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IAQ - An Unfulfilled Dream

July 31, 2006
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Residential HVAC contractors have traditionally made most of their sales by solving space heating and cooling problems. That is not likely to change much, even with the advent of a more tightly contested competitive market since the onset of 13 SEER energy standards. However, a study conducted a few years ago suggested that temperature issues may only occur in 17 percent of homes. If so, maybe there is a lot of opportunity being missed out there.

In 2004, AirAdvice of Portland, Ore., in conjunction with a large group of Lennox dealers, tested homes for IAQ problems. While monitoring things like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, and the like, the survey turned up the fact that relatively few (17 percent) problems with temperature control were noted in the study.

Of course, there is much more detailed information available in the study. In fact, nine out of 10 homes tested in 2004 had high particulate levels. Seven out of 10 showed high levels of VOCs. The bottom line is that Lennox dealers who used an AirAdviceâ„¢ monitoring device and the ensuing reports as ammunition for homeowner sales leads did in fact increase sales of the Lennox Pure Airâ„¢ products by 190 percent versus Lennox dealers who were not using the same approach. The average IAQ sale of participating dealers was $2,640.

With such obvious and documented opportunities for increasing sales, why would IAQ perhaps be an unfulfilled dream in the industry?

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

Everyone has read the statistics about the increasing rate of childhood asthma, the greater potential harm from indoor air pollution than from outdoor air pollution, the dangers from second-hand smoke, and the list can go on and on. Those statistics don't seem to make much of a difference to many in the HVAC industry, so repeating them again is probably not necessary. However, those statistics evidently do mean a lot to homeowners who show up at the steps of Home Depot and Lowe's looking for filters and room air purifiers. Sure, an encyclopedia could be written about the competitive problems incurred by contractors because of products that are available through big box stores. Still, it seems there must be some other underlying issues that are slowing the acceptance of IAQ as a viable HVAC opportunity.

Selling box solutions for temperature control problems has been the mainstay of this industry for decades. Only in the last 10 years did some enterprising people call attention to the need to take a system approach to HVAC. There are a good number of contractors who have taken heed, but perhaps it is still an overwhelming majority of contractors that own a hammer and are looking for a nail.

The need for talented, innovative contractors who understand temperature control will always be a primary requirement in this trade. But, resting on one's laurels is a sure way to complacency. The understanding of proper air distribution and air delivery is becoming more of a requirement. The time may be fast approaching when IAQ services will be in greater demand among HVAC professionals because homeowners will create that demand. They are already doing it today. They speak with their checkbooks. They purchase less than quality solutions to their problems because they haven't been educated to know that better solutions exist.

IT ISN'T EASY

A vast majority of homeowners still look for adequate solutions to perceived problems with their heating and cooling systems. Many will never know that a high particulate count in their homes is contributing to their respiratory problems and perhaps to some other health problems they may be experiencing. As a contractor, you have your hands full trying to keep all the balls in the air, especially during the busy seasons. When you have the opportunity to catch your breath and reflect a bit on the future of your trade, give some thought as to what the next big movement might be - maybe it's IAQ.

Perhaps it's time that the HVAC trade came up with a way to pull IAQ back from the clenches of the retail stores. I wonder if the Culligan Man wishes he had grabbed onto the bottled water craze before the soft drink companies realized that a demand existed for individual servings?

Mike Murphy, Editor-In-Chief, 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), mikemurphy@achrnews.com

Publication date: 07/31/2006

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