Software Compares Systems

February 9, 2009
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It’s tough for homeowners these days. If they want to move, they may not be able to without selling their own home first. That’s the tricky part. What homeowners may do instead is invest in their current home’s comfort system. This not only improves their comfort and lowers utility costs, but also increases the home’s value when the economy comes around and homes start moving more freely again.

Some call it nesting. Others call it investment.

Now, a couple of computer programs from Bryant Heating and Cooling Systems are giving dealers the opportunity to show their customers a range of system options (a good-better-best range), and how much each new system would save over their current system, based on actual utility rates and weather bin data. You never know; they might take something that costs more than you expected.

ONLINE AND LAPTOP

An online version of the Operating Cost Calculator program offers less-complex calculations that can be figured and presented quickly. It is available to Bryant dealers through HVACPartners.com.

Equipment size is selected automatically based on the heating and cooling requirements and the customer’s zip code. The program uses the zip code to load the appropriate weather data into the calculation, according to Bryant application engineer Rob Lambert. The system automatically supplies appropriate system options within the Bryant line.

To start the process, the dealer first enters heating and cooling parameters and the customer’s zip code. The dealer also plugs in local rates, and the tool determines how many hours of heating and cooling are required for one year. To do this, the program has tapped into a national weather database that contains 40 years of weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is updated hourly, according to the company.

The calculator then combines this weather data and the equipment’s performance characteristics, to show the homeowner what their estimated annual savings would be if the contractor installed one of the three proposed systems.

The contractor can use specialized software, the Comfort Builder program, to include more detailed information such as load calculations. This is probably more appropriate for contractors who want a more precise system-sizing program. Both programs were created for the manufacturer by Wrightsoft.

The computer-based (CD-ROM) software is said to help the dealer provide the homeowner with a professional proposal quickly, with options that the dealer might not otherwise have proposed. Simple drawing tools help dealers detail a complete house layout.

The side-by-side operating cost comparisons between four systems (the original and three options) can compare efficiencies and capacities in terms of cost, savings, and ROI. This is true for both the online and CD-ROM programs. The contractor can then use the data to create a professional proposal when using the Comfort Builder program.

HOW IT WORKS

The NEWS ran a case to put the online system through its paces: a sample home in the 48212 ZIP code (Detroit area), with an average natural gas cost of cents/therm and electric rate of 10.8 cents/kWh (source: DOE). A new furnace had 70,000-Btuh heating, with a 24,000-Btuh drive for cooling. The furnace had an 80 percent AFUE, and the a/c system was a 13 SEER. The system it replaced probably had a 78 percent AFUE (a very optimistic assumption), and the a/c system had a SEER of 8. Savings of the new over the old, according to the cost calculator, came to $112/year.

However, if the old system had been replaced with a split heat pump with electric heat, annual savings would have been $446/year. And if the homeowner had taken the top-of-the-line Hybrid gas heat system with an 18 SEER Evolution cooling system, the annual savings would have been $554. Of course, the installed cost would be higher for each of these systems.

Maybe the customer wouldn’t think it would be worthwhile installing such a high-end system. But maybe the homeowner would have decided to invest a little more in that mid-range system. The contractor in this case will never know.

MORE ADVANCES

Since the programs were introduced, both the online and CD-ROM versions have added a continuous fan option, for those customers whose systems need to keep air moving for air cleaners and other IAQ concerns. This option can show savings on variable-speed vs. nonvariable fans, Lambert said.

The program was introduced in mid-2007. According to Lambert, dealers’ responses have been very positive. “Dealers have some realistic numbers they can show to their customers to help them sell the equipment.

“I get a lot of questions about how the online tool works and why specific equipment was selected,” he said. “I explain that the software makes some assumptions in order to keep it simple and easy to use, and that the online tool is not designed to be used as an equipment selection program. Comfort Builder software is more complex and has many more capabilities than the online tool. Comfort Builder is not as simple to use, but training is available. Once you get through the learning curve, it’s nice.”

As a dealer tool, the program is helpful whether dealers are trying to sell a homeowner on SEER, different AFUE, the efficiency of Hybrid Heat, or a heat pump over an air conditioner, he said. It can also help customers with the repair versus replace decision.

Maybe the customer won’t take the high-end solution, or even the mid-range solution. But they will be able to make an informed choice, based on information supplied by someone they trust: their contractor.

For more information, visit www.bryant.com; dealers may log onto www.hvacpartners.com, or talk to their distributor or sales manager.

Publication date: 02/09/2009

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