As the saying goes, timing is everything. IAQ technologies and performance levels that were previously seen more exclusively in health care and higher-security environments are starting to make their way into homes, just as consumers seem most interested in them. Moreover, as consumers increasingly comb the Internet for product and technology data, they are starting to demand more sophistication and integrated designs.
“IAQ vendors must provide integrated solutions,” stated analysis firm Research and Markets in its report, “Strategic Analysis of the North American Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Markets.”
“Despite the strong correlation between buildings, environment, and human health, the IAQ markets continue to focus on individual segments rather than providing integrated solutions. As a viable solution, researchers, designers, builders, and manufacturers can collaborate to develop and market integrated products, systems, and programs.”
ROOM TO GROWThe market isn’t being fueled solely by infomercials for room air cleaners, ubiquitous though they are. Drivers include “guidelines developed by the American Lung Association Health House program,” the report states. “Builders are also following the federal government’s Energy Star Homes and BuiltGreen programs.” In addition, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program stresses the need for ventilation and air filtration systems and UV light protection from molds and bacteria. “Energy-recovery ventilators providing a continuous supply of fresh and filtered air are also becoming popular in the IAQ markets.”
Of particular interest to HVAC professionals, “The increasing demand for airtight HVAC units has spurred the growth of the HVAC ventilation segment, which is currently at 17 percent of its estimated potential market size,” the report states. “Consumers are also aware of building problems related to air pollution, while manufacturers are conducting extensive research on this aspect and communicating them to their large customer base.”
Growing asthma and allergy concerns “have helped air purification equipment record substantial growth,” says the report. “Customer familiarity with aspects such as product availability and features, along with superior advertising strategies by sellers, are likely to further stimulate the demand for high-quality IAQ products and services.”
And beyond allergies and asthma, a new study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in conjunction with EH&E shows that a whole-house air cleaner can remove the common flu virus from the filtered air.
Translated:The opportunities are ripe for HVAC contractors to sell and install more sophisticated whole-house IAQ products. At just 17 percent saturation, there is plenty of room for quality products and installers.
OPPORTUNITIES ON THE RISEUp to 45 percent of U.S. households “have some sort of respiratory problem,” said Randy Scott, VP of product systems management, Trane. So if you factor in whether anyone in the house is concerned about influenza, “that could take it up to 100 percent.
“In half of the homes that a dealer could be doing business in, certainly a very high percentage would have somebody concerned with influenza,” Scott said. The other opportunity is to sell clean air via an add-on product, which certainly holds opportunities for service contractors.
“There are three times as many service calls in the U.S. as there are units sold,” Scott said. IAQ work has the additional benefit of helping contractors even out their seasonal work, since those “shoulder seasons,” spring and autumn, are typically high allergy seasons.
In terms of sheer opportunity, said Scott, there are an estimated 72 million households with an HVAC system. When you factor in the percentage of allergy sufferers, it means that 32 million homes have someone interested in cleaner indoor air. “They may have bought high-efficiency HVAC, but they may not have bought something to bring clean air into their home,” he said.
This is where flexibility comes into play. According to Steve Arnholt, systems leader for controls and IAQ, Trane, the company’s CleanEffects IAQ product can be applied “on nearly any sort of application where you can fit it into the return.” It’s easiest to apply to a Trane system, of course, “but it works perfectly well with other existing equipment,” he said, with possible modifications to transition ductwork - generally the case with any system.
Another consideration in today’s market is the fact that many residential products are being designed and tested specifically with regard to their ability to remove allergens and germs. Carrier’s Infinity air purifier, for instance, was first used in secure, governmental-type applications, said Kent Kuffner, product manager, Carrier. It was modified for residential-type applications.
“I think there is more attention now to germicidal capability,” he said. “That’s what homeowners are looking for.” He cited a Gallup study from late 2007, which said that 83 percent of its respondents “are either somewhat or very concerned about air quality. Viruses and bacteria rank very high on what they are looking for in an air-cleaning system.”
“Those studies indicated that 80 percent of people agree that air quality is getting worse and poor air quality can shorten your life; 45 percent agree that indoor air is worse than outdoor air.”
“We in the heating and cooling community need to do a better job of talking to homeowners and offering IAQ solutions,” Kuffner said. The key for contractors is often as simple as offering the product, and this doesn’t mean you are trying to diagnose a medical problem. “Only a small percentage of contractors, unfortunately, consider or market themselves as true IAQ professionals. Some simply don’t consider themselves experts in the scientific aspect.”
Many are also still hung up on price, Kuffner said. “Many dealers are concerned about trying to offer a top-notch IAQ package,” he said. “They think people aren’t willing to spend that kind of money, but the market data is there that people are willing to spend it. The cost of a whole-house solution is more economically justifiable.”
WHO WILL BUY?This is often a needless concern, since signs indicate very strong consumer interest in the products; what they really need is an awareness of who should be selling and installing it.
According to Scott, consumers with the keenest interest in IAQ products are chiefly those with someone living in the home who has some sort of respiratory condition, such as an allergy or bronchitis - in general, “people who have a concern about influenza in the home.”
This could include people with weakened immune systems, who may be more vulnerable to respiratory infections, such as the elderly or children. “We’ve also had a lot of people generally concerned about clean air in their home,” added Arnholt. “Roughly half of all households have someone with a more-serious condition, but the other half could certainly be concerned. You don’t really want to prejudge your potential clean air customers. They may be very good candidates for these dealers to pursue. Let the homeowner decide.”
“We’re really targeting those households where someone has respiratory problems,” Scott said.
“We’ve talked about fungus and bacteria as well as viruses. What we talk to contractors about is, when you are doing a sales presentation for a new system, part of your needs assessment is to ask the question, does anyone in your home suffer from asthma or allergies?” It’s also appropriate to ask whether they have pets, which can be a major cause of allergies in the home.
Another thing that a dealer may look at, said Scott, is consumers who have recently purchased a variable-speed heating or cooling system. “They have the ideal indoor system to add clean air to and effectively filter the air,” he said. “Just have the service technician, when he goes on a service call, ask whether anyone in the home suffers from allergies or asthma.”
“Our studies indicate that the No. 1 information source that consumers rely on is the contractor,” said Kuffner. “They’re looking to their contractor to handle their IAQ concerns. They are educated and comfortable talking about the technology. Homeowners are willing to spend money to improve their IAQ.”
For a copy of the report, visit www.researchandmarkets.com.