It doesn’t take a lot to improve your IAQ sales. More importantly, it doesn’t need to cost a lot. “The solutions are in-hand and they are not expensive,” said John Vasselli, Carrier fellow for IAQ. Simple things like asking a few questions via a customer survey, or even making the most basic filter upgrade, can have positive effects on the customer’s home and the contractor’s business.
IAQ is still fertile ground for the HVAC contractor. “With the growing emphasis on green buildings and the human health implications of air quality, we are seeing a steady increase in IAQ emphasis even in the current economic climate,” said Vasselli.
The service people who go into homes and businesses are on the front lines of the informational drive, he said. Better education and better tools (such as surveys and sensor packages that create a profile of particulates, gases, and biological allergens in the building), “allow service people to recommend solutions specific to what a household or office really needs. The vast majority of HVAC systems are not running optimally, from both energy efficiency and IAQ perspectives.”
FOUR ACTION POINTSVasselli recommended that contractors follow these four action points to help improve their customers’ IAQ, and their own IAQ sales.
1.Check the filter on ducted systems and upgrade to 2-inch filters. The furnaces on ducted systems usually have a filter slot, and most standard filter slots fit 1-inch-thick filters, which are low end. “The fastest and cheapest way to improve filtration and ventilation in a home is simply by improving the quality of filters in the furnace,” he said. Contractors can identify what the best possible filter is that a particular furnace fan pressure can handle, and then recommend it to their customers.
Changing a furnace from 1-inch-thick to 2-inch-thick filters is an inexpensive way to improve the quality of air in a home, especially during initial installation or replacement. “A 2-inch rack for a filter upgrade can be purchased for around $20 to $30, and installed with ease,” Vasselli said. “A higher-quality, two-inch filter will cost the consumer a little more initially, but will save money in the long run, as higher-quality filters perform much better and last far longer. As such, they are perhaps the least expensive way to improve indoor air quality and save money.”
2.Give customers an IAQ questionnaire. Surveys are available through numerous sources (such as equipment manufacturers, professional health associations, as well as federal and state agencies) that can help give contractors the information they need to make an educated decision on appropriate HVAC products and services for a particular home or office. These surveys can guide decisions regarding current performance and appropriate upgrades to an HVAC system. When filled out by the consumer and given back to the contractor, they identify needs associated with allergies, asthma, smoking, pets, poor outdoor air quality, and more.
“Almost every company, including our own, has an air quality questionnaire,” said Vasselli. With results from the survey, contractors can propose the right IAQ solutions for a customer’s needs.
3.Perform an IAQ audit. “The majority of the time, consumers will not understand the importance of good IAQ until you can show them that their home IAQ needs improvement,” he said. An IAQ audit shows the actual air quality within a home by providing a detailed analysis of contaminant levels. The audit can be performed using a small electronic device that either stores the data or plugs into a phone line and runs a full analysis on a home’s air quality.
“An IAQ audit is a way to show consumers, on paper, that their home needs better indoor air quality,” said Vasselli. “Consumers tend to only respond to things they can smell or see, yet many of the IAQ issues we worry most about, like fine particles or carbon dioxide, are odorless and too small to see. So an IAQ audit is a good supplement to an IAQ questionnaire.”
Contractors can buy or lease small boxes that simultaneously measure temperature, rh, CO, CO2, total volatile organic compounds, and particulates at adjustable time intervals. These sensor packages “aren’t cheap (about $3,000), but that’s not expensive if you amortize their use over the year with a large number of customers, and it helps sales,” he said.
4.Give IAQ training to the service crew. The service guys are the ones who work directly with consumers. Therefore, they should be educated enough on HVAC subjects such as IAQ to answer most, if not all, of consumers’ questions. “When a service team member can answer questions and provide insights, it can significantly increase IAQ product sales,” said Vasselli. “Bringing in an industry expert on IAQ to educate your service crew is a good way to ensure that no consumer questions go unanswered. If you educate the consumer, the probability of a sale goes up. You cannot educate a consumer, however, if your service crew is uneducated.”
TAILORED SOLUTIONSThe days of a one-size-fits-all mentality regarding IAQ are over. Service personnel should look at each consumer, and their HVAC system, individually. IAQ is affected by many things, Vasselli said, because symptom triggers can range from home furnishings and lifestyle, to geographic locations, age, and even gender. “There are many studies showing a direct correlation between these factors and increased risk of not just allergies or asthma, but also heart attack, diabetes, etc.” Vasselli said.
Children are especially at higher risk of IAQ-related health problems, and so are older adults and the increasing number of retiring Baby Boomers. “If I had to take my child to the ER in the middle of the night because they couldn’t breathe, I wouldn’t hesitate in installing an air cleaner,” he said.
As you might expect, Vasselli is a big advocate of the Carrier Infinity product. As he explains it, today’s electronic units act like a magnet, charging particles upstream of the filter and then capturing them with an oppositely charged filter. They do an excellent job of pulling particles out of the air. “The Carrier unit is designed to not only capture, but destroy mold spores, bacteria, and viruses, turning them into carbon. It’s not sufficient to simply capture these things on a filter, where they deteriorate,” leaving the decaying “body parts” and endotoxins on the filter. “We essentially destroy the allergens, not just capture them. For asthmatics, the endotoxins can be a real concern.”
“The bottom line is that we really need to redefine what we mean when we say air conditioning,” he said. “The phrase air conditioning implies making the air cool. We need to change our definition from not just temperature and humidity control, but also elimination of particles, gases, and biologicals. We need an increase in awareness of not only our customers, but in the industry in general, and especially the guys in the service trucks.
“In the past, the industry threw a filter in the box with the HVAC system like it was a paint stirrer, and that’s crazy,” he said. “We need to be smart enough to recognize the needs of the occupants, combined with the building’s location and use to put in the right conditioning solution.” All it takes is a 10-minute conversation and maybe some simple measurements of what’s in the air.