With the busy season right around the corner, and the teetering residential market causing concerns, air conditioning contractors continue to look for the competitive edge when reaching out to customers. Information about consumer preferences from a recent survey will be helpful to contractors looking for that edge.
In December of 2007 - before the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) merged with the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) to form the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) - ARI commissioned a national survey of homeowners in an attempt to gauge the general perception of the public regarding manufacturers and issues related to central air conditioning.
A total of 601 telephone surveys were completed by registered voter homeowners residing in the United States. Of the 601 respondents, 409 had central air conditioning systems and 192 didn’t. Respondents were 55 percent female and 46 percent male, with 66 percent reporting they were age 50 or older. Fifty-three percent of the respondents lived in a home with adults but no children, with only 29 percent reporting adults with children residing in the home.
The survey revealed many interesting facts. Using these facts to discern what customers want and to understand their perceptions of air conditioning, contractors will be able to develop new selling and approach strategies that will help increase profits and exceed current customer service goals.
WHAT DO THEY THINK?Overall, 81 percent of respondents had a very or somewhat favorable impression of air conditioning manufacturers. That number moved to 94 percent when examining only those with central a/c systems and slid to 66 percent when examining those without a/c systems. The study revealed that consumers trusted manufacturers to develop energy-efficient and cost-effective equipment, to protect the environment, to operate clean manufacturing plants, and to do what is best for consumers without regulation. It also showed that, although respondents were aware that multiple energy-efficiency ratings exist, they aren’t necessarily aware of what those ratings are or what they mean.
With efficiency standards on the table, the study took time to examine the public’s response to the possibility of regional efficiency standards. Overall, 55 percent of respondents knew that the federal government currently sets the minimum energy-efficiency standards and 69 percent were in favor of this practice.
Only 19 percent opposed the government’s involvement, but close examination of the results indicated that opposition stemmed primarily from a distrust of the government. Several respondents felt that the government shouldn’t be involved in telling the American public what to do and that regulation should be left up to the individual. Some also considered government regulations to be out of control, but very few thought the standard should be higher.
“It’s not because they trust us,” said Francis Dietz, AHRI’s vice president of public affairs. “It’s because they don’t trust the government.”
As for regional standards, 47 percent are in favor of such an arrangement. The Northeast and the South were in favor by 44 percent, and the Midwest posted a strong 49 percent. It was the West, however, that obtained a majority with 54 percent in favor of individual states setting minimum efficiency standards for central a/c systems.
When asked why they favored individual states setting standards, the top six responses, respectively, were: all states are not alike, there are different usage needs; the states are aware of their own environment and climate; generally in favor of; the states will be more energy efficient; the issues are local and the state would know more of what it is doing; the industry would be better regulated.
REPAIRING HAS ITS LIMITSThe survey also examined the driving factors that govern a consumer’s decision to repair or replace a unit. The decision doesn’t come lightly and consumers consider many elements before taking action. According to ARI’s survey, of the 409 central a/c owners, 22 percent in the previous two years had their system repaired. Of that number, 24 percent said they repaired rather than replaced because the repair was minor, while 54 percent said they repaired because of cost issues.
Those opting to replace considered the following in the selection of their new system: age and functionality of the old system; energy efficiency and increased savings; what the technician recommended; brand, cost, and reliability of the system.
Those choosing to repair cited cost as a major concern acknowledging that repairing a system is often more affordable than replacing it. The survey showed that approximately 72 percent of those choosing to repair spent less than $500. Six percent spent $500 to $999 and only 1 percent spent $1,000 to $1,499. The repair bill, however, wasn’t the only consideration, as evidenced by the 10 percent that spent $1,500 or more, still opting for repair over replacement.
The perceived replacement cost affects the repair versus replace decision as well. Twenty percent of these respondents estimated that unitary replacement would cost them less then $2,500; 38 percent estimated $2,500 to $4,999; and 15 percent estimated $5,000 to $7,499. Seventy-three percent of those who had replaced their system over the past two years said they expected to see energy savings. Only 52 percent actually noticed a difference in their electric bill since installing the new system, however, and a follow up research question revealed why.
“Forty-three percent admitted to adjusting their thermostat during the day to make themselves more comfortable, and 52 percent admitted to doing so at night,” said Dietz. “This finding appears to call into question whether merely raising minimum standards is sufficient to achieve significant energy savings.”
SURVEY SAYSOverall, those surveyed looked on the industry with favor. They are savvy consumers looking to balance cost, value, and efficiency. And, even though they possess some knowledge of standards, regulations, and industry jargon, there is still quite a bit of room for education and enlightenment. Armed with this knowledge, professional contractors are better equipped to choose their strategies wisely, providing tailored service to each of their customers across diverse regions.