sensing, and stylish or inconspicuous looks such as recessed fan/lights.”

Ventilation dampers can be used as part of a whole-house solution for IAQ problems. (Courtesy of Aprilaire.)

While proper ventilation is definitely advantageous for home- owners, as it results in a healthier, more comfortable home, there are also benefits for contractors. For example, offering comprehensive IAQ solutions positions the contractor as an IAQ expert, which leads to more satisfied customers and fewer callbacks, noted Plomedahl.

A wide-ranging knowledge about IAQ also sets contractors apart from the competition, which can lead to more sales. Consider bathroom fans, which for years have been installed by electrical contractors. Those installations are now shifting more toward HVAC contractors, as customers are looking for help, and IAQ is outside the realm of expertise of most electrical contractors, said Shelton. “Energy-efficient bathroom fans and whole-house ventilators can be easily installed in new homes or retrofitted into existing homes.”

The key to being profitable with add-on IAQ equipment is to offer not just basic economy ventilation products but step-up models as well, said Nielsen. “Models with added features such as lights, nightlights, heaters, and humidity-sensing capability offer greater margin opportunities to the contractor. A variety of models that include recessed fan/lights (that look like ordinary can lights) or decorative fan/lights also offer builders a way to set their homes apart from the ordinary, which makes them more willing to compensate the contractor in a profitable way.”

Bathrooms fans, which for years have been installed by electrical contractors, are now becoming the purview of HVAC contractors. (Courtesy of Panasonic.)

THE RETROFIT QUESTION

While additional ventilation can be a profitable add-on, some contractors may be reluctant to offer it due to common difficulties that can arise in retrofit situations, such as adding ventilation to a room that has never had it before or getting the fans to fit in the space above the ceiling. Contractors can rest assured that manufacturers now offer a variety of products that are designed for retrofit situations as well as new construction.

Panasonic, for example, offers WhisperWall™ - a through-the-wall fan designed to be mounted on an exterior wall and exhausted directly to the outside - for installations where running ductwork is not an option. The company’s WhisperFit™ Series can also be used in retrofit situations, as it is a low-profile vent fan that can fit anywhere a regular commodity fan is already installed. WhisperFit™ can even be installed from below the ceiling.

Most of Broan-NuTone’s ventilation products can also be installed as retrofits. The company’s new QTRE080R Energy Star-qualified Ultra Silent fan, for example, is specifically designed to be easily retrofitted from the room side without attic access. “It has a specially designed telescoping frame that can be expanded to various spaces between joists/trusses and allows for mounting anywhere in between,” said Nielsen. “A unique duct connector bracket makes duct attachment a breeze, and lastly, the housing simply slides up into place. Again, all this can be done from below the ceiling.”

Aprilaire also provides a full line of IAQ products including whole-home dehumidifiers with integrated ventilation options, energy recovery ventilators and automatic ventilation kits. Plomedahl stated that Aprilaire products can be installed in virtually all applications, both new construction and retrofit.

EPA studies have shown that concentrations of toxic pollutants can be up to 10 times greater inside homes than outside, which is why there are opportunities for contractors to offer ventilation options in every region of the country. Contractors who take the time to educate their customers about mechanical ventilation systems and other IAQ solutions not only end up with healthier, more satisfied customers, they end up with healthier profits.

Publication date: 03/22/2010

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