Smart HVAC: Smart HVAC Enriches Relationships With Customers

March 5, 2007
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Most HVAC contractors would like to guarantee their work because they believe in their employees’ ability to get it done the right way. It would reduce callbacks and maximize profits. HVAC distributors would like it to be true. It would help reduce their warranty processing load and control overhead.

HVAC system manufacturers would love for that to be true. It would play a gigantic role in reducing warranty costs and increasing customer brand satisfaction.

Today’s smart unitary products are helping to make that a reality. By putting smart diagnostics in high-end unitary products, contractors can make sure systems are installed or diagnosed correctly, reducing callbacks that eat into their profits. They can also make guarantees with a low, or at least reasonable, level of risk.

INSTALLATION GUARANTEES

Michael Perri of A.J. Perri, Tinton Falls, N.J., co-owns the company with father Al Perri Sr. and brothers Al Jr., Kevin, and Michael. The company has been in business 35 years and primarily installs Carrier products. According to Michael Perri, most system replacement customers have been the company’s customers for service and maintenance work.

Meet the A.J. Perri management team (from left): Kevin Perri, Al Perri Sr., Michael Perri, and Al Perri Jr. The company has been in business 35 years. According to Michael, most system replacement customers started out as service and maintenance work customers. (Photo courtesy of A.J. Perri.)

“They’re service customers and we have a relationship with them,” he said. When it’s time to replace their old furnace or air conditioner, Perri said, customers have had time to consider their options and the contractor’s offerings.

“Our Performance Guarantee ensures that the equipment we install or service is maintained and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s operating manual,” the company explains on its Website. “We promise a temperature variance of no more than ±3° from your thermostat selection whether heating or cooling your home. If these temperatures are not achieved, we will make any modifications at no charge to you for a period of five years.”

The company’s No Lemon Guarantee “ensures that the equipment we install is free of manufacturer’s defects, and will be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s operating and maintenance manuals. If your apparatus fails in the first five years, we will replace it with a brand-new model free of charge.”

Without smart technologies, such guarantees would carry more risk for the contractor. “The Carrier thermostat and Infinity controller makes the installation process a little easier,” Perri said. “It’s a communicating thermostat. Once you install and connect it, it reads all the equipment on the loop, records the models and sets up on its own.

“It will reach out and set up anything connected to the system,” he continued. “It will make the correct connections with a variable-speed motor. Typically that would have to be set up by the installer using a series of dipswitches.”

SYSTEM SERVICE

“Many of today’s circuit boards have built-in diagnostics,” Perri said, in which a series of fault codes are displayed on the board in case of an event. “It actually reduces the overall time spent on a service call.”

When these technologies are used in conjunction with Carrier’s Infinity thermostats, he said, the fault codes are time- and date-stamped. “Not only did the tech know that something happened, he knows when it happened. He can track a series of events.”

Technicians still have some more basic tech work to do, like measuring the refrigerant charge and calculating superheat and subcooling on the air conditioning side of the system. “But the diagnostics will get him going in the right direction right off the bat. It cuts down on judgment calls.”

“Heating and air conditioner problems can be a hassle,” the company acknowledges. “We’re here to make sure that your heating and air conditioning system is fixed the way you want it, when you want it, and we do it right the first time.” As an added assurance for customers, the company’s technicians undergo drug testing and background checks before they are hired.

When a contractor makes installation guarantees, it becomes more critical than ever that system installers take the time to ensure that the charge and airflow are correct. Smart systems help them pinpoint errors long before they can lead to system problems. (Photo courtesy of Carrier.)

REPLACEMENT PHILOSOPHY

The company’s philosophy includes developing long-term customer relationships; in general its replacement sales are done in a low-key method, with the employees taking the role of advisors rather than salespersons.

“Our specialists try to help make this as easy a process as possible,” Perri said. “We believe in using our expertise to recommend several repair and replacement options, and letting the customer decide what is best.”

A lot of new system installations come from long-term service customers, he said. Some have been told for a few years that something on the system needs to be fixed, or that they need to start thinking about replacing the furnace or air conditioner. When it comes time for the customer to move ahead, Perri said, a planned replacement tends to be the entire system and include system peripherals, like IAQ products. Because of this, he said, customer satisfaction is higher.

“You read these surveys, and people who get the higher-end products installed are ultimately happier with the installation than those who opt for the builder’s basic model,” he said. “Variable-speed motors, in particular, add to the indoor comfort levels. They can operate in shoulder seasons, spring and fall, and provide constant filtration during allergy seasons, when it’s needed most.”

In addition to smart technology within motors and air handlers, Perri added, the next generation of thermostats allows consumers to control humidity as well as temperature. “That wasn’t available until recently in a single-point controller. Prior to this technology, you would need the system to run in heating or cooling to humidify or dehumidify the home.”

In summer, for example, humidity levels may be rising but the temperature is relatively low. (This can be especially true during the night.) “The controller puts the unit on but keeps the fan speed fairly low. It’s moving air across the coils slowly, allowing for more latent heat removal.”

Carrier now is working on a communicating thermostat with an outbound call feature via a wireless network. “If something fails in the furnace, the furnace calls up the thermostat, and the thermostat calls the contractor and lets him know what happened,” Perri said. “I can’t wait to call somebody and tell them that their furnace called us.”

These new thermostats also help homeowners manage the preventive maintenance. “It tells homeowners when it’s time to replace their filter based on static pressure across the filter, not just in three-month intervals.” You might say that it determines filter replacement according to the occupants’ lifestyles.

In addition, the contractor’s Blue Guardian Program offers 24-hour emergency care, discounts on diagnostic fees and repairs, and a lifetime warranty on all replaced parts. “We even include up to 2 pounds of refrigerant at no cost,” Perri said.

The preventive maintenance program keeps customers apprised of their systems’ status, and keeps the contractor in the role of the trusted professional instead of a fix-it guy. “In an emergency situation, the person doesn’t have time to evaluate all their options,” Perri said. “If the equipment is still running and we can point customers toward the Internet, we can agree that these products, full systems with high-end products, would benefit them. They’re just going to be more comfortable.”

Now that’s smart.

Publication date: 03/05/2007

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