by Tom Warner

Almost all of our customers now use the Internet. When I realized Reston, Va., was the hub of the Internet system, I applied my experience with heating and air conditioning systems to develop an Internet-based sales system that works. Homeowners have used it since June 2005 to get a cost estimate and, in most cases, to purchase the system we quote. Arrangements for system replacement are made quickly online, at any time. A project manager’s visit to the home, which precedes installation, is used to handle the necessary paperwork and to verify that the homeowner has furnished accurate data and there appears to be no visible code or air distribution concerns.

The old method of getting a new HVAC system:
The typical HVAC system purchase begins when a customer's existing system “dies,” i.e., when a technician recommends that replacement is recommended or must be done. It usually happens at exactly the wrong time: really cold and windy, big work project with a close deadline, company arriving for the holidays, etc. The customer usually then asks the technician or the technician's employing contractor for a replacement or upgrade proposal.

The customer knows they should do comparison-shopping on a major purchase for their home. This means making several telephone calls, scheduling time to be home to meet the other contractors' sales staff, hoping they will show up, and then, trying to compare exactly what's being offered: different brands, different benefits, different efficiency ratings, etc.

Customers are now empowered:
Customers are now able to comparison shop with ease. They simply go online to access their online quote, a familiar venue, without having to talk HVAC technical issues. Customers can evaluate the truth, accuracy, or wisdom of the proposals they are being given by reviewing the manufacturers’ claims, consumer references, and BBB rating online without pressure.

The customer answers a number of brief questions to provide data the proprietary algorithms need in order to specify a system, evaluate the level of effort that the installation will require, and generate a priced equipment and installation proposal.

The Website instantly generates a suite of equipment matches exactly tailored to the client’s stated needs rolled into an automatically generated proposal to be viewed and printed or e-mailed to the client.

Utility Service Express in Reston is then responsible for an on-site verification of the proposal’s accuracy and quality controls. After almost a thousand online proposals and system installations, over 95 percent were done exactly according to the immediate proposal received. The variances were all due to mechanical defects in the air distribution system or code issues that were not known by the homeowner.

On Thursday, March 29, 2007, I was in a Virginia PHCC state board meeting. Without my knowledge or involvement the following occurred:

9:16 a.m. - Customer was referred by a friend to and requested a quote for our best quality system.

10:19 a.m. - Customer also requested a quote for our premium quality system.

10:25 a.m. - Customer also requested a quote for our standard quality system.

At 4:30 p.m., I checked with my office staff and found that earlier one of our technicians had verified the installation conditions within his home and he was considering whether to purchase the best or premium quality system.

Tom Warner is president of Master Plumber & HVAC Technician. His Website is

Publication date:04/23/2007