ACHRNEWS

Laying the Filter Facts on the Line

June 19, 2000
One of the contractor’s most profitable areas is add-on sales. It can be an extended warranty, maintenance agreement, dehumidifier, air-filtering system, or any other product or service that adds to the value of the sale and installation of a heating or cooling system.

In the age of Internet usage and more informed customers, the groundwork is often laid for add-on sales. Customers with web access are learning about topics such as IAQ and healthy homes. In many cases, they download a file from the Internet and have questions in hand before contractors make the initial sales presentation.

It’s a safe bet that many home and business owners know something about indoor air quality. But the question is, do they know enough to make an educated buying decision? Should we continue to pass on important information to them in hopes of attaining more add-on sales and repeat business?

The answer is an emphatic yes.

Identifying Pollutants in the Home, Workplace

The first step to solving a problem is showing that one exists. That is never truer than when it comes to selling filtration to home and business owners.

In order to gain a more knowledgeable opinion on filtration and selling tips, The News visited Lou Laroche and Carl Redner of General Filters, Inc., Novi, MI, manufacturer of high-efficiency air filters, fuel oil filters, and residential humidifiers.

Redner said there are pollutants inside and outside that need to be reduced or removed from indoor air.

Indoor pollutants include:

  • Pet odor/dander;
  • Cooking smells;
  • Cleaning solvents;
  • Cosmetic products; and
  • “Outgassing” solvents from building materials and furnishings.

The outdoor pollutants are broken down into “country” and “city” sources.

Country:

  • Road dust;
  • Agricultural dust;
  • Agricultural chemistry;
  • Pollen; and
  • Agricultural smells (e.g., cow manure).

City:

  • Industrial smoke and odors;

  • Automobile exhaust; and

  • Lawn chemicals.

All of these pollutants affect the overall health and well being of building occupants. If a person is sensitive to dust or pet dander, s/he is a good candidate for a filtration system that will improve the air quality by filtering those pollutants out of the air.

By identifying the source of pollution, contractors can suggest solutions for improving the indoor air quality of the home or business structure.

“It is important to point out what filtration means to the homeowner,” said Redner. “There are three main reasons for adding filtration: It improves comfort; dust and allergens can be reduced to a level where they are less noticeable to building occupants; and filtration relieves symptoms of sensitive [allergic] people.

“Filtration also protects possessions by reducing the amount of dust and dirt in the air.”

Building owners can be deluged with a number of statistics including efficiency ratings, such as the Atmospheric Dust Spot rating or the Minimum Efficiency Rating Value (MERV), which are analogous to SEER ratings. They can also be quoted on ASHRAE Standard 52.1 or 52.2, but many will opt for a more “what can filtration do for me and how much will it cost” approach.

Cost of Filtration

“The more you spend, the better the product and comfort,” stated Redner.

For the most part, the cost of filtration is directly related to its efficiency rating. Although obvious to most professionals, it might be a good idea to remind home and business owners that they get what they pay for.

“Original filtration, the 59-cent filter you buy from Wal-Mart and replace once or twice a year, was a way to protect the unit and not filter the air,” said Laroche. “The average efficiency is about 5% to 6%.”

The next step up is to electrostatic panel filters, which have an efficiency rating in the range of 15% to 19%. The average cost of this type of filtration is $50 to $150 to install.

“These have to be cleaned every three to four weeks or the particles can get dumped right back into the system,” added Laroche.

Mid-range filters, which average 25% to 30% efficiency, generally cost $100 to $200 to install. However, “With up to 35% efficiency, you still aren’t getting the small particles, which could be more problematic from a health and safety standpoint,” said Laroche.

The next step up is to the high-efficiency media air cleaner. This paper/fiberglass medium is 65% to 75% efficient and costs about $200 to $300 to install.

Electronic air filters, with efficiency ratings of 60% to 80%, can cost $400 and higher to install.

The high-end of filtration are high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters. This type of filtration is up to 99% efficient, but it also comes at a steep price (up to $1,000 to install) and is not well suited for residential applications.

Sales Expertise Lacking

Laroche said that a comfortable efficiency range for most homeowners is 25% to 35%, although he knows of many who will pay top dollar for comfort and health. The problem is, home and business owners have not been getting the best sales pitches.

“We [in the hvac trade] don’t do a good enough job of selling filtration,” said Laroche. “Over time, the consumer will become more and more aware of filtration issues. And as homeowners learn more, they move up the scale.”

Besides the obvious methods of filtering out dirt, dust, and pollen, there is also the task of removing gas and odors from the air. Filtration units with activated carbon can solve the problems of gas and odor. The amount of carbon used in filtration varies and, once again so does the price.

For example, a prefilter contains a few ounces of carbon; an air purifier may contain 4 to 5 lb of carbon. High-end systems in upscale homes have carbon beds, which are custom built to contain large quantities of carbon.

Selling Tips

According to Laroche, there is more than one step to selling comfort.

“If you are selling comfort based on temperature, you are only hitting on one aspect,” he said. “Once the temperature problem is solved, there are other things to think about — such as burning eyes, dry throat, and damaged furniture.”

Laroche suggests selling a filtration system that addresses the two types of pollution, particulate (filtration) and gas (purification).

“You should sell the benefits of getting rid of both components of pollution,” he said. “It costs $300 to $700 to address both types of pollution.”

Although good salesmanship may work with a home or business owner, Laroche said it is a lot tougher to sell to new homebuilders because of the cost of upgraded comfort systems. However, contractors should keep an eye on homeowners who have spent a short time “breaking in” their new home.

“A year or two after a customer is in their new home is a great time to go back in and sell them on an upgrade,” he said. “Today we should sell both complete systems and upgrades.”

There are a number of sources for describing the pollutants and selling solutions to indoor air quality. General Filters offers contractors an information brochure for selling filtration, in addition to other selling tools and published articles.

The National Old Timers’ Association of the Energy Industry (NOTA) also publishes a booklet on “Indoor Air Pollution.”

“As homes get tighter and tighter, poor indoor air quality builds up,” said Laroche. “Winter or summer, the customers’ needs are different — but contractors can learn how to profitably help solve the comfort issues.”